The start of the 19th running of the Petit Le Mans was a textbook example of how a huge multi-class race can provide extremely clean racing as all 38 cars negotiated what is a very short lap at Road Atlanta dominated by traffic.
In the first hour, the main story was the ability of pole sitters in two of the four classes to pull away from their respective chasing packs without any trouble. The first was Olivier Pla in the Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda who utilised the clean air – until he lapped the first GT Daytona car after seven laps – to pull away from the Mazda of Tristan Nunez.
Doing likewise was Jeroen Bleekemolen in the GT Daytona class Dodge Viper of Riley Motorsports who, by the time 20 laps had been completed, had a 20 second lead over Matt McMurry in the Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R to hold the upper hand in the biggest class taking part in the finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
The first hour went by with no incidents of note as the green flag stayed out throughout, but come the second of ten hours a number of incidents started to throw a few spanners in the works for many teams.
The first of those was directed straight at Michael Shank Racing as they pitted earlier than expected with a mechanical issue hampering the progress of that car as John Pew got in to replace Pla.
He didn’t have much green flag running though as the first – and so far only – full course caution neutralised the field for, near as makes no difference, 20 minutes as the #20 Prototype Challenge entry of BAR1 Motorsports found itself in the gravel at turn 10.
As the safety car came back in an issue befell another competitor, this time in GTLM as the #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen came in just a few minutes after it made its scheduled stop with an engine issue. Seemingly solved, the car went back out, but 30 minutes later it was back in and went behind the wall with IMSA Radio reporting the engine wasn’t sounding as sweet as it should be.
Engine problems also afflicted the #60 Michael Shank Ligier as Olivier Pla, who got back in the car after Pew did a straight hour, found himself with a lack of power coming out of turn seven. He got it re-fired but that will have no doubt caused the team stress they definitely won’t have wanted.
At roughly the same time, and punctuating the third hour, the #55 Mazda of Tristan Nunez and later Spencer Pigot found themselves beached on the run from turn two to turn three and had to make trips to the garage so mechanics could try and figure out what was going on with the engine in what was a car that looked likely to have a role to play in who wins the race.
Back out on track, the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Richard Westbrook found itself in a bit of bother as, on the run down to turn 10, Westbrook nudged the #100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM into a spin and half-stranded in the gravel.
There was no time to see if he would get a penalty for that contact though as that car went behind the wall with what appeared to be oil streaming out the back of the car.
In GT Daytona, there was some history made as Christina Nielsen in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 unofficially became the first female driver to win a drivers title in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition. With her three-hour minimum drive-time completed all she needs now is for the car to finish.
Class Positions after three hours of the 2016 Petit Le Mans:
- #60 – Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda – Olivier Pla/John Pew/Ozz Negri
- #31 – Action Express Racing Corvette DP – Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud
- #5 – Action Express Racing Corvette DP – Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque
- #52 – PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports – Jose Gutierrez/Tom Kimber-Smith/Robert Alon
- #38 – Performance Tech Motorsports – Kenton Koch/Kyle Marcelli/James French
- #8 – Starworks Motorsports – Alex Popow/Renger van der Zande/David Heinemeier Hansson
GT Le Mans
- #66 – Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT – Dirk Mueller/Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais
- #4 – Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R – Tommy Milner/Oliver Gavin/Marcel Fassler
- #68 – Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE – Andrea Bertolini/Daniel Serra/Alessandro Pier Guidi
- #44 – Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT3R – Andy Lally/John Potter/Marco Seefried
- #6 – Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS – Andrew Davis/Robin Liddell/Mike Skeen
- #23 – Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3R – Alex Riberas/Mario Farnbacher/Ian James