Cyber Motorsports Event Photos

Petit Le Mans Race 1999

by Earl Cook

Saturday, September 18, 1999

David Brabham, of Bray, England, felt confident in the car and the team before the start of the race. He realistically knew that the BMW in race configuration was going to be a huge challenge to beat. As Brabham started the race from the pole and Lehto in the BMW passed him on the first lap to take the lead, it looked like the Panoz, with all of its speed, might not have enough.

Brabham drove a superb race with his co-drivers Eric Bernard of Pertius, France and Andy Wallace of Le Mans, France. The small Panoz factory team fought fiercely with the mighty German BMW factory's cars throughout the race.

JJ Lehto drove a strong race. At the start, he began to make the car fly. The #42 team made the decision to go the entire distance with just two drivers, Lehto and Jorg Müller. For most of the race, this strategy appeared to be the right one.

As part of special promotion, we had several guests at the track. I asked one which was his favorite car. He replied, "I enjoyed watching the #42 coming through the esses and taking that left-hand turn up the hill [turn 5]. It was impressive seeing how smooth he was and how he could make it through the turn with such a narrow space in traffic and do so at such a high speed."

Like a wild herd of horses in a stampede, the Panoz #1, Rafanelli #0, BMW #42, a Viper and two 911s, were pounding towards turn 6... just several feet from my vantage point trackside. My survival instinct said to take cover, because I didn't think these guys were going to fit in the turn, especially at the speed that they were traveling.

As this herd went by and the dust cleared, I stuck my head back up over the wall to see what had happened. Amazingly, they all made it. Lap after lap, these guys were fighting for the lead in some of the most intense and exciting competition that I have ever seen.

There was heavy traffic all day and the speed differentials were large as the prototypes fought for position and dodged the traffic. It is a tribute to the skill and professionalism of the drivers that there were so few incidents.

Before the race, Andy Wallace was talking about the traffic. He said, "There is one black 911 that consistently drives down the middle of the track and you don't know whether to go left or right around him. The other day in practice, I was coming down the back stretch and there were two BMW M3s with one on each side of the track. I was going 50 mph faster than them and decided to shoot the gap. Right as I got there, one of them moved to the middle and I had to stand on the brakes. It is amazing and lucky that these cars can stop so fast or I would have run right up his rear."

Didier Theys on the left in the Doran Lista Racing Ferrari 333 SP and Jean Marc Gounon in the DAMS Lola Judd V10 both race in the European ISRS series. Lista started in 12th position and finished in position #8 which was the highest finish for the Ferraris, which were last year's winner. DAMS started in position #7 but went out with electrical problems.
The Panoz #2 started in position #3 and finished in the 5th position. The Dodge Vipers of Team Oreca dominated GTS and finished 1-2-3.
Late in the race, the battered Panoz #2 of Jan Magnussen of Denmark, Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Georgia and Memo Gidley of San Rafael, California comes in for a pit stop and driver change. The front right of the car was taped together, two of the three aerodynamic whiskers were missing from the nose and the air vents on top of the tires were shattered. Still, they powered the car into a fifth place finish.
Eric Van de Poele had a successful comeback as the team started in position #6 and ended the race in the same position after running a fast, but steady race. The Rafanelli Judd V10-powered car is fun to watch and hear. Here, Van de Poele dances the car through the turn as the rear end starts to step out under heavy braking.

The team left the #0 on their rear wing's endplate in the same position that they ran at the Grand Prix of Atlanta in April. After winning the pole in April, the car was judged 8 mm too long and the car was booted to the end of the prototype field for the start. The team simply sawed off the excess from the rear of the wing and endplate. Their placement of the #0 emphasized this fact.

This race saw many lead changes and a fierce battle for the lead between the BMW #42 and Panoz #1. Unlike other forms of racing where whomever makes it to turn one first on the first lap will likely be the winner, the Petit Le Mans produced excitement throughout the race with the high-level of competition at the front and their constant battles.
Old racing protagonists James Weaver on the left in the Dyson racing R&S Mk III Ford and Didier Theys in the Lista Ferrari 333 SP drag race down the short chute before stuffing their cars into the turn with heavy braking. The #20 started in 8th position and finished in position #4. There was not a team on the grid that had more experience and wins in American sports car racing than Weaver, Butch Leitzinger and Elliot Forbes-Robinson.
Butch Leitzinger starts to lean into the turn. The venerable R&S Mk III of Dyson Racing looks the same, but it was powered by their new 'almost 6 liters' Ford V8. I had asked James Weaver if the new diffusers helped the car. He replied, "Not that much. By the time the air reaches them, it has already been pounded 1,000 times. It does help under braking, because it allows us to go deeper into the corners before we stuff it into the turn."
Andy Wallace now has wins in the Petit Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona and at Mid-Ohio. A smiling and likeable chap, Andy is brilliant behind the wheel of a car.

Race Page 2

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©1999 Cyber Motorsports

All photos by Earl Cook