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Petit Le Mans 2010; Audi, Peugeot, Hybrids, Oh My!

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On: Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 4:33PM | By: John Welch

Petit Le Mans 2010; Audi, Peugeot, Hybrids, Oh My!

It's been a while since we covered America's most entertaining road racing association, probably because it has been a while since the American Le Mans Series has raced. The Autoshopper was there in March for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and though we can't make it to Braselton, we will cover every heart-stopping minute of the 2010 Petit Le Mans. To ramp up excitement for the event we have here a primer for the slightly uninitiated, a short guide to the new cars, new teams, and of course, the fearsome diesel monsters that will be murdering the Road Atlanta tarmac on Saturday. 

Two practice sessions down, two more scheduled for today. Venture inside the post for a break down of the new teams, and the time sheets from this morning.

New Faces, From Across The Pond: The 2010 Petit Le Mans is a glorified "coming-out" party for two distinctly different, distinctly European cars. Representing the LMP2 class, the OAK Racing team has graced us with their surprisingly mean-looking (I mean, for pink cars,) Pescarolo Judds. Similar to the Courage LMPC cars, the Pescarolo chassis has been around for a while; it is properly developed and should be quick right out of the box.

Porsche has shipped its impressive 911 GT3 Hybrid to our shores, and it is running unclassified in the Petit. "Unclassified" isn't entirely accurate, a new category has been created, GTH (Gran Touring Hybrid, duh!) of which the 911 Hybrid is the sole competitor. Following the ACO rules for Hybrid GT cars, this special 911 collects energy from braking with two parallel electric motors, then routes the energy to a flywheel that lives underneath the car's passenger seat. The electricity spins the flywheel, up to 40,000 RPM, and stores it until the driver requires a 6 to 8 second boost of up to 160 bhp. The car is heavier than a normal GT2 machine, but the extra power can be used after every braking zone. Also, it is routed to the front wheels, essentially creating an all wheel drive system, also against GT2 rules. But for these and many other reasons, it is impossible to classify the 911 Hybrid in the normal GT2 class.

The flywheel was originally developed by the Williams F1 team; it was the unconventional KERS system used in their 2009 F1 cars. The technology sitting astride the 911 Hybrid driver will quickly make its way to the production line, completing the great "pit lane to civilian garage" cycle. Speaking of the drivers, the Porsche 911 Hybrid will be piloted by the same trio that won Le Mans this season for Audi, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, and Mike Rockenfeller. Ringers, to say the least.

Diesels Contend For Overall Victory: We witnessed the might of the Peugeot 908 HPDi as it cruised to victory at this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring. At Le Mans, the armor was damaged pretty badly, all three Peugeots fell victim to mechanical gremlins, leaving the door open for an easy Audi victory. In March, Audi did not make the call for Sebring. Sheepishly, they reported a difficulty complying with the rules. Both teams have had their issues, and have not had an opportunity for a truly close confrontation since the 2008 edition of the Petit Le Mans. The ACO rule book will be totally up-ended for 2011, so this is the last chance for us to see the 908 and R15 Plus go at each other on American soil. Next season both teams will introduce new, downsized prototypes, Audi may even go for a coupe. What is certain is that the current V10 and V12 powered Eurobeasts will see reduced cylinder counts.

The Battle To Come: After several practice sessions the time sheets are fairly predictable. Fairly, but not completely. The top of the charts being occupied by diesels is no surprise, its which diesel is in first that is a little unexpected. Audi, long the absolute, undisputed king of prototype racing has sometimes had trouble keeping up with Peugeot in the recent past. Audi has wrestled several overall victories from the paws of the Lion since 2007, but those were the result of superior strategy, not superior speed. The 908 has always had the silver cars, be it R10, R15 or R15 Plus, covered on sheer velocity. A coupe profile (the roofless Audi loses precious tenths because of the havoc its open driver compartment plays on the cars aerodynamics,) 12 Cylinder engine (Audi went to a V10 with the R15,) and fewer cooling issues have consistently placed the French car above the German in practice and qualifying sessions. Today, Audi struck back.

Narrowly beating Peugeot driver Marc Gene's fast time of 1:10:735, Marcel Fässler claimed the fastest time in practice today with a 1:09:579. His average speed was 131.49 mph, a blistering pace around Road Atlanta, especially considering the rain that blanketed the race track early in the session. That rain means that perhaps the Peugeots are quicker, as they have always had to deal with wet weather in a more conservative manner than Audi. The R15 Plus becomes faster, whereas the 908 HPDi gets a little squirrely, and difficult to control.

In LMP2 Patron-Highcroft fielded the fastest car, Simon Pagenaud pushing the HPD ARX-01c to a 1:11:759 lap time. Andy Meyrick was second quickest in the Dyson Racing/Mazda AER Lola with a 1:14:225, and OAK Racing ran third, with a time of 1:17:402. Patrice Lafargue was behind the wheel of the OAK- PescaroloJudd, his first time navigating Road Atlanta. The fastest, and only LMPC car to set a lap wasKyle Marcelli in the Intersport/Quicksilver FL-09, 1:19.954 his time.

The Corvettes are dominating the GT2 category so far, claiming first and second in this morning's practice session. Able to lay down a 1:21.412 lap time, Oliver Gavin was followed byOlivier Beretta in the sister 'Vette; Beretta set a lap time just .155 of a second off the pace.

The Petit Le Mans begins at 11:15 a.m., Saturday October 2nd and will be shown, in its entirety on Speed.

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