The weekend of the 16th and 17th of April, 2005, Road Atlanta hosted the sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta, the second event of the 2005 American le Mans Series (ALMS) season. In addition to the Grand Prix of Atlanta, the weekend saw competition in several other series, including the Porsche Cup, Professional Formula Mazda, and Speed Channel World Challenge Touring and GT classes. The weather was beautiful. Lots of sun, lows in the high 40s, highs in the low 70s, it couldn't have been much better. The crowd was good, but not overpowering as it can be during the Petit le Mans.We didn't get too many photos this year, and most of them are on film that hasn't been developed yet (I've only been home from the track for a couple of hours so far :-). These are from my little point-and-shoot Pentax digicam. I'll get the film photos up in the next few days (I hope). Click any thumbnail image below to see a larger version of the photo. This page and all images (except the Road Atlanta track map and the event ticket) are Copyright © 2005, Douglas N. Franklin. All rights reserved.
During the Atlanta Grand Prix, we saw one of the best on-track battles ever. Robin Liddell had the #50 (works) Panoz Esperante GT-LM at the front of GT2 class late in the race. In the last half-hour, Max Papis in the #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche caught up, and they had a clean nose-to-tail battle for about twenty minutes.
In the last ten minutes of the race they swapped positions several times. Liddell in the #50 ran a nearly perfect defensive line through turns 9, 10A, and 10B every lap, and Papis didn't get around him there. The rest of the track was out of sight, though, so we don't know what went on over there for the most part. With about three or four minutes left, Papis apparently got tired of the chase, because he rapped the rear end of the #50 in turn 7, spinning Liddell out.
The American Le Mans Series web site quotes Liddell as saying
I thought it was all over in Turn 7 and my heart was up in the air. I have no problem with the guy that tried to pass me. He took advantage when he saw the opportunity, and I would have done the same.I suspect he might have answered that question before seeing the video replay of the incident. The camera at turn 6 had a great view from behind the cars as they entered turn 7. From the replay, it looked absolutely deliberate. Turn 7 is a slower righthand corner of a little more than ninety degrees, and both cars had already turned in. Then you can see on the video that Papis' front tires turned to the left (opposite the corner) so his nose slapped the tail of the #50, sending the #50 around.
Liddell was knocked out of the race. To our complete surprise, the stewards not only apparently agreed with our analysis, they also black flagged Papis with less than five minutes to go! Papis still brought home the win, somehow. After the race, though, he was fined several thousand dollars and ten (I think) championship points for the move.
We also witnessed a lame, lame, lame, move by J. J. Lehto in the #1 ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 (Marco Werner was the codriver). It was a completely legal move, but unsportsmanlike in the way he did it. It occurred just before the restart after the final full course caution. As the pack came down the back stretch, Lehto, in the lead, let about a third to a half of a mile of space build up between him and the pace car.
The pack came around turn 9 in normal fashion, formed up single file with reasonable intervals between the cars, and proceeded down the hill towards turn 10A. When Lehto got to right about the 200 marker before 10A, he slammed on the brakes hard, and slowed to maybe twenty miles an hour. At race speed, the P1 cars take 10A sixty mph or more. At pacing speed, it's typically fifty or so when single file.
He slowed so much, and so abruptly, that he nearly triggered several collisions among the cars behind him. It was so severe, in fact, that the car second on the track (the #19 P2 car of Eric and Gunnar van der Steur) had to swerve aside, and almost passed Lehto. Remember that they're running under full course caution until the green flag flies, and that #19 will be in big trouble with the stewards if he passes under yellow.
As I said, the move is completely legal. We wouldn't have a problem with it except for the matter of scale. It's common to slow down some to get the guys behind you “back on their heels” right before the start. The difference is that Lehto slowed down far too much, nearly causing collisions behind him, and almost forcing the second place car to pass him under a full course caution, which would get that driver in a lot of trouble with the stewards.
Apparently no one agrees with us. None of the articles I've seen so far mention the incident, and he didn't draw a sanction from the stewards. But we lost a lot of respect for Mr. Lehto after that incident.
At the end of the ALMS race, we also ran into AtlantaMX3 from the Grassroots Motorsports magazine online forums. We'd wandered down to the fence beyond turn 10A, and he happened to be sitting on the hill right behind us. When he saw “LEFTY” on the back of my hat, he wondered, and when he saw “NutDriver Racing” he was sure, so he stepped up and introduced himself. It's always great to meet people I “know electronically”.
Wandering around the “Vendor Village”, we were surprised at a middling turnout, rather than the packed turnout of the Petit le Mans. We were especially surprised not to find out friends Discovery Motorsports and Pittman Performance.
Righty worked Saturday flagging at turn 5. I happened to be standing there when the #19 P2 car of Eric and Gunnar van der Steur looped and “ate” the wall right past the turn 5A flag station during practice. I had the cameras, unfortunately I was out of film. I got a couple of shots with the little digicam. Due to the position of the car, and the position of the car, they called out the red flag, as you can see from the photos.
The digicam is NOT suited to the rigors of shooting the cars on track. I didn't really expect it to be, either, though. :-)
This year our photo ended up in the “big” paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was a photo from the 2003 Petit le Mans when we word our “track suits”.
Righty gave his “backflip” hat to Bill Auberlin since it represented his car in 2000. If we knew where Yannick Dalmas was, we'd send the other one to him. He tried to give his LMP-07 hat from 2003 to Gunnar Jeannette, since the helmet on the model car uses Gunnar's helmet paint scheme. Unfortunately we couldn't find Gunnar. So then we thought of Max Papis, since he codrove the car, but couldn't find Max, either. Then we found the third codriver, Olivier Beretta, and gave the hat to him.
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