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 ?Ē
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.