When It Rains…Petit Le Mans 2015

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. There were supposed to be sunny skies, wonderful temps, and a beautiful sunset. This was the scenario that played out in my head in the weeks leading up to my trip to the 2015 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The final race of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship and the final race under that banner. I wanted these perfect weather conditions I had in my head to be a reality, I wanted to shoot a perfect race, for my sins they gave me rain.

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Flashback to Thursday, my first day at the track. It was dry, cloudy but dry. Seeing the forecast for the weekend I tried to remain positive, hey they could be wrong and this weather could miss us but, with Hurricane Joaquin hanging around off the coast I was certain that it wasn’t going to be.

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It was dry for the start of practice one on Thursday, but this was to be short lived.

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As I hopped in my golf cart to head out for the second practice the sky had opened up. I was fortunate that I had brought rain gear for my cameras…..myself on the other hand, not so lucky. I had forgotten my poncho; smart move Pete.

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We soldiered on as the hurricane was beginning to divert itself away from North America, but a high pressure zone didn’t quite collide with a cold front, sucking an arm of the storm across South Carolina and Georgia. We were losing light fast; no doubt making thing increasingly more difficult for the drivers.

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I had been looking forward to night practice for the entire week. It was finally here.

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This was fascinating to me; watching these drivers make their cars dance in the rain on a mostly pitch black track was incredible.

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The next morning it wasn’t raining as hard, more a constant mist. Since it wasn’t a downpour it changed my attitude about the weather; “okay I can deal with this.”

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I wondered the paddock and watched as teams prepared the cars for a practice session before qualifying later in the afternoon.

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This was my first experience with Georgia clay, navigating said clay on a wet hill was not something I was good at. Practice was mostly wet but the rain stopped long enough for a dry line to form. That didn’t last long.

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By the time qualifying had arrived the rain was back and light was fading.

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Conditions were easily the worst they had been all weekend. The Falken Porsche in its final race backed into the wall; it was the car’s first wreck the car has had in seven years of competition. It would be a long night for the team but by morning the car would be patched up an ready to go.

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When it was all said and done the #90 Spirit of Daytona DP car was on pole. Prototype challenge was led by Tom Kimber-Smith for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport, Earl Bamber in the 912 Porsche North America 911 RSR was on pole in GTLM despite putting his car into the wall in the esses with around 5 minutes left in the session, Cameron Lawrence in his Riley Motorsports Viper GT3-R on pole in GTD.

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Race day. It was wet. This was how it was going to be. Bring it.

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There was no escaping the wet so I embraced it.

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The race got underway and it was a messy one. The number of cars and the treacherous conditions caused a hectic start.

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It didn’t take long before a heard a bang and we had our first casualty of the race. It didn’t take long before they were patched up and back in the fight.

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The wet weather didn’t make battles any less intense.

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The tarmac was very wet and standing water was beginning to show up around the track; so we were under yellow flag in order to bring out the jet driers.

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By this point I was drenched. There was no point in even trying to dry off.

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So standing under the pit stall covers was a welcome thing. Drivers and teams were busy paying attention to race and weather reports.

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We went back to green and the battling continued.

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I was baffled to hear that a GTLM car was in the overall lead. The Porsche North America cars were looking so strong in the wet.

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A rear engine platform plus excellent wet weather tires from Michelin proved to be the best combo.

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As the five hour mark approached I was more frantic in my shooting.

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The weather was bad enough where the race could be called. We then went to red flag, the cars were pulled down pit lane where they sat for an hour. It was a good time to head to the media building to dump photos and warm up.

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The rain was started to wear on everyone and that was evident on faces of the teams crews.

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It was a welcome break from the rain during the red flag, after an hour or so the cars rolled back out and I gathered my wet gear and my thoughts and headed back out into the abyss.

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The rain had lightened up enough for them to bring the race back to green but in the spirit of the weekend that would not last long.

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It was becoming increasingly dark out as the day grew older and the rainy weather only amplified this.

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That was the beginning of the end.

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It was becoming way too dark and for the safety of the drivers the checkered flag was thrown right around the 8 hour mark. At the time I let out a sigh of relief.

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It was raining the hardest when I returned to the pits for the podium.

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Any chance anyone had of staying dry was lost at this point, cameras were acting up, I had water in my ear, I was cold, soaked and I was done.

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I had witnessed a Petit Le Mans for the record books. Not only for the weather but a GTLM car won overall. With that Nick Tandy secured the manufacturer title for Porsche North America as well as the drivers title. It was well earned. While it wasn’t to be TRG-AMR driver Christina Nielson was seeking her first title as well as the title of first female champion in international sports car racing history, taking the GTD championship instead was Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell of Scuderia Corsa taking it.

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Core Autosport with drivers Colin Braun and John Bennett would win the Prototype Challenge championship, marking the their second championship in a row. Action Express Racing also won their second championship in a row in Prototype Class.

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As we bid the 2015 Tudor United Sportscar Championship goodbye we also bid farewell to my personal favorite car the #17 Falken Tire Porsche. Its been awesome watching the team race over the last seven years and it will be a car I will most certainly miss next season.

After all my complaining about the weather I look back on this race and think to myself..”how awesome was this race.” I am thoroughly excited for the 2016 season which will now be called the Weathertech Sportscar Championship. If you are in the area of any of the races on the 2016 schedule I highly suggest you make the trek to spectate them. You may get rained on but you will not leave disappointed.

Lapisnki

Instagram: @peter_laps, @lifeblasters

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