2019 Petit Le Mans: The Live Blog
Hour 0:00: As has been the case since the inception of this race, the domestic sports car season ends as it began, with an endurance race.
The Petit Le Mans is the least historic of the four major endurance sports car races, and, since the Rolex 24 integrated the ALMS grid and the LMP1 heavyweights stopped coming overseas for the other American endurance events after the ALMS-Grand-Am merger, it is easily the least famous as well. That does not stop the day-int0-night epic from being routinely spectacular. That’s in no small part due to its traditional venue, Road Atlanta, a fast, flowy track that captures what makes the sort of natural terrain road course American sports cars frequent so fascinating while maintaining a much higher average speed than a Sebring. The time of year and location also introduces the annual element of looming rain, something that has in the often never come, but has on two occasions this decade transformed the race so dramatically that the results would make no sense without knowing the race was run in soaking conditions. It’s long, it’s unpredictable, and it decides year-long championships.
The biggest of those will be in DPi, a class that has had three notable eras over the course of the season. The first was of Cadillac dominance, but a Balance of Performance update early in the season radically shifted that to a focus on the sudden rise of the previously-snakebitten Mazda program at the Six Hours of the Glen. The program rattled off three wins in a row after going winless since joining the tpo class of IMSA competition, but, when the category resumed from a short Summer break for a GT-only race at Lime Rock, Mazda’s dominance was gone, and an even field saw a Penske Acura return to victory lane with relative ease. That car, the one of Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya, enters today with the championship lead, by twelve points over the #31 Cadillac of Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr. Unfortunately for Team Penske, the #31 starts from pole today, and, while the #7 Acura has the luxury of starting on the front row, the series-leading car is actually the #6, which starts in fourth. The top six represent all three major manufacturers in the class, and the large gap between points awarded for finishing last and points not awarded for not finishing mean that five of those six cars can technically take home an IMSA title today.
LMP2 has been a two-horse race all season, but not because of a spectacular duel between top contenders or anything. There are simply just two cars in the class. PR1 Mathiasen leads the standings by eight points, but they’ll start second to Performance Tech Motorsports. If you’re interested in checking in on something once every two hours, this might be the class for you to watch from the corner of your eye, though for most of the season these races have not been particularly close.
GTLM is very much contingent on whether or not the #912 Porsche finishes the race. It has a 12 point lead on its teammate, #911, meaning they need to finish just seventh of nine in class. If they do not, the door is suddenly open to a field of four, including that #912, the #3 Corvette, and both Ford GTs. None of those contenders will be starting on the front row, however, with the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari starting on pole next to the #24 BMW M8 GTE, which inherited that position after the #3 Corvette was penalized after qualifying and sent to the back of the grid. This marks the last race for the Corvette C7.R, and, likely, the last full-time entry for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GTs, which the team are hoping will run at least a limited schedule next year, though no plans have officially been made as of yet.
GTD is all but decided, with Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman simply needing their Acura NSX GT3 to finish the race to clinch a win from their 32 point championship lead. A win awards 35, however, and they will lose the title to Zacharie Robichon if the #9 Pfaff Porsche wins the race while they fail to finish.
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