Podium of Thoughts on 2021 Petit Le Mans
1. A Grand Farewell: It's been known for a long time that Mazda was pulling out of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This year, they went down to one car. Next year, zero. There have been a lot of thoughts from fans on this decision, especially Mazda fans.
But let's focus on the positives. Very few manufacturers do as much as Mazda does at the grassroots motorsports level. If they never did anything else, that alone is something to be grateful for.
But they did decide to join the big boys a number of years ago. To say it didn't start out well would be an understatement. As Harry Tincknell said, "At the start of the program we were spraying fire extinguishers at it."
They kept getting better and better, but that first win remained elusive. They seemed to find ways to lose like when a first win was virtually in the bag at Laguna Seca in 2018. And the thought of winning a long endurance race? Forget about it!
But that's where their first win came -- in the Six Hours of the Glen in 2019. Then, they did it again in the Finger Lakes this year. In between, they won the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring last year, as well as three sprint races.
Then, came this race, their finale. And their final win came in a thriller. They fell three laps down early to change spark plugs. Yet, numerous early full course yellows allowed them to play the pit stop game and take advantage of the wave around rule to quickly make it up. A daring pass in the waning minutes gave them the lead.
So, four out of seven of their victories turned out to be from endurance events. An improbable thought early in their program.
Tincknell said, "To go out with a win is the Hollywood story." Indeed it was for the little manufacturer that could. A feat to be celebrated by Mazda fans.
Mazda will still be around heavily supporting the lower ranks of racing. In some ways, perhaps, that's worthy of a greater celebration.
2. Farewell To A Class: GTLM is no more. It was inevitable. Though the endurance races brought out more cars, eight for Petit, the sprint races only saw three entries, and one of them was a privateer. Something had to be done, and unfortunately, that something was kill the class.
It's not that I have anything against GT3 cars (a.k.a., GTD for IMSA), it's just the GTLM cars had a little something special about them. They were (usually) full fledged factory efforts with top class professional drivers with cars that were a bit faster and handled a bit better than GT3. In a way, they were a nice medium between GT cars and prototypes. And a lot of fun to watch.
Now, they become the same as GTD but with a pro designation, while the original GTD stays pro-am. So really, the only difference is the level of the drivers. Yawn.
The Corvettes actually get to continue using their current cars, but technical changes will be made to get them down to GT3 performance levels. Kind of ironic since a Corvette, who has mostly dominated GTLM over the years, did not even finish the last GTLM race. The first time that has happened in a very, very long time. (Another interesting stat -- Corvette has not won Petit Le Mans since 2010.)
The good side is GT3 cars are becoming the defacto standard in all worldwide GT racing -- IMSA, WEC, SRO, DTM, and so on. Thus, entries should go up throughout the racing world as teams and manufacturers (and more are being attracted to GT racing thanks to this common rule base) can easily take their cars anywhere they want to go. Therefore, it should be an even bigger boon to GT racing.
However, I'll still miss the GTLM class.
3. The Heart Of Racing Indeed: Definitely one of those teams you can't root against. For starters, they drive a cool car -- the Aston Martin Vantage.
However, their real purpose is to raise money for children's hospitals around the country. They also have talented drivers (Roman De Angelis, Ross Gunn, and for the longer races, Ian James) who are a pleasure to talk to. In fact, the whole team is made up of down to earth racing loving folks.
They had some struggles early last year, but they have come around to be a consistent podium contender, wrapping up this season with a Petit win. They finished third in the championship and had already won the GTD sprint title.
They are, in every sense of the term, the heart of racing.
Lobotomy of the Race Award: Accordians. As in the accordian effect of the restart due to the nature of the last few corners leading to the start line.
This of course, caused the massive -- and ridiculous -- pileup of GT cars which left Jordan Taylor slightly injured and six cars out of the race.
It also earlier caused a puncture on the WIN Autosport LMP3 car which forced them to run an entire lap with tire smoke pouring out of the rear before they could pit.
Perhaps IMSA needs to look into their restart procedure. Either consider throwing the green flag later, or more drastically move the start/finish line further down the front straight instead of just after they come blasting down the last turn hill while the back part of the field is still braking for the chicane through turns 10A and 10B after flying down the long, long backstraight. It creates a massive, multiple accordian effect.
Something has to be done. Next time, they may not get so lucky with injuries. And it's no fun seeing the field severely depleted due to a lobotomized reason.
Special Mention: Road Atlanta. I've never been to this track before. Holy cow was I blown away. Just looking at the track before any cars were on it was impressive and exciting. When the racing began, it was a thrill. Squared.
As usual, TV does not do the elevation changes justice. Though this track is exciting to watch on TV, it's so much better in person. The ups and downs. The squiggles. The speed. The drop offs.
That's not even the best part. For spectators, the best part are all the fantastic viewing spots. The ability to get so close to the track in some spots (though I wonder about how close they should allow). The seemingly perfectly placed viewing hills. The ability in certain spots to see a large section of the esses.
Combine an exciting, undulating, twisty track with excellent viewing angles, and it's a bonanza for fans. Good thing the race lasts 10 hours to give you plenty of time to check out all the great spots.
As a bonus, there are actually good choices for food at the concession stands, a rarity at race tracks. There was an international food court near the main paddock (which I found to be surprisingly on the small side). It even had Pho. It also included numerous wine, cocktail, and beer gardens. Then, up the hill on the other side of the track, there was food truck alley, with again, a variety of choices besides the usual track food.
I figured once I experienced Petit Le Mans, I would aim towards checking off the other iconic IMSA events I have not been to yet. So far, with IMSA's schedule remaining steady for a number of years, I've been to eight of the 12 tracks to see them. The four I have not been to are Daytona, Sebring, Laguna Seca, and Detroit.
Now, I'm not so sure. If someone came up to me and offered an all expense paid trip to one of the three following events -- Super Sebring, Rolex 24 at Daytona, or Petit Le Mans (which for me is now been there, done that), I just may choose to go back to Petit.
That's how much of a blast I found Road Atlanta to be.
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