This week I'm headed out to Atlanta from my Southern California home to attend the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta, home of the American Le Mans Series. The race is, as the name suggests, a mini Le Mans, though "Petit," as it's typically called, goes only 10 hours or 1,000 miles (about 394 laps of the course), whichever comes first. (Yes, it's "only" that long, compared to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.)
A variety of great storylines are coming together to make this race a potential epic. The race organizers will start 53 cars, and there are 58 entrants, so qualifying sessions will have an urgency not often seen in the sportscar world. Petit is both the last race of the American Le Mans Series season and the second-to-last race of the International Le Mans Cup series, which means championships are on the line and many will be decided here.
And because anything can and will happen in 10 hours of racing, it's inevitable that at least one class of competitors will be turned on its head by a spectacular collapse or mechanical failure, and at least one underdog will take a sentimental podium spot. Added to the drama is some extra incentive: class winners at Petit gain automatic entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year.
And the diesels are coming over from Europe to play, as well. This will mark only the second meeting of teams Peugeot and Audi (at right) with their diesel-powered prototypes in North America this year, and the first time North America will see the new Audi R18, which won Le Mans on its debut this year (with a female race engineer at the helm!). The action on the track should be riveting.
What I also know for sure, is that the action off-track will be equally frantic and fascinating. If I've learned anything with my half-year of promoting my book at the races, it's that the business of racing happens in double- or triple-time during race weekends, and sometimes only happens at races. Add to that truism the fact that this is the last race for one of the U.S.'s major sportscar racing series (ALMS) and post-season for the other (Grand-Am), and we'll have "silly season" in the extreme. Team owners, manufacturers, suppliers, drivers, crew, and you name it, will all be shaking hands and trying to line up deals and opportunities for 2012. The paddock will be a who's who of the racing world this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
All I can say is, it should be fascinating! And I'll report back.... Anything you want me to watch out for or see?