BRASELTON, Ga.—The Petit Le Mans is a 10-hour endurance race held each fall at Road Atlanta in Georgia. As the name suggests, it’s run with similar rules as the French race that runs for 24 hours each June, which means a mix of prototype and production-based sports cars take to the track at the same time. And although Petit Le Mans was first held just 21 years ago, it quickly established itself alongside events with decades-more history. In fact, it helped revitalize endurance racing, particularly in the US where it gave rise to the series we now know as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
This year’s Petit Le Mans was possibly the best in a decade. In each of the three classes (Prototype, GTLM, and GTD), there were championships to decide. On top of that, the North American Endurance Cup was up for grabs (it’s a separate trophy, again for all three classes, scored just at the longer races of the year). And those out of title contention were just going for the win.
Qualifying is a bit meaningless with such a long race to run, but the field was led to the green flag by Pipo Derani in #22, one of the two black-and-green Nissan DPis. Derani’s car was very fast at the start of the race but ran into trouble less than half an hour in with a puncture. The two Mazdas were similarly strong; the team was fresh off a very good race at Laguna Seca that should have ended in its first win, and both Oliver Jarvis (#77) and Jonathan Bomarito (#55) set some blisteringly fast laps.
For a while the prototype race was between the Mazdas and the Penske Acuras, but each ran into problems. The #55 Mazda went from the lead to a lap down after contact with another car. Juan Pablo Montoya had something fail in the #6 Acura as he went through turn 3; the contact with the tire barrier was fixable but only after three hours in the pits. Luckily things were a little less dram