de Ferran: A legend retires on top

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Much can be said of Gil de Ferran and we make no secret that we’re big fans of the man here at F1B. But it is with honor that I offer you the words of our friend and world-class photographer Scott Jones. The weekend at Laguna Seca placed an exclamation mark on a career in motor sport and Scott captures that moment better than I could have. So it is my privilege to offer you this review and say thanks to Scott for his terrific words, recap and insight.

In the ALMS season finale this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud won the four-hour race in their Acura ARX-02a, beating class rivals David Brabham and Scott Sharp, who clinched the series championship by finishing third behind P2 winners Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez. De Ferran is retiring from driving, but hopes to return next season to run a team in the 2010 ALMS series.
De Ferran won a very close race in spite of being low on fuel and struggling with tires the team had elected not to change at their final stop. Twice Fernandez was able to pass the more powerful P1 Acura in Turn 11, only to give up the lead on the straight. The two cars’ exciting duel during the last half hour of the race ended with de Ferran winning by just under seven tenths of a second. It was a thrilling end to de Ferran’s long and accomplished driving career.

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Based on having clinched the required points with 75% of the race completed, the Patron Highcroft team was able to celebrate the series championship just as the clock passed 50 minutes left to race. Brabham was no longer the only driver to have won races in all four ALMS classes without having won a title, and Sharp became the second American driver to win in LMP1 championship. All of these accomplishments came after the remarkable effort of the Patron Highcroft team two weeks ago when Sharp destroyed the car in a spectacular crash at Road Atlanta. The team had to rebuild the car from the ground up in 24 hours to keep their hopes of a series title alive.

If the P2 class, the Lowes Fernandez team clinched both the LMP2 title and the Michelin Green Challenge after a record-tying eight class victories in a season.

The GT2 race ended in perhaps the most exciting and dramatic fashion of the weekend as Flying Lizard Porsche’s Jorg Bergmeister battled with Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen for the class win. Clearly faster after a final hour of back and forth racing, Magnussen managed to get by the Porsche on the penultimate lap by using the pit out lane to pass as the cars approached Turn 2. Magnussen was ordered to give the position back, however, as race direction determined he had gone outside the track to make the pass. Going into Turn 11 for the last time, the Corvette gave the Porsche a little shove at the exit and then tried to pass on the inside to take the checkered flag. Bergmeister moved sharply left to block and just as the Corvette had gone by, put Magnussen into the pit wall, causing the Corvette to spin across the track and hit the opposite wall hard just before it crossed the finish line. The Porsche crossed first and was given the victory. Bergmeister and co-driver Patrick Long had already wrapped up the GT2 title hours earlier when the Risi Competizione Ferrari retired. Porsche became the first manufacturer to record 100h series class wins.

History was also made in the Challenge class, as Martin and Melanie Snow became the first husband-wife team to win a series championship, in spite of an early engine-related retirement from the GT3 Cup class.

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