Petit Le MansPosted: August 17, 2011
Please forgive the blog name change, but it’s for a reason. Dad and I are heading to Petit Le Mans in October.
While in France, I met Jim, Kris and Clay – all from Atlanta. They praised the race held at Road Atlanta and told me I have to see the track and check out the race action. When I got home, I started some preliminary planning for heading to Atlanta in October. As it turns out, the week after Le Mans was Father’s Day. Just like in 2007, I decided as a Father’s Day gift, I’d take dad to Atlanta to see the race.
Road Atlanta is nestled in the Georgia woods about an hour northeast of Atlanta. Built in six months in 1969, it hosted it’s first race in 1970 with the legendary Vic Elford on pole in the Chaparral 2J. Various race series journeyed there over the years and the ownership of the track changed hands several times. In the early 90’s, the track ownership group declared bankruptcy and the track fell into disrepair. In 1996, Don Panoz bought the track and made major improvements. In 1998, Petit Le Mans was born.
The next year, Petit Le Mans was the first race for the newly created American Le Mans Series. Run under the rules established by the Automobile Club de O’uest – the ACO – the class winners of the 10 hour or 1,000 mile race would get an automatic bid into next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. And just like that, European endurance racing came Stateside.
Carved into the rolling hills, red clay, and lush woods of northwest Georgia, Road Atlanta is a 12-turn, 2.5 mile road course. With steep climbs, sweeping curves, and blind plunges, it’s a challenging track to drive.
Just past the start/finish line, turn 1 is an uphill climb with a blind apex flowing into turns 2 and 3. About halfway through the climb, you spot a tall tree as your aiming point to help line the car up correctly into turn 2. Turns 3, 4, and 5 are a flowing series slow and fast downhill corners know as “The Esses”. After turns 6 and 7, the cars enter a long straight with a few fast kinks through turns 8 and 9. Turns 10A, 10B and 11 are challenging to say the least. Stop short going into 10A and you’ll lose too much speed. Stop late, and you’re into the sand. Turn 11 is at the crest of a hill and runs beneath a bridge. Hanging under the bridge, is an aiming marker designed to help the drivers point the car in the right direction before they plunge into the fast turn 12.
I have this track in iRacing, and it’s maddeningly frustrating and amazingly fun to drive.
This is going to be a quick trip. We fly out Friday morning, hit the race on Saturday and fly home Sunday. We’re planning on catching up with Clay at the track and, with any luck, Jim and Kris will be there too. Ted and Smades are on the invite list, but they need to get the hall pass from the boss ladies.
I’m still pretty high from Le Mans, and to see the R18 and the 908 on American soil should give me just enough of a boost to start planning next year’s 24 hour trip.