Ferrari and Panoz won the first two Petit Le Mans in 1998 and 1999 respectively. However, beginning in 2000 Audi began an almost decade of domination at Road Atlanta. The Audi R8 won from 2000 through 2005, followed by victories for the innovative R10 diesel 2006-2008. Although Peugeot broke the Audi win streak at the rain-soaked 2009 race, Audi had stamped its name into the record books by dominating Le Mans and Sebring as well.
To some extent, Audi’s domination obscured some very successful racing efforts that perhaps didn’t get the credit they deserved because they were out-classed by the Audi team.
So who would have won Petit Le Mans? The answers might surprise, and make you realize how soon we forget who finished behind the Audis.
Year best finishing non-Audi:
2000 Panoz LMP1 (Brabham/Magnussen)
2001 Cadillac LMP01 (Taylor/Angelelli//Tinseau)
2002 Cadillac LMP02 (Lehto/Angelelli)
2003 Panoz LMP01 (Beretta/Saelens/Papis)
2004 Dyson Lola EX257/AER (Dyson/Lammers)
2005 Dyson Lola EX257/AER (Dyson/Smith)
2006 Zytek 06S (Johansson/Mowlem/Kurosawa)
2007 Porsche RS Spyder (Long/Bernhard/Dumas)
2008 Porsche RS Spyder (Castroneves/Briscoe)*
* Peugeot actually finished next, but you get the idea!
It is interesting to note Cadillac and Dyson Racing would have won Petit Le Mans twice, and Panoz would have three victories (including their “real” 1999 win).
The Cadillac program lasted only three years and never produced a win, disappointing by any standards. But in reality, Cadillac would have won several races if not for Audi, and they were particularly competitive the last year of their program in 2002.
Dyson has earned class victories at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, but no overall wins. Without Audi, Dyson would have been one of the most dominant teams in ALMS history. And they are still considered the best privateer team ever.
The reality is that Audi was there, and they were virtually unbeatable. The Audi juggernaut earned everything they won, and deserves the respect they have earned and their obvious place in road racing history. We are not saying we did not want them to win all those years, but it is interesting to wonder “what if…”
Author: Ken Breslauer