For as long as sports car racing in North America has existed, so too has the presence of gentlemen drivers – businessmen whose passion for racing can only be a part-time hobby, financed by their revenues from their weekly 9-to-5 jobs. In recent years, the proliferation of them within both Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series has helped keep the car counts up, and also provided some opportunities for pro drivers sans funding who'd otherwise be sidelined.
It's at this point we bring Peter LeSaffre into the mix. By all accounts a decent person, well meaning in his efforts to get a car on the grid and a crew employed, LeSaffre's day job is working as president/CEO of Fusion Trade, being in charge of all global sales and business operations and with extensive supply chain experience. On the weekends, he's team principal and co-driver at Green Hornet Racing (with his shorter Irish pro co-driver Damien Faulkner, LEFT), a team that in 2012 has been at the epicenter of several accidents and has not capitalized on Faulkner's pace with solid results.
A tire blowout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, getting drilled at Mosport, contacted at Mid-Ohio and hit again at VIR has seen wins and podiums have go begging. Then this past week happened at Road Atlanta and suddenly the otherwise under-the-radar green No. 34 Porsche became the poster boy for GT-to-prototype and amateur-to-pro driver contact, and earned LeSaffre and crew plenty of grief and blame from onlookers. Really, though, is that entirely deserved?
The drama started on Wednesday, when LeSaffre ran a few inches wide off the exit at Turn 10, the right-hander, slight-uphill run just before the intense drop, downhill plunge and double-apex right-hander leading onto the front straight. The ordinary line, if there wasn't another car alongside, would be to merge slightly from left to right, into the center of the track for the drop, slight release back left and then apex to the hard right for the final corner.
The catch, of course, was that Gunnar Jeannette came to LeSaffre's inside in the radical Nissan DeltaWing, in an attempt to pass. Jeannette was clearly alongside judging from the on-board camera from Martin Plowman's car (RIGHT), although given the narrow width at the front, perhaps when LeSaffre made his natural apex he didn't see Jeannette. Inevitably, the two collided, and Jeannette tipped over and got to quote Ricky Bobby's infamous “Yep, I'm flying through the air!” line from Talladega Nights.
Both teams put videos together. Nissan's, unsurprisingly, went viral and nearly hit one million views while lowly Green Hornet's barely topped 1,000 on YouTube as of this writing. Anyway, the two exchanged hand gestures and LeSaffre became the villain in the paddock, even if opinions on who was truly at fault differed. Have a look for yourself at Nissan's and Green Hornet's respective videos if you haven't done so already.
Then, come race day, LeSaffre was smack dab in the middle of another contretemps, this time with Lucas Luhr and the Muscle Milk HPD. In an almost identical situation, except this time going up the hill into Turn 3, LeSaffre made his natural apex from left to right, but again missed the faster prototype coming alongside. Luhr, sensing a chance and an opportunity to pass the slower Porsche, went for it on the inside, getting on the grass and getting more than halfway alongside.
Once Luhr was past, he attested he got clipped in a classic right front (the Porsche) to left rear (HPD) collision that pitched Luhr into the barriers. Again, opinions differed – some thought Luhr was overly aggressive, particularly only an hour into the race, while others said LeSaffre had committed strike two of the week.
Both accidents required a further evaluation rather than the snap rush-to-judgment that inevitably happened from both camps, and from my perspective, I'm certainly not as harsh on LeSaffre now as I was in the immediate moment of both accidents. It just stems from a stigma that exists within the sports car community at the moment where when a prototype and GT collide, particularly when an amateur driver is in the GT car, the amateur driver is often immediately deemed at fault.
The DeltaWing accident first. From LeSaffre's on-board (LEFT), you can see he washed slightly off road on exit, corrected back left on the wheel, and no sooner than he did that, Jeannette was already alongside. LeSaffre may not have seen him properly, and in the midst of running what would be his normal line, turned in and pitched the DeltaWing in what you might deem a racing incident.
Put this way – from Plowman's car, trailing both, it looked like the DeltaWing was entirely alongside, but given the narrow width of the front of the car, and it being a black car right before the shadows of the bridge, it wasn't as clear cut from the Porsche's perspective.
With it being practice, it begs the question whether either party might have been better served backing off earlier to let the other go. Could LeSaffre have stayed off line through the corner and allowed Jeannette through before the dive to allow both drivers the natural line? Or could Jeannette, wanting to keep the car upright and in one piece before the race, have simply dialed it back for two or three seconds, make it through the downhