Petit Le Mans 2013 took place last weekend. The 16th annual Petit Le Mans served not only as the finale of the 2013 ALMS season, but also as a send-off for the American Le Mans Series as a whole. With plans to merge with Grand Am Road Racing in the 2014 season, the series ended right back where it all began back in 1998 at the picturesque Road Atlanta circuit. 35 teams gathered to compete in the 1000 mile enduro one last time under its current formula.
Overcast skies and scattered showers greeted the teams and drivers to race day morning, and the unpredictable conditions would play a major role in the first few hours of the race. Drying conditions left teams scrambling prior to the start to choose the right tire for the conditions, with some teams pitting in the first few laps to change from wet compounds to slicks.
The early focus was on the LMP1 battle at the head of the field between the Lola/Toyota of Rebellion Racing and the HPD chassis/engine combo of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. While Rebellion got the jump and stormed to an early lead, Muscle Milk wasn’t going to let them get away. Lucas Luhr chased them down and made a brilliant divebomb move off of the dry line in turn 10 regained the lead for the HPD chassis. A clash with the championship leading #52 Prototype Challenge entry dropped Rebellion back two laps, but the battle was far from over. For the next few hours, the Rebellion team would fight back to the lead lap before electrical issues at the halfway point put an end to Muscle Milk’s day, as well as Lucas Luhr’s chances of getting his 50th ALMS win. Their misfortune handed the lead to Rebellion Racing and allowed them to cruise home to an easy overall victory. It was the 2nd consecutive Petit Le Mans victory for Rebellion Racing and drivers Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost, but the first for ex-Formula 1 ace Nick Heidfeld who wasn’t a part of their winning effort last year.
In typical ALMS fashion the GT battle was hard fought to the very end, with the underdog Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Bryan Sellers, Wolf Henzler and Nick Tandy coming out on top. In the early going it looked like the race was setting up to be another classic Viper vs Corvette shootout, with the #91 SRT Viper GTS-R and #4 Corvette C6.R duking it out in the first hour of the 1000 mile race. However, electrical gremlins forced the Corvette out of contention, and later contact with one of the Level 5 P2 cars in the high speed downhill esses sent the Viper into tire barriers.
As entries from the powerhouse factory teams like BMW, Corvette and SRT dropped by the wayside, the little Falken Tire team kept chipping away at an early two lap deficit with a combination of inspired driving, great pit stops and a lack of mistakes. By the time darkness fell over the track, they found themselves in the lead over a pair of BMW Z4 GTE’s and the Ferrari of Risi Competizione. Over the final two stints, Nick Tandy held off the hard charging #56 BMW in the hands of Dirk Mueller despite running wide at the esses in the closing laps. Meanwhile the Ferrari 458 driven by Mateo Malucelli fought hard to get on the final step of the podium, but ran out of time to catch the speedy Brit in the Porsche at the head of the field. It was a popular victory for the fan favorite Falken Tire squad, as audible cheers could be heard from the hillsides around the track when the car crossed the finish line.
The P2 class put on a good show all the way to the finish, with the season long rivalry between Level 5 Motorsports and Extreme Speed Motorsports reaching its conclusion in a final 10 lap dash to the end after a late caution. The #551 of Ryan Briscoe came to the final restart with the #01 HPD of David Brabham all over his rear wing. The two Australians battled through the darkness with the Level 5 squad ultimately coming out on top by just 1.39 seconds. It was enough to seal the drivers championship for team owner Scott Tucker who came into the event with a slim margin over Scott Sharp of the ESM team.
The competitive Prototype Challenge category was decided by a mere 11 seconds after the 394 lap distance, with the honors going to the #8 BAR1 Motorsport entry. An excellent drive from drivers Kyle Marcelli, Chris Cumming and Stefan Johansson was enough to claim the top step of the podium for the 3rd straight race. Post race confusion had originally awarded the drivers and teams championships to Chris Cumming and BAR1 Motorsport respectively, but these titles were later awarded to Mike Guasch of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, and to the CORE Autosport team after an error was found in the points calculations.
In GTC the day was destined to belong to Flying Lizard Motorsports from the drop of the green. The #45 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Spencer Pumpelly, Nelson Canache Jr. and Madison Snow dominated the class all day long and backed up their unbeatable speed with a flawless drive from start to finish, clinching the championship for the California based team. It was especially impressive for newly crowned IMSA GT3 Challenge champion Madison Snow, winning the Petit Le Mans in only his second ALMS start.
Changing conditions and thrilling battles made the 16th running of the Petit Le Mans one of the best to date, and with the exciting changes announced for next season, the 17th edition is sure to be equally special.
Photo by High Revs Photography