BRASELTON - After more than 10 hours and 1,000 miles at the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta race track, the margin of victory was paper thin this past weekend for Allan McNish.
In the Audi R 10 TDI, diesel-powered prototype, McNish was less than five seconds ahead Christian Klien, who was in a Peugeot 908 HDI, before a crowd of more than 100,000 fans at the Braselton track.
A terrible crash in a warm-up session less than an hour before the start, forced the Audi mechanics to practically rebuild the car in an unbelievably short time. And, despite the fact that McNish entered the race two laps behind, he was able to pass Klien with only 40 minutes left for the overall and P1 win in the 11th annual Petit Le Mans race.
"This race belongs to my team," McNish said. "Those guys accomplished something that I didn't think was possible. Therefore, there was no question in my mind that when we got in the position to win at the end, I had to do it for them."
Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe won the LMP2 class for Penske Motorsports in their Porsche RS Spyder. Castroneves, who is very popular for having won "Dancing with the Stars" on ABC, is the first driver to have won both Petit Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. He finished 21 seconds ahead of Penske teammates Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, who won their second straight drivers championship.
Much of the race was marred with mishaps that caused many laps at slower speeds behind the pace car while track workers cleaned up debris. The worst of these was an over 100 mph crash in the dark by several cars going downhill into Turn 12 during the last hour of the race.
Crowd favorite, Johnny O'Connell, from Flowery Branch, with former Panoz driver Jan Magnussen, and Canadian Ron Fellows won in GT1 for Corvette Racing to take their second endurance victory of the season. The win Saturday gave O'Connell and Magnussen the class championship with their eighth victory.
Jaime Melo and Mika Salo followed their GT2 endurance victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France with another win Saturday in their Ferrari F430 GT. Salo finished just seconds ahead of Flying Lizard Motorsports' Joerg Bergmeister and his Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The result was enough for Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler to wrap up the class championship for 2008.
Even in the dark near the end of the race, overall lap times were much faster than in previous years. But, because of all the accidents, the 2008 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta was one of the longest races in actual time. However the narrow margin of victory made it plenty exciting.