Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Petit Le Mans 2007

Organized chaos or a disorganized circus. Frankly, either term would apply when describing the annual Petit Le Mans Race at Road Atlanta.

It truly is a surreal sight. You drive into the middle of nowhere about 1 hour north of Atlanta, drive past the luxurious Chateau Elan and past a large number of sub divisions until you come across a few small signs that just say “Road Atlanta” with an arrow directing you.

But that’s not the strangest part. The first thing I saw as we pulled into the front gate is a gleaming silver( I can’t remember the official name right now) Ferrari 360 Modena parked – on a hill – in heavy, red Georgia clay. This doesn’t fit, especially parked next to a Mini Cooper S and a Honda Civic Type-R.

But you immediately forget that oddity for another: a deep thundering noise that continually changes pitch. It sounds like a World War II fighter is flying 3 feet above your car at full throttle and then there’s the sight of race cars through the tree tops pouring through turn 11.

As you crest the first hill down into the track you’re struck by two things: 1. The sheer amount of people, approximately 90,000 last year and 2. the wall of noise from the unrestricted engines. There are people everywhere on the roads surrounding the track. It took almost 25 minutes to move less than half a mile to find a parking place, plowing through people and cars. But when we did find a spot, wedged between a Dodge pickup and a BMW M3, it was about 30 feet from the back straight. So upon hopping out of the truck we looked directly to our left to see the always-dominating Audi R10 Diesel humming by with it’s eerily quiet turbo diesel engine. Immediately following that I see the Maserati MC12 come screaming along at a much higher pitch only to see some intense late-braking for the 10A turn, belching fire out of it’s exhausts in protest to the rapid downshifts.

(One of my vids of the GT2 and LP cars pouring through a turn...sorry for the poor cellphone vid quality!)

After the first hour, me and Josh had pretty good head aches going from the noise level so we decided to wander the track and check out the vendors sections. Here, at the infield, as you see millions of dollars worth of machines snake from turn to turn as a backdrop, you see a gaggle of Porsches, a few Lamborghinis, some Panoz’s, many Audi’s, and even Kevin Harvick’s NASCAR stock car tooling along. I then came upon the Ferrari owner’s section, which was a great moment. You see a bunch of shirt-less, mulleted drunk Americans and racing-nerd-clad Europeans wandering the peak surrounding some of the most expensive and important Ferraris of the last 30 years. The crown jewel being two brand-spanking-new $500,000+ 599 GTB’s parked next to two $200,000 F430’s along with a Magnum PI-esque 308 and Miami Vice-style Testarossa. Awesome.

We then found ourselves wandering/sneaking into the Paddock and pitlane. Ending up at the Risi Competizione team’s pit, less than 20 feet from the entire crew, through a chain-link fence watching them work on their F430. While doing that, a V8-ed Panoz revs behind us as it tears through pit lane back to its garage startling everyone in its wake.

That’s the funny thing about this whole event. There’s just too much to try and take in at once. From the people, to the omnipresent exhaust screams and burbles, to the high end automotive exotica( I was passed by the Porsche GT3 RS in Lime Green that I nearly fell over staring at) you just can’t process it all, no matter how hard you try. But then, that’s the fun of it, like a carnival where you can’t decide where to look next or what to do next. No wonder people travel the country and world to indulge their automotive vices, this particular carnival makes us all feel like 6 year olds trying to make engine noises with our mouths and emulating the use of imaginary clutches and gear shifters as the real deal shows us what we’re dreaming of while only yards away.