2009 Petit Le Mans: Plenty Wet and Wild

Mother Nature proved to be a determining factor at the 2009 Petit Le Mans on Saturday. Due to torrential rain storms, the race was red flagged after only five hours and eventually canceled. But the weekend still offered plenty of excitement.

The adrenaline began Thursday, when Scott Sharp managed to make contact with a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR leaving pit row. This caused Sharp’s Acura ARX-02a LMP1 racer to flip three times before plowing into a wall. Unlike F1 teams, most ALMS operations don’t carry a spare car, which meant the Patron Highcroft team would have to completely rebuild the car within 24 hours if Sharp were to compete in the weekend. After salvaging less than10 percent of the wrecked ARX-02a’s parts, the team received a new tub, and had a brand-new car built and ready for practice the next morning.

Petit Le Mans also marked the first time Audi’s R15 TDIs took to the track since finishing third at the grueling 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The R15s looked extremely dominant, flying past the competing Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs at the start, and maintaining a strong lead throughout the race. Within an hour and a half, Allan McNish had put his R15 one lap ahead of one of the 908s, but was prevented from passing the second 908 due to a caution flag.

In the following hours, the leaders stayed very close together, thanks to no less than seven caution periods. Even so, McNish and teammate Dindo Capello kept the lead in their number 2 R15 TDI formore thanfour hours. Then, while following a safety car, McNish spun the R15 on the soaked track and dropped to fifth place, behind both Peugeot 908s.

Shortly after McNish’s spin, the rain grew stronger, forcing a number of cars to hydroplane off the track. After only 4 hours and 52 minutes (nearly 10 hours of racing were scheduled), the race was red flagged, and teams voted not to restart the race for safety reasons. The final grid put the two Peugeots in first and second, while Audi’s pair followed up in third and fourth. Audi also managed to win the Michelin Green X Challenge, which meant the cars produced fewer emissions and consumed the least amount of fuel during the race.