Petit Le Mans returns to Road Atlanta

For the 16th time Road Atlanta will be the host for Petit Le Mans this Saturday, a sports car endurance race which is part of the American Le Mans Series. The drivers will maneuver through the 12 turns of the 2.54 mile course for either 10 hours or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. The winning team has only failed to reach 1,000 miles in the rain delayed event in 2009.

Petit Le Mans is one of Georgia’s biggest international events with drivers from 19 different countries participating. The race will begin at 11:30 a.m.

Highlighting the event is the GT class, featuring classic American muscle cars such as the Corvette and Viper. Those cars will be among the favorites in the GT class which also features Porsche, Ferrari, and BMW. Extreme Speed Motorsports won the event in 2012 with the Ferrari 458 Italia GT2. That car was also driven to victory in 2011 by Italian team AF Corse. Prior to the last few years, the class had been dominated by teams driving models of the Porsche 911 GT.

One of the more interesting storylines of Petit Le Mans this year is the return of the futuristic Nissan DeltaWing. The unique racecar features half the weight, half the horsepower, and half the aerodynamic drag of a typical Le Mans sports car. After a successful North American debut at Petit Le Mans in 2012, Nissan has made its new racecar into a coupe version and will try to improve on its fifth place finish from a year ago as an unclassified participant.

The race features teams with two or three drivers that are among the best in the world. Fans will have a local rooting interest in at the event, however, with Braselton native Bryan Sellers making his seventh start in the GT class of the ALMS. He will be one of the drivers for the No. 17 Team Falken Tire, who will be one of three teams driving the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

Sellers and his teammates, Wolf Hanzler of Germany and Nick Tandy of the United Kingdom, placed on the podium this season in the only other two races which are longer than three hours in Sebring, Fla., and Monterey, Calif.

In addition to being one of the longest races of the year, Petit Le Mans is also considered one of the most difficult. Despite the length, precision and focus is a premium on every turn of every lap as the pace is very high.

“There is nothing about Petit Le Mans that is an endurance race other than the distance,” Sellers said. “From the drop of the green flag it is an all out door-to-door race. It is a very demanding race, physically and mentally; it is by far one of the most difficult races of the year. With the heavy competition and the extreme pace it completely forces your hand in how you have to play the race.”

The event will mark the end of the ALMS after 15 years. The Series will merge with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in 2014 to create the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Petit Le Mans will continue, however, as part of the new series and will be the final race of the 2014 season next October.

Sellers admits that this being the final race of the ALMS adds a little more motivation for himself, particularly because of his teams coming up just short of the podium in recent Petit Le Mans.

“It has been an honor for me to be involved with a part of what is sure to become a positive part of sports car history,” Sellers said. “We have had a couple years where we have been close to a podium at Petit, and to finally get one in the final ALMS race would be great. It would be very special.”