Click any thumbnail image on the photo pages to see a larger version of the photo. These pages and all images (except the Road Atlanta track map) and the event ticket are Copyright © 2005, Douglas N. Franklin, all rights reserved, except the images of the ticket, the track map, and the cover of the event program.
Being road racers ourselves, and big fans of professional sportscar racing to boot, The Nuts look forward every year to the return of the American le Mans Series (ALMS) Petit le Mans to Road Atlanta in the fall. 2005 was no exception, especially since the Porsche prototype was rumored to make its debut. As it turned out, the Porsche didn't appear, and we were really disappointed in that, but we look forward to seeing it run at Sebring early next year in its rescheduled debut. The rumours indicated that the Penske team was not achieving the performance they felt reasonable, and so held back the debut.
This year, the Petit le Mans occupied the last week of September. This eighth installment of what has become a premier sportscar race in the world saw excellent weather to complement the excellent racing. Mother Nature presented all of the attendees with a beautiful example of just how wonderful Fall in the Atlanta area can be. Plenty of sunshine, very comfortable temperatures, and only light breezes added up to lots of enjoyment for the campers and the commuters, the spectators, drivers, crews, and staff. Though the crowd and the number of entrants seemed a little smaller than in years past, we’re hopeful that’ more a symptom of the higher cost of gasoline this year than anything else. Even though the crowd seemed a bit smaller, they put the “Vendor Village” in the main infield parking area, so parking was a bit harder to come by than in previous years. The infield traffic flow did seem to be better than the last few years, anyway. Though the “Vendor Village” took up some of the parking space in the infield, they did have a really nice display that included an older Panoz prototype and a Ferrari.
The Nuts have managed to attend all eight of the Petit le Mans events, a streak we plan to keep intact until either the event passes, or we do. From several perspectives, 2005 was our most enjoyable trip of them all. One very important enhancment to our experience was that we had our own golf cart for getting around the track property. In the past, we'd nearly worn out our feet and legs at this event, and we had no real idea just how pleasant it could be to have motorized transport. Though we originally bought the golf cart to help out on weekends when we raced, it pretty much paid for itself over the Petit weekend. Unfortunately, we did not have paddock access for the golf cart, but that's pretty understandable due to the number of team cars of various types that occupy the paddock during a big event like the Petit. We do need to “soup up” the golf cart, though, to better handle the steep hill climbs that make up the infield at Road Atlanta, but it was still a whale of a lot better than walking them.
Even with the golf cart, we didn’t get around the track as much as in previous years. This great event gives us a chance to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones, on top of the great racing. So, we ended up spending more time jawing and less time moving around the event. We didn’t really get around the support paddock much at all. We did manage to hang out a bit with the Van Der Steurs in their paddock space. It turns out Eric lives near Righty in the Spartanburg, SC, area. Also, we met racing legend Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Liz Halliday on the grid, and managed to get photos of Righty with them. We also managed to connect with an old friend undexpectedly, but missed a new friend due to communications problems.
Unlike the previous three years, this year we didn't do any sort of “gag” like the “Panoz Hats” or the “Track Suits”. Frankly, we've been too busy to come up with and execute something good, and we refused to do something half-baked. We'll have to work extra hard to come up with next year's gag. All suggestions are welcome, but don't expect a personalized reply.
Righty again worked corners the test day Wednesday, and, again, Lefty had to work at his regular job. We also purchased regular “Super Tickets” this year instead of the premium Mulsanne Chalet tickets. We’d accumulated several very similar versions of the “gift bag” over the years, and we weren’t all that impressed with the food, so we figured we’save a little money this year. Plus, we had the golf cart, so a comfortable place to sit was never far away. Since we forgot to take a radio with us, we did feel a bit out of touch, since we didn’t have access to the closed circuit TV of the Mulsanne Chalet.
As usual, Lefty hauled a big bag of photo equipment around the event with him. The original Petit le Mans in 1998 was a big part of the rebirth of Lefty's interest in photography, and has led to quite a bit of spending on things photographic. This year, he shot twenty rolls of twenty-four exposures each, and had about 200 “keepers”. He was really out of practice, though, and the “keep” rate was lower than usual, especially on the pans of the cars on track. He's also decided he needs a better flash to do some of the night shots; the graphics on some of the cars really “light up” under a flash at night. He also messed up some of the photos from the Panoz Race Series race because he wasn't paying enough attention to the placement of some of the trackside speakers.
