Peugeot Takes Advantage Of Audi’s Mistakes And The Rain To Win Petit LeMans

The American LeMans Series’ crown jewel, the Petit LeMans was going to be anything but boring. With the epic rematch of French powerhouse Peugeot and the cool and calculating veteran Audi team renewing their battle from June, this was looking to be good. With the French and German teams only racing on a limited schedule nobody knew if Audi figured out their mechanical issues from LeMans. Were they going to have something for Peugeot?

Audi driver, Lucas Luhr told me “All we did was test this summer, I think we made some improvement in right direction.” However Audi got behind when Lucas had an off in the first practice session and they lost that it to repairs. It was not as bad Scott Sharps scary flip into the wall and catch fencing in the later session. Sharp wrote off the tub and was the team was only able to salvage 10% of the parts for the replacement car. Sharp did the same last year and that really put the Acura Highcroft behind the eight ball with the title in reach. This put the team in a tight spot as they would have to fly another chassis in midst all the rest of practice to make the show.

The whole metro-Atlanta area and most of the surrounding area had been battling rain and flood the week prior. Once again, the weather was going to play a role on race day. It did not rain until Saturday morning pushing the warm-up session to 9:45 and then going right into the race mode. This sent all the teams in a panic to get rain set ups and changing their strategies.

This was also going to make for a whole different race because Peugeot was setting the pace for everyone in the dry conditions and perhaps would give Audi the chance they were looking for.

I spoke with Stephane Sarrazin who really wanted to beat Audi after last year. Coming back to this track and having a race under his belt he said this track is tricky and the Audi drivers been here for years, thus almost making it their home track. However Sarrazin said the car was getting better and better and the crew is also taking it to another level.

When the race started Audi’s Allan McNish took charge of the race and setting the pace putting the Peugeot down a lap. But McNish’s gaffes on track, spinning during the green and also again under caution hurt the Audi team as did having to pit for a headlight that went out. Peugeot was there to capitalize on Audi’s and McNish’s mistakes.

The Dyson team got their biggest win (P2 Class) this year and it was not easy as they lost a motor and lost some test time. Even Butch Leitzinger was getting nervous waiting for their replacement engine to arrive to the track. Butch said that he really happy with Mazda and how fast they have developed the car and engine to be a front runner, The race has meant a lot to him he was here the first time they ever ran the race many years ago.

The other big news was Risi Competizone of Jamie Melo, Pierre Kaffer and Mika Salo. They were not even close to where they wanted to be speedwise. They were slow and running in sixth place when Mika Salo came in early for rain tires and went from sixth to first before the red flag came out. Salo told me he was getting some moisture on the windshield and felt like he had to take a chance and it paid off for the win. “We did not have the fastest car but, I knew when he got in the car it was going to rain.” Salo said it was another long distance race win, the fifth in a row for Salo, Pettit, 24 Hours at Lemans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Other drivers making guest appearances were IndyCar stars, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon. The duo really likes to do these races and get away from the points racing in the IndyCar Series. But they cannot get away from it for long because they tested on Friday at Homestead for the up and coming IndyCar finale. With Scott Dixon winning the last race it has put him in the lead going into the finale and now I know why they call him the ‘iceman” because he is so cool about the whole thing. He said the worst thing is the wait and he said the test was good and they learned something that they will able to use in that race. Time will tell if it works.

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