PAGENAUD PUTS PEUGEOT ON TOP IN PETIT LE MANS NIGHT PRACTICE

Another closely fought session between French manufacturer and Audi

Simon Pagenaud and Peugeot Sport Total struck back Thursday night with the fastest time in the day’s third practice for the 14th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda. The young Frenchman set a lap of 1:09.027 (132.470 mph) on the final lap of the two-hour practice at Road Atlanta in the diesel-powered Peugeot 908 that he will share with Sebastian Bourdais and Anthony Davidson.

Peugeot is looking for a third straight overall victory in the 1,000-mile/10-hour classic that also serves as the final round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Patrón. Pagenaud’s time was a scant 0.080 seconds faster than Audi Sport Team Joest’s Romain Dumas in the first of Audi’s R18 coupes. Stephane Sarrazin in the second Peugeot was third at 1:09.186.

The top three cars were within 0.159 seconds, setting the stage for an epic qualifying session Friday afternoon.

In LMP2, Jean-Karl Vernay set the fastest time of 1:13.864 (123.795 mph) in Signatech Nissan’s ORECA 03-Nissan that he will share with Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez. The young Frenchman was 0.957 seconds quicker than Level 5 Motorsports’ Marino Franchitti in his HPD ARX-01g. The ORECA-Nissan was the class pole-winner at Sebring, but Level 5 won the 12 Hours in a Lola-Honda.

Christophe Bouchut was third quickest in P2 on Thursday at 1:15.942 (120.408 mph) in the second Level 5 HPD.

BMW Motorsports’ Augusto Farfus set the pace in GTE Pro with a lap of 1:19.747 (114.663 mph). Driving the BMW M3 GT that he will share with Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner, Farfus went 0.280 seconds quicker than Risi Competizione’s Toni Vilander in the team’s Ferrari F458 Italia. Dirk Müller in the second BMW M3 GT finished third in class at 1:20.109 (114.144 mph).

The top eight cars in the class were within 0.625 seconds.

It was just as close in LMP Challenge with the four fastest cars separated by only 0.824 seconds. CORE autosport’s Gunnar Jeannette set the class’ fastest time of 1:17.982 (117.258 mph) on his second to last lap in the ORECA FLM09 that he will drive with Ricardo Gonzalez and Rudy Junco. Intersport Racing’s Kyle Marcelli finished the session second-quickest at 1:18.573 (116.376 mph) with Genoa Racing’s Jordan Grogor just 0.009 seconds behind the young Canadian.

The LMPC title battle between Genoa and CORE will be a focal point of Saturday’s race.

Nic Jonsson went quickest in GTE Am for Krohn Racing on the home track for the driver and his team. Jonsson’s lap of 1:21.637 (112.008 mph) came on his last lap in the Ferrari F430 GT that he will drive with team owner Tracy Krohn and Michele Rugolo.

The gap back to second-place Rui Aguas was a narrow 0.080 seconds in another Ferrari – this one from AF Corse. The CRS Racing F430 GT was third-fastest in the class with Tim Mullen’s lap of 1:22.382 (110.995 mph).

TRG’s Spencer Pumpelly was the fastest driver in GT Challenge, he will share the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup with Duncan Ende and Peter Ludwig. Pumpelly’s lap of 1:25.472 (106.982 mph) gave him a 0.374-second gap back to Magnus Racing’s Craig Stanton. Dion von Moltke, driving the second TRG Porsche, set the third-fastest time in class with a 1:26.076 (106.232 mph).

Friday’s final practice session for Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda is set for 10:15 a.m. ET. Qualifying will begin at 2:55 p.m. ET.

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