Some of their corner-working friends let Lefty know that Jack Brimmer, the photographer for the Atlanta SCCA Region was trying to contact him. It turns out that Jack is moving and wondered if Lefty would be interested in helping to do the region’s photography, which, of course, he is! Which, also of course, resulted in more spending, since a digital SLR will be much cheaper in the long run than the amount of film he”d shoot at that many events each year. Maybe the exposure will help in the quest for photo credentials for some of the other events at Road Atlanta.
While moving around the track and photographing, Lefty was really struck by something he”d noticed before: many of the pro photogs move around in herds and basically all take the same photos from the same locations. That seems like a really bad way to try to have your work stand out from the crowd, but it”s apparent in the coverage of the event that we see published both online and in print. We try to get different angles and positions, but it”s tough when you don't have credentials.
As part of not getting around as much as previous years, we also didn't get as many photos in the main and support paddocks. We also didn't get any photos of most of the support races, including the Pro Spec Miata, Pro Formulat Mazda, and Formula BMW races. We're definitely going to have to work on this for next year.
As we mentioned above, we were disappointed not to see the new Porsche prototype car debut at the Petit le Mans this year. We really hope that the folks at Penske racing can get it tuned to their satisfaction for next season. One more option on the grid should make the racing just that much more exciting and interesting. Since it”s intended to be a “customer car”, it might end up expanding the grids, too, which is always a good thing, especially since there seemed to be fewer entrants than in previous years.
Our corner-working friends reported that there was more difficulty staffing the event this year than in years past. Not only did fewer Americans turn out, but far fewer of our overseas bretheren turn up, including a bunch from Canada that make it nearly every year. We don’t really know what caused the problems, but much higher than usual gasoline prices probably played a part. In the long run, though, the various sanctioning bodies must put forth some effort to correct this problem. The problems staffing the Petit le Mans are but a reflection of the much greater problems the SCCA regions have staffing the less visible events.
Overall, the racing was excellent in all classes, and most of the support races. The main exception was the Formula BMW support race. We don’t really know what was wrong, but it just wasn’t very exciting. The Formula BMW bunch needs something. Maybe it’s the cars or maybe it”s the drivers or maybe a bit of both, but it definitely needs something. Some of the spectators took to calling it “Formula Boring”. The Star Mazda series race provided much more excitement and much closer racing than the Formula BMW event, just as we’ve come to expect from past events. The Pro Spec Miata race also excelled, and seemed to have much less contact than the regional SCCA (amateur) Spec Miata events we typically see and work.
The Petit le Mans main event provided plenty of excitement, as it always does. We were very disappointed, however, with the Lap One, Turn One incident. We've put our discussion of it in a separate article. Overall, more full-course cautions seemed to occur this year than in past events, especially early in the race. The #41 prototype precipitated one of them when it “beached” on the outside rumble strips at Turn 5 in the afternoon, a very dangerous situation, since the normal racing line usually takes many of the cars across that rumble strip as they exit Turn 5.
The Aston Martin effort was paritcuarly noteworthy this year. An incident at Turn 2 on Wednesday effectively trashed their #57 car and left debris from Turn 2 all the way down past Turn 4 and into The Esses. Through a herculean effort, they not only repaired that car and fielded it in the main event, rebuilding it from the firewall foward, the rebuilt car competed at the front of its class all day. Their #58 car fought an even better battle, having come through the practice and qualifying days unscathed.
In a similar vein, the #1 ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 had a similar experience. After the incident at Turn 1 on Lap 1, the team had essentially to rebuild the entire front of the car. Later in the race, another incident severely damaged the car again, and the team had to essentially replace the entire rear of the car. And even with all of that time in the garage and all of the work the team did to the car, it still finished third overall in the race!
Unfortunately our friends at Van Der Steur Racing left the event early after a mechanical malfunction that included losing the rear cowl of their car on the back stretch. The #58 Aston Martin almost hit the cowl, too, as it came to rest on the track surface, which would have been quite nasty.
In the end, the #2 ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 brought home the P1 class win, with the #20 Thetford Norcold Dyson Racing AER Lola EX257 taking the second podium spot and the #1ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 finishing out the P1 podium.
Overall we had a great time and really enjoyed the racing and the people, and not having to walk everywhere we went. We're looking forward to the 2006 American Le Mans Series schedule, even though it appears not to include an Atlanta Grand Prix event as in the previous few years.
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