Big names at Petit Le Mans


The Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta has become one of America’s biggest sports car races. Next weekend’s eleventh running of the 1000Km or 10-hour enduro is expected to draw more than 100,000 people over three days, with fans from 18 countries buying tickets to this year’s race. Peugeot is sending one of its 908 coupés to try to avenge its defeats to Audi this year at Sebring, Le Mans and Silverstone. Yet Audi’s R10s will be hard to beat around Road Atlanta’s fast but serpentine four kilometres on the rolling red clay hills of north Georgia.

The track also suits the less powerful but more nimble and fuel-efficient LMP2 cars from Acura and Porsche, and a big battle is raging for the LMP2 championship between the Penske/Porsche team and this year’s leading Acura squad fielded by Duncan Dayton’s Highcroft Racing. David Brabham and Scott Sharp drive the Highcroft Acura, and Dario Franchitti will join them at Road Atlanta.

“I love sports car racing and driving all different types of cars, which is something I’ve been fortunate enough to do over the past three or four years,” Franchitti said. “It was a goal of mine to do this race this year, so when Duncan Dayton invited me to come and drive for his team and try to help them win the championship it was a no-brainer. It’s a very competitive car and I can go out and do what I love to do.”

Let’s not forget that Franchitti co-drove one of Chip Ganassi’s Lexus-Rileys to win last winter’s Rolex 24 hours at Daytona with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya, and will join these guys in Ganassi’s two-car team at Daytona again next January.

Penske is fielding a third Porsche Spyder in the Petit Le Mans for Indycar drivers Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe to try to bolster the championship hopes of regular drivers Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard. Also joining the P2 field on a one-off basis for the weekend are this year’s Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti. Dixon will be the third driver in an Acura fielded and driven by Gil de Ferran along with Simon Pagenaud, while Andretti-Green Indycar racers Kanaan and Andretti will partner Franck Montagny in AGR’s Acura P2 car.

“In motor racing these days you have very short practice sessions and races, and I just love doing laps,” said Dixon. “I just want to be out there and long-distance racing is the only kind of place you can find that. So for me it’s fantastic to be with a great team and have a great car to drive. You get plenty of track time and you’ve got a ton of cars out there. You’re constantly passing people and it’s fun, interesting and different from what we normally do.”

A 40-car field of LMP1, LMP2, GT1 and GT2 cars is expected to take the green flag on Saturday afternoon. Road Atlanta is fast and demanding with constant changes in elevation and difficult sightlines, so Dixon and his fellow drivers will be fully occupied over the following 10 hours. New Zealand’s first Indycar champion should be in seventh heaven.

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