Petit Le Mans race winner Franck Montagny insists that the American Le Mans Series was right to throw an early end to the scheduled ten-hour race after persistent rain sent the cars scurrying for shelter.
After several days of searing heat, the weather over Road Atlanta took a turn for the worse on race day, with a cocktail of showers and storms eventually delivering enough rain to flood some areas of the circuit and cause the race to be interrupted shortly before the halfway point, with the #08 Peugeot of Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin ahead of the sister machine of polewinner Nicolas Minassian and Pedro Lamy. With the rain continuing, the organisers chose not to send the cars back out, handing Peugeot its second one-two finish of the year following its triumph in the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
Precipitation had already played a part in affecting the preparations of the teams, delaying the warm-up session and forcing the cars to line up on the grid immediately after the handful of laps that were actually completed. This situation didn't make life easy for Team Peugeot Total which was unable to fine-tune its wet weather set-up
prior to the start, especially since the 908 HDi FAP had never previously competed in such conditions.
"Following the delayed warm-up, we had just five laps to set up the cars, and we started the #07 car in a predominantly wet weather set-up, with the #08 running dry weather settings," the team's Bruno Famin revealed, "Intermediate tyres are not permitted in the United States, so we had to make do with full wets before we were able to switch directly to slicks."
The early part of the race soon saw the two French cars lose their lead to Audi's Allan McNish, and were unable to match the pace of the R15 TDI, which took control of proceedings. When the track began to dry out - which it did a on a couple of occasions in the course of the first hour - first Lamy, then Minassian, were able to close to within a handful of seconds of McNish. Meanwhile, the #08 – which had trailed the leaders by as much as two laps at one point – succeeded in making up ground thanks to a carefully thought through strategy.
"When the track eventually dried out, both cars proved very quick and we were able to run a double-stint strategy thanks to the consistency and performance of our tyres," Famin continued, "At the same time, we coped very well with the safety car periods to catch - and ultimately pass - the Audis."
The seven safety cars and the return of dry conditions enabled the two Peugeot crews to take the battle to the McNish/Capello Audi, which led to a thrilling scrap before another caution period, the return of torrential rain and a spin by McNish put the seal on the final positions when the race was red flagged for safety reasons after four hours and 48 minutes!
The teams remained in the starting blocks for almost four hours as they waited for the restart, but in the end the organisers chose not to send the cars back out, calling the race just short of the nine-hour mark.
"It's great to have won the mini Le Mans!" Montagny concluded, "It all feels very weird, but I think the organisers were right to stop the race, because the conditions really were dangerous.