Preview: 2015 Petit Le Mans


The 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Championship draws to a close this weekend, but it finishes in style with the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Saturday, October 3.

The 10 hour race will decide the driver, team and manufacturer championships in all four classes, and extremely close points standings heading into the event promise a thrilling finale.

Prototype

In the top class, Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook lead the standings in the #90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP, with 279 points: a gap of just six points. Their closest competitors are the two Action Express Racing cars, with the defending champions, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, tied with team-mates Dane Cameron and Eric Curran.

“Both 2013 and 2014 were difficult years for us, but we’ve come back stronger this year,” said Westbrook, who has won two races so far this season. “The fact that only six points are separating the three Coyotes [Corvette DP chassis] shows how even it is. I’m sure the championship is going to go down to the last hour of Petit Le Mans, which – from a fan perspective – is incredible. The championship would be an incredible achievement, but we haven’t won it yet.”

Hoping to continue their run of form from their win at the recent Circuit of The Americas round will be Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who pilot the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford-Riley DP. They sit fourth, on 268 points, and have a lead of five points over Ricky and Jordan Taylor in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP.

“I’m quite disappointed that we aren’t in the championship fight but, as it has been for most of the championship, it is fun to be able to be aggressive and try to win races,” said 2014 race winner Ricky Taylor. “Petit Le Mans is a long race but the style of the racetrack rewards commitment and aggressiveness in traffic, which gives us an advantage because we can exploit those areas a little more than the championship contenders.”

Also on the Prototype entry list are the DeltaWing, Michael Shank Racing Ligier and the two SpeedSource Mazda Prototypes.

Valiante and Westbrook lead the standings currently (Credit: Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA/IMSA.com)
Valiante and Westbrook lead the standings currently (Credit: Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA/IMSA.com)

Prototype Challenge

Jon Bennett and Colin Braun hold a 12 point lead in their #54 CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09, and are in the best possible position to defend their 2014 championship. However, the next two teams in the standings are separated by just two points.

The contenders in question are PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, with drivers Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith on 277 points, and Chris Cumming and Bruno Junqueira in the RSR Racing entry.

Joining these entries at Road Atlanta on Saturday will be cars from Starworks Motorsport, BAR1 Motorsports, Performance Tech Motorsports and JDC/Miller Motorsports.

“Petit Le Mans is a race I want to win really bad,” admitted Braun. “Together, Jon and I have won Daytona, we’ve won Sebring, we’ve won Watkins Glen, we’ve won Mosport, Lime Rock, COTA… it seems like we’ve won at just about every race track except for Road Atlanta. I definitely need to get this one checked off the list!”

“It is difficult to ignore the points situation going into the last event of the season,” added Braun’s CORE Autosport team-mate Jon Bennett. While the incoming point totals may shape some race decisions from our strategists in pit lane, from the cockpit, Colin and I prefer the same approach we have employed all season: go win the race!”

GT Le Mans

Due to the win from BMW Team RLL at COTA, the leading Porsche North America car of Patrick Pilet now only has a three point advantage. Joining Pilet in the #911 Porsche 911 RSR is overall 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans victor Nick Tandy, who is down in ninth, having missed some rounds.

Behind Pilet are COTA winners Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner, who drive the #25 BMW Z4. A further seven points behind is the #3 Corvette Racing C7R of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, whilst Risi Competizione drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer are on 266 points.

Adding to these top four cars are second entries from each of BMW Team RLL, Corvette Racing and Porsche North America, as well as the Team Falken Tire Porsche.

“It’s a lot better to be in my position, leading the championship, than to be in second,” said Pilet, who has won three of the last four races. “For sure, we lost some points in the last race, but we always have a good car at Petit and at our last test it was really good. I’m really confident for the race. I think Road Atlanta is a really good track for the Porsche. We have a strong lineup, a good team, and I’m pretty sure we have a good chance to win the race.” 

GT Daytona

Christina Nielsen is on the brink of an amazing achievement (Credit: Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA/IMSA.com)
Christina Nielsen is on the brink of an amazing achievement (Credit: Scott R LePage/LAT Photo USA/IMSA.com)

However, the closest battle is in GT Daytona, where Christina Nielsen has 256 points, just one more than her closest rivals. If the TRG-AMR driver can win the title, she will become the first female driver to win a championship in major international sportscar racing. Team-mate Kuno Wittmer is in tenth and out of competition for the drivers’ championship.

The extremely close second position is held by the Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS, with drivers Christopher Haase and Dion von Moltke sitting on 255 points, three more than Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell‘s Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Other teams in contention are COTA winners Riley Motorsports using the Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R piloted by Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen. They have 245 points, whilst the #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Mario Farnbacher and Ian James is three behind. The final contender with a good shot at the championship is the team’s sister #22 car of Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil is on 238 points.

“Winning the championship would be a major accomplishment in my career and I believe it is a step in the right direction towards becoming a pro driver,” Nielsen said. “Also the fact that no other female has won it before makes it even more special. I think we deserve a win and have the driver lineup, the car and the team to do it. Honestly I’m going into the last round to have fun, enjoy it and win. I love Road Atlanta, it’s my favorite track and it’s such a cool event.”

Road Atlanta

The circuit itself is situated near Braselton, GA, and around 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. Opened in 1970, the track is owned by NASCAR, through Panoz Motorsports, and has the Petit Le Mans as its headline event. It is one of the few tracks of its kind in an area usually dominated by stock car racing.

Last year’s race was won by Wayne Taylor Racing, with the other categories taken by Starworks Motorsport, Team Falken Tire and Paul Miller Racing. A record number of 13 cautions took place over a race that lasted 400 laps of the 2.5 mile circuit.

The Checkered Flag will provide a live blog throughout the race, as well as our usual reports surrounding the event.