McNish Makes Miracle Comeback at Petit Le Mans ~ Scott Jones

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Allan Mcnish
After crashing his #1 Audi R10 on the formation lap, Alan McNish drove a triple shift to make up for his mistake, and along with teammates Dindo Capello and Emanuele Pirro came back to win the eleventh running of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Audi thus remains undefeated at the 1000-mile event, in spite of a close challenge by the Peugeot 908.

Though Peugeot won four European LMP1 events, Audi won at Le Mans and clinched the LMS team and manufacturer titles at the Silverstone 1000Km event in mid-September. Peugeot come to Petit Le mans for the challenge, according to Peugeot driver Nicolas Minassian, who said after setting a new Petit Le Mans qualifying record of 1:06:242: “It’s a hell of a championship here. It’s much stronger than there is in Europe at the moment, so obviously it’s a bit harder. It’s good…hard competition (is) always good.” Hard competition is exactly what Peugeot got, losing the overall lead with an hour to go and finally losing to the #1 Audi by just over four seconds.

Though Audi drivers Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr had already clinched the LMP1 drivers’ title, Acura drivers Roland Dumas and Timo Bernard went to Road Atlanta with a four-point lead in the LMP2 class, and Acura had the same lead over Porsche in the Prototype 2 Team and Manufacturer’s chase. Porsche responded by entering a third Penske car, driven by IndyCar Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. But Acura’s threat went up in smoke as a series of acidents saw the Japanese manufacturer manage only fifth and seventh in the LMP2 class.

Several big crashes on Thursday and Friday required teams to complete major repairs to their cars. Scott Sharp crashed his Patron Highcroft Acura in Turn 1 so heavily that his mechanics had to build a completely new car for race day. Then on Saturday morning, McNish crashed on the grid formation lap and sent his team into full hurry-up mode to get the car ready for the start of the race. McNish took credit for the mistake, but also pointed out his objection to ALMS rules against tire warmers, and to the current emphasis on double-stinting tires. The mechanics did not repair the Audi in time for the start of the race, and McNish eventually entered the track from the paddock, two laps down on the race-leading Peugeot.

Twenty-six minutes into the race, the series-leading Patron Acura crashed, again driven by Scott Sharp. The car was finished for the day, handing the advantage to Porsche. As the Peugeot led in LMP1, McNish drove a triple shift to get his car back on the lead lap, and the #1 Audi continued to close the gap as the sun set on Braselton, Georgia.

With half of the 394 laps gone, former F1 driver Christian Klien in the Peugeot 908 led the #2 Audi of Marco Werner and the #1 Audi of Emanuele Pirro. Roman Dumas led LMP2 in the #7 Penske Porsche, ahead of Marco Andretti’s Acura. The #6 and #5 Penske Porsches were third, and fifth, respectively, with the #15 Fernandez Acura in fourth. In GT2, the 45 Flying Lizard Porsche driven by Jorg Bergmeister led Jamie Melo in the #62 Risi Competizion Ferrari F430. As usual, the #3 and #4 Corvettes raced each other in GT1, and the #3 would go on to win the class, driven by Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen.

In the dark and with four laps to go, McNish, Pirro, and Dindo Capello had brought their car from its initial two-lap deficit to first place. With McNish again at the wheel, the #1 Audi was being stalked by Klien in the Peugeot. After nearly 1000 miles of racing, the two cars were separated by just over four seconds as they worked their ways through slower traffic. Klien was unable to make up the difference, and McNish completed an amazing comeback after the morning’s mistake, maintaining Audi’s perfect record at Petit Le Mans.

IRL drivers Briscoe and Castroneves won the LMP2 class for Porsche, finishing third overall behind the #2 Audi of Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr. ALMS regulars Dumas and Bernard finished second in class, fifth overall, and clinched the LMP2 Drivers’ Championship. The LMP2 Team and Manufacturer Championships will be decided in two weeks at the last race of the season.

The GT2 result was even closer than LMP1, with Melo and Salo finishing less than three seconds ahead of the #45 Porsche. Flying Lizard drivers Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler finished second in class but clinched the GT2 drivers’ championship, 31 points ahead of Dirk Muller and Domink Farnbacher. In GT1, Magnussen and O’Connell beat their teammates, Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta, to take the drivers’ title by 27 points. Corvette Racing announced that it would contest Le Mans’ GT1 class in 2009 before finishing the season competing in the ALMS’ GT2 class. ( http://www.corvetteracing.com/history/2008releases/general/racing5.shtml )

Incidentally, the 2008 Petit Le Mans saw the worldwide debut of the Green Challenge, a competition among prototype and GT classes rewarding the manufacturers and teams that produced the most competitive yet fuel efficient and environmentally sound package. Three different fuels are run in the challenge: Shell GTL (95% diesel), IMSA E 10 (91% petroleum), and IMSA E 85R (34% petroleum). Greenhouse gases are measured, as well as energy used per mile. As growing concern about global warming and pollution from greenhouse gases continue to threaten the future of motor sports, the Green Challenge is being watched by many as a possible solution to the problem of how to sustain the many varieties of motor racing series amid scrutiny from the EPA and other environmental watchdogs. Who thought we would ever see the command to start engines delivered by the EPA’s Director of Transportation and Air Quality? The complete Green Challenge results can be seen here. (http://www.americanlemans.com/News/Article.aspx?ID=4881)

The 2008 ALMS season will conclude on Saturday, October 18 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with a four-hour race to begin at 2:45 pm. Forumla1Blog.com will be there to provide photos and a race report. TV coverage will be on NBC, 2-4p.m. on Sunday, October 19.

Race Results:

1- LMP1 Audi #1, AUDI SPORT NORTH AMERICA, Dindo Capello/Allan McNish/Emanuele Pirro
2- LMP1 Peugeot #7, PEUGEOT SPORT TOTAL, Nicolas Minassian/Stephane Sarrazin/Christian Klien
3- LMP1 Audi #2, AUDI SPORT NORTH AMERICA, Lucas Luhr/Marco Werner
4- LMP2 Porsche #5, PENSKE MOTORSPORTS, Ryan Briscoe/Helio Castroneves
5- LMP2 Porsche #7, PENSKE MOTORSPORTS, Timo Bernhard/Romain Dumas
6- LMP2 Porsche #6, PENSKE MOTORSPORTS, Sascha Maassen/Emmanuel Collard
7- LMP2 Porsche #20, DYSON RACING, Dario Franchitti/Butch Leitzinger/Andy Lally
8- LMP2 Acura #66, DE FERRAN MOTORSPORTS, Gil de Ferran/Simon Pagenaud/Scott Dixon
9- LMP2 Porsche #16, DYSON RACING, Chris Dyson/Guy Smith
10- LMGT1 Corvette #3, CORVETTE RACING, Johnny O’Connell/Jan Magnussen/Ron Fellows
11- LMGT1 Corvette #4, CORVETTE RACING, Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Max Papis
12- LMGT2 Ferrari #62, RISI COMPETIZIONE, Mika Salo/Jaime Melo
13- LMGT2 Porsche #45, FLYING LIZARD MOTORSPORTS, Jörg Bergmeister/Wolf Henzler/Marc Lieb

Story by Scott Jones at www.turn2photography.com

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