American Le Mans Series

Petit Le Mans – Road Atlanta 2009 : Preview

3 Mins read

The field that takes to Road Atlanta for the 12th Petit Le Mans is sure to once more make it one of the highlights of the sportscar calendar.

The premier P1 class sees the renewal of hostilities between Audi and Peugeot, with each having a single victory when the they have faced each other this year, the Germans at Sebring and the French at Le Mans in June, while behind the wheels of those and other cars will be drivers from the world Indycar, Touring Cars, and (of course) endurance racing.

However, while the battle between the diesel prototypes will no doubt dominate Saturday's race (and probably Friday's qualifying – although the de Ferran team's petrol engine Acura took pole for Sebring) much of the focus before the race has been on the teams that will join them on the grid.

The race sees a rare American visit for the French ORECA squad, who have entered one of their Courage based, AIM powered ORECA 01 machines, bringing some Petit experience in alongside regular drivers Olivier Panis and Nicolas Lapierre, with Romain Dumas taking the third seat for the car. Frenchman Dumas, who drove an Audi at Le Mans will be more familiar to ALMS fans as the man who drove to two P2 class titles, and a Petit victory in 2007, in the Penske run RS Spyders.

Yet more international flavour is brought by the first debut due at Petit, with gentleman racer Paul Drayson's team making the gigantic step up from GT2, where the team has previously raced, to P1 with a new Judd powered Lola Coupe. The team, who only decided to make the change “last month” took advantage of the untimed testing session last weekend to run the first 'real' laps with the new car, which Drayson (who is probably one of the most enthusiastic people in all of motorsport) immediately labelled “brilliant” and “fantastic”.

These travellers will join the regular P1 contenders, the two Acura ARX-02a cars run by de Ferran Motorsports and Patron Highcroft, who will both be able to boast their own guest stars with Target Chip Ganassi Indycar teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti the teams, with Dixon joining de Ferran and Franchitti at Patron. Also present will be the smaller operations of Intersport and Autocon, although the hybrid powered Corsa Motorsport car will be absent.

More eyes will be drawn to the GT2 class, which produces some of the best racing anywhere. The class has ballooned, by variety if not number, this season, with BMW entering two cars under the Rahal-Letterman banner for the entire season, a campaign that saw its first class victory in Road America in August. The following round also saw the first success for the 'new' Corvette team, who moved down from GT1 at mid-season, joining the giants of Porsche and Ferrari, as well as privateer efforts running Fords, Dodges and Panozes.

That number may be swelled further by another new marquee entering the class.


Paul Gentilozzi's Rocketsports team, who had success with Jaguar in the old Trans-Am series, have decided to enter. The programme, announced in April and originally scheduled to debut at Lime Rock in July, has been subject to speculation as to whether the car will race on Saturday. The official line has been that the team will test (although they were not on track in Wednesday's first session, nor do they have any confirmed drivers at the time of writing) and qualify, gaining further track time, but would only decide whether to race after judging their performance.

The truth will only probably be known throughout the weekend.

Even without the Jaguar the class already has some of the same level of newcomers, returnees and visitors as the premier class.

Team Falken Tire will return in the turquoise and blue livery adorning a Porsche, but most of the interest will be focussed on the third drivers brought in by Rahal-Letterman. The names will be familiar to Touring Car fans, but perhaps less so to ALMS followers – Andy Priaulx and Jörg Müller. Both currently drive for BWM in the World Touring Car Championship and while Muller won the 2001 GT class title, this will Priaulx's first ALMS visit.

Unfairly, lost below the raft of debuts and visitors is the P2 class. The Fernandez team have already sealed class honours in their Acura, but the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda's have improved through this, their first season (despite being plagued by mechanical failures and bizarre luck), while Cytosport's Porsche Spyder is a proven quantity. All of which could make the smallest class in the race, with only five cars worth watching as much as the headline grabbing categories.

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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