Gil de Ferran Takes Victory at Laguna Seca
It was de Ferran Motorsports’ ghostly white Acura that emerged from the gathering gloom to take the win in the American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca.
Sporting a livery harking back to the Can-Am Chaparral racers, it was Gil de Ferran in his last outing as a professional driver who took the win in the P1 class ARX-02a machine he shared with Simon Pagenaud.
However, the victory was not enough to snatch the class series title away from Acura stablemates Patron Highcroft, whose own 02a finished second in the class and third overall to take the team’s title and hand drivers Scott Sharp and David Brabham victory in their championship.
It was the end of a four-hour race around the 2.2-mile California venue that had seen more than its fair share of incident and accident, and indeed continued to after the chequered flag had fallen.
The first accident came as early as lap three, when the P1 Lola Coupe driven by Paul Drayson was pushed into the turn nine barriers by the P2 Cytosport Porsche Spyder, with Klaus Graf behind the wheel.
While the German was able to continue the impact, which the team registered at a frightening 18.5G, left the right side of the Drayson Racing coupe severely damaged, along with the undertray and suspension.
While Drayson was unharmed in the accident, it was another disappointing end to another promising weekend, though the lighter side is perhaps seen in the inclusion of a quote from Drayson’s six-year-old daughter.
"It was really, really bad. It was so bad that I was scared. It was all slippery and someone bashed him. The Drayson Racing team tried and cleared it up. THE END!"
Then shortly before the hour mark there was another flurry of caution-causing activity.
First Butch Leitzinger stopped his Mazda powered Lola coupe on the blast up the hill towards The Corkscrew, which caused the deployment of the safety car, bunching the pack back up, and when the green flag flew again the inevitable happened.
Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette fired up the inside of the Highcroft Acura, before hitting the Challenge class polesitter of Guy Cosmo and John Baker. Gavin’s Corvette was extensively damaged (and would eventually receive a penalty for starting the melee), along with the No. 05 Challenge car that had been leading their class at the time. The Acura had more minor damage, as did the Cosmo Porsche and the No. 92 BMW.
That caused the safety car to return to the track as it took nearly 10 minutes to clear the debris, but once under green again it was only a short time before the next event altered the destination of the GT2 title.
The No. 33 Rocketsports Jaguar, making its much delayed and problem ridden debut, made contact with the Risi Ferrari of Pierre Kaffer, damaging the front engine Ferrari’s radiators into retirement.
With the retirement posted long before the car had completed 70 percent of the race distance, it assured the Flying Lizard the team's title and their driving duo of Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long the class drivers' crown.
Back up front, with Patron Highcroft’s woes, it was left to the fastest of the P2 cars to hold de Ferran and Pagenaud to account.
First it was the No. 15 P2 Acura of Fernandez Racing then the No. 16 Dyson Lola, again ineligible for points due to its experimental butanol fuel, shared between Guy Smith, Chris Dyson, and Ben Devlin in another excitingly positive outing after the team stormed away from their P2 equivalents at Petit Le Mans.
However, when the Lola had to pit to repair suspension damage after an incident with the No. 4 Corvette, now with Olivier Beretta driving, the baton was handed back to Fernandez and Luis Diaz.
Despite the P2 car briefly taking the lead, that’s how it remained.
“If we had a yellow I might have been able to get ahead of Gil, maybe get one or two corners ahead of him,” said Fernandez. “We both drove hard and clean and it just never happened.”
The No. 15 Lowe’s backed car eventually followed de Ferran across the line, only 0.66 seconds behind, cementing their own clutch of class titles.
But even as the leading cars began their cooling down lap, the race had one more (on track) incident to give. As the GT2 fight entered the final few corners Jan Magnussen and the No. 3 Corvette dived into the final corner, nearly clipping Bergmeister's car.
As the pair of cars dragged, both banged door-to-door, towards the line the pair first drifted left towards the pit wall, before the Dane’s car speared hard into the right hand wall, managing still to be classified second, officially just over a second behind the Porsche, with the Farnbacher-Loles Porsche completing the GT2 podium.
In the all Porsche GT3 Challenge class, Cosmo and Baker, recovering from their problems in the Gavin accident, were handed the victory after the on track winners Mitchell Pagerey and Shane Lewis were disqualified after the race. Despite retiring early, the husband and wife team of Melanie and Martin Snow took the class title.
The Checkered Flag extends its congratulations to all the ALMS class champions, and its only 159 days until the 2010 12 Hours of Sebring.
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