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The Battle of Atlanta

Some races matter more than others, itís like the thousands of meals we eat during our lifetime, you remember the exceptional and the really disgusting. Lifeís like that. Such is Petit Le Mans, year after year itís an important race on the calendar, however, how many truly great moments has it served up in its decade of existence. More than I thought and what went down just outside of Braselton last weekend may be at the top of that list.

Field Commander McNish

The contract between Allan McNish and Audi expires at the end of this season. If anything, his fellow competitors should take up a collection and pay him enough to retire so he can take up field hockey and raise camels somewhere in  Morocco. It must get to be so tiring for a driver to be talking about HIS race and have someone interrupt and say, ďYeah, but did you see what McNish did
That stunt he pulled on the formation lap was so Nigel Mansell, the high drama, shifting the attention away from the start of the race while the announcers wondered aloud if the #1 Audi R10 could be repaired in time. Like an old Busby Berkeley routine but choreographed by Bob Fosse, here comes McNish on cue going down the length of the pits, making the 180 degree turn to get in the pitlane and joining the pack, albeit two plus laps down, I kept hearing Roy Schieder repeating his famous line from ďAll That JazzĒÖ. ITíS SHOWTIME FOLKS !!!

If one didnít know any better you could almost accuse McNish of having staged the whole thing. Pirro performed his stints with class and consistency, Dindo had his share of problems including a seat insert issue (ď dude, itís the shell marked Capello, it fits himĒ) but he has been in those situations before and has far too much experience to get rattled, the trust between Dindo and Nishy is quite apparent. As with any great performance, it all comes down to that final act. The #1 squad called the perfect strategy and McNish worked the yellows to his advantage, on one of the restarts, he launched his R10 down the hill through turn 12 and had what seemed was the entire pit straight before the 908 Lion was in view. What was going on over at the lion pit ? Green, go means the same thing in gringo as it does in French, Peugeot lost the race right I believe on that call.

Post Debate Analysis

Upfront, the entire organization of Peugeot deserves a standing ovation and the gratitude of sportscar fans all over America. They came over with absolutely nothing to gain or prove. The 908 coupe didnít win the big ones this year but they proved to be more than just a competitor, this was war and all they lack is the experience that has bonded the Audi team through the decade. For Audi, if history had to judge this moment, the PLM victories that really count are 2000 and this recent presentation of the laurels. Itís about the competition, that displacing of momentary fear, itís no longer just a job, it has to be a passion, itís what will be remembered.

It is easy to get caught up in that Audi Peugeot battle scenario; it WAS the car that Audi had to beat. However, the side aspect of what the trio of McNish, Pirro and Capello did to the R10 duo in #2 of Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr cannot be overlooked. This was McNish at both his most magnificent and dangerous. He not only was the main man, he destroyed that thin line between a racerís vanity and expectation by demoting the #1 car to that of what one press hack joked in the press room as an ďalso ranĒ. Personally I feel that is in the extreme but the facts are that the Luhr and Werner have displayed a championship form all season long and during that last hour, were guilty of watching it all slip away to a man who started two laps behind them in the same equipment. They ran a good strategy, were consistent and on pace to win. It didnít happen that way and it comes down to that gray area of what sets drivers apart. Cliches aside, Tom Wolfe was correct in his definition of what makes ďThe Right StuffĒ.

                                                                       Kerry Morse
                                                                      October 2008

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Features and pieces by Kerry Morse