Another sunny day greeted a sea of fans at Road Atlanta and the early morning warm up ran trouble free. The cars lined up on the grid shortly afterwards and the fans were allowed to mingle with the teams and drivers for the hour running up to the start of the Petit Le Mans race.
Audi in the Petit Le Mans pit lane
The start itself was incident free but a number of small accidents in the following laps brought out the safety car on several occasions. During pit stops both Peugeots were handed a 60 second penalty for not stopping for the red light at the end of the pit lane which put them back in 14th and 15th position. The No.2 Audi driven by Tom Kristensen had a coming together with a GT car which resulted in damaged body work, dropping it back 1 lap from the leading car. Surprisingly, after nearly 2 hours it was the No.10 Oreca Peugeot that sat at the front of the field.
Petit Le Mans 2011 start
The first major upset of the race would came when the No.7 pole sitting Peugeot retired from after only two hours, with a suspected clutch failure. Those that thought this would be the only upset of the race were going to be proved wrong though as the tough track began to take it’s toll. An hour after Bourdais had parked his Peugeot the No.2 Audi also had a clutch failure though Dindo Capello was able to get the car back to the pits and the Audi crew quickly dragged it back into the garage area to perform a full clutch change which would take them 51 minutes. In the GT class the No.55 BMW was leading the pack but the the top 6 cars were still running nose to tail on track despite the safety car periods and numerous pit stops.
Rebellion Racing crash at Petit Le Mans
A great battle broke out at the front between Marcel Fassler in the the No.1 Audi and Stephane Sarrazin in the No.8 Peugeot, which saw them exchange positions a couple of times and both get back ahead of the No.10 Oreca Peugeot, pushing it back to third. In LMP2 Christophe Bouchut passed Lucas Ordonez in the Signatech Nissan to to take the class lead after 3 hours.
Winning Peugeot at Petit Le Mans
The tight battle between the Audi and the Peugeot came to an end when officials handed the Audi a 20 second penalty for a refuelling infringement which put them a lap down. At the half way mark in GTE Pro, the No.56 BWM suffered a puncture which handed the lead to the Ferrari. Incredibly 6 GTE Pro cars were still on the lead lap after 5 hours of racing round what is a relatively short circuit.
Traffic at Petit Le Mans
After a sixth safety car period Timo Bernhard’s fast pace put the No.1 Audi back just 10 seconds behind the No.8 Peugeot and the No.10 Oreca still running a trouble free race in third place. Driver changes now put Montagny in the leading car and Romain Dumas in the Audi. The Peugeot in the hands of Montagny, set a fierce pace and puled out a lead of nearly thirty seconds, only to have it reset with yet another safety car period following an accident for the No.64 Lotus. Timing and scoring equipment on the start/finish straight was damaged in the accident and the yellow ran on for nearly half an hour as emergency repairs were made. Pit stops during the yellow had also handed the GT lead back to the No.56 BMW again from Bruni in the AF Course Ferrari.
No 64 Lotus at Petit Le Mans
Following the re-start, Dumas pressured the leading Peugeot but got held up behind the Oreca again in traffic. As Dumas exited turn 7 chasing the Oreca through traffic he made a mistake and clipped the front of one of the Porsches while darting through traffic. The touch sent him spearing into the concrete wall and destroyed the left hand side of the car completely, bringing out the safety car for the 7th time during the race. Dumas’ mistake elevated the 007 Aston Martin into third place as the fastest petrol car, which had so far run a relatively quiet and reliable race. With the Aston having won the ALMS race two weeks ago at Laguna Seca it does make you wander why they didn’t run this car at the 24 Hours in June instead of the AMR-One which clearly wasn’t ready.
Petit Le Mans 2011
After 8 hours of racing, the leaders in GTE Pro were separated by just a couple of tenths of a second with No.56 BMW up front, closely followed by the No.51 Ferrari. The fight finally came to an end when the BMW collected another puncture which dropped it down to sixth place leaving Giancarlo Fisichella in the lead but with the next six cars in class following close behind on the same lap. The highlight of the enthralling race long battle in GTE Pro came on the final lap as Jorg Begmeister passed Joey Hand in the BMW to secure second place for the popular Flying Lizard Porsche team.
Flying Lizard Porsche at Petit Le Mans 2011
Peugeot took the chequered flag and celebrated a well earned win. The race will go down as one of the greats at this circuit. Huge crowds, perfect weather and hard fought battles across all classes. Mix in some crashes and penalties and you have all that’s needed for an unforgettable race.
Podium at Petit Le Mans 2011
Taking the win hands Peugeot the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) title, providing some consolation after their defeat in the Le Mans 24 Hours itself.
Peugeot celebrate at Petit Le Mans 2011
Exclusive report and photography for Travel Destinations by Dan Carr (http://connectwithdan.com/)