The 14th annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is shaping up to be every bit as enthralling as the Le Mans 24 Hour race in June. The first official practice session saw Audi and Peugeot trading fastest times either side of a lengthly red flag period. In the second half Tom Kristensen held on to the top spot until the dying moments when Peugeot made a dash for the top of the time sheets and put the #7 and #8 cars in a 1-2, some 0.9 seconds ahead of the fastest Audi driven by Marcel Fassler.
In LMP2 Marino Franchitti, driving for Level 5 Motorsports this weekend, edged out the ever strong Signatech Nissan team lead by Playstation graduate Lucas Ordonez. Rounding out the close opening battle was Toni Vilander in the Risi Ferrari who came in just a few thousandths of a second ahead of Dirk Muller in the BMW after an hour of track time.
As we headed into the second session of the day after lunch, track temperatures climbed into the low 90s and the time between the top cars closed up to finnish with only 0.116 seconds covering Audi and Peugeot. This time Allan McNish put his name at the top and the session finished Audi, Peugeot, Audi, Peugeot. Fifth spot went to Klaus Graf, fastest petrol car in the No.6 Muscle Milk Aston Martin. Just as Audi and Peugeot switched it up at the front of the field, so too did Ferrari and BMW int GT. Bill Auberlen set the fastest time with teammate Joey Hand just 0.025 seconds behind him followed closely by the AF Course Ferrari team.
This evening was also the one and only night time test session before the race with the cars heading out on track just minutes after sunset for a 2 hour stint. In LMP2 the battle continued between Level 5 and Nissan with the two teams trading times throughout the session. An excellent performance by Signatech’s third driver for the weekend, Jean Karl Vernay, saw them finnish marginally ahead of the Level 5 crew. In LMP1 the battle raged on and with a last gasp effort Simon Pagenaud in the Peugeot set the fastest time of the day in the dying minutes of the cooling session and Stephan Sarrazin put the second Peugeot right behind him, just 0.1 seconds back.
A 53 car entry list creates relentless traffic on this circuit and slower cars are almost certainly going to play a role in the outcome of the race. The top cars from every class are covered by fractions of a second and it will be those that deal best with traffic that are victorious come Saturday night.
Tomorrow morning the cars have a 4th and final practice session before heading into class-specific qualifying sessions in the afternoon. Stay tuned for more updates!
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