The Alley

GTLM title race crunch time

pilet-(1)It has been a dramatic year of GTLM action as Porsche, BMW, Corvette and Ferrari have done battle over nine rounds in 2015.

Now the title is on the line in the 10th and final round. Early season driver shuffling by the German marque between its TUDOR and FIA WEC programs has resulted in Frenchman Patrick Pilet standing alone as the points leader entering the Petit Le Mans.

Three wins a row at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and VIRginia International Raceway with Nick Tandy has propelled Pilet to the top of the standings.

This weekend at Petit Le Mans he’ll face stiff opposition from the BMW duo of veteran Bill Auberlen with Dirk Werner and Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia.

“It’s a lot better to be in my position, leading the championship, than to be in second,” said Pilet.

“For sure, we lost some points in the last race, but we always have a good car at Petit and at our last test it was really good. I’m really confident for the race. I think Road Atlanta is a really good track for the Porsche. We have a strong lineup, a good team, and I’m pretty sure we have a good chance to win the race.”

petit_qual_gal_1_26Auberlen and Werner are only three points adrift in the title standings. The BMW duo need to in the top three and be two places ahead of Pilet to steal the crown. If they finish fourth, Pilet’s No.911 Porsche would need to be seventh in the eight-car field.

The US/German duo have been a model of consistency throughout 2015. Victory at the last round at Circuit of The Americas when BMW proved to be the top contender in the fuel economy stakes has put them into championship contention.

“We have had an amazing season so far and we head into the last race virtually tied for the championship lead,” Auberlen said.

“We need to do exactly what we have been doing and let RLL and the BMW Z4 do what they do best and propel us to the top step of the podium. This last race is for all the marbles. Whoever wins this one wins all three championships.”

For Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, their season has gone from hero to zero. The Danish/Spanish duo won the opening two races of the season at Daytona and Sebring but since then Corvette Racing has been struck with balance of performance issues. As somebody mentioned yesterday in the Road Atlanta media center the “Porsche has too much balance and too much performance.”

petit_qual_gal_1_24For most of the season Corvette has battled with the most weight and the smallest fuel tank of any of its rivals. Corvette suffered a similar fate when Magnussen and Garcia went on a tear with four consecutive wins in 2014. While they won the 2013 American Le Mans Series GT title, in the past two years they have seen their title chances slip away as the season drew to a close as IMSA battled the thankless task of trying to balance front, mid and rear engined supercars.

For the Corvette duo to take the title, they need to win and have Auberlen/Werner finish lower fifth or lower and Pilet seventh of lower. Magnussen and Garcia do hold the lead in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Championship – but the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is the one they really want.

“That is certainly a big mountain to climb but we’re going to give it everything we have,” Magnussen said.

“With the way the points work, the Porsche and the BMW would need to have a disastrous day and we’d have to win but in a race at Petit Le Mans, anything can happen. Our Corvette was pretty strong here last year so we’re going to go out and give it our best shot and see what happens.

“The Endurance Championship would be great to win but obviously we’d love to take the overall championship like we did in the final year of the American Le Mans Series in 2013.”

Five men want this championship – but one woman could play a hand in the title chase today….mother nature. Atlanta has been struck with heavy rain over the past couple of days and more rain is expected today.

Could we see a repeat of 2009 when the race was red flagged after four hours? If so, would they award partial points for a shorter race? We’re going to have to wait and see.

One thing is certain – running at the front and trying to stay there all day would certainly be ideal.

The Alley : Trackside. Insight. Online.

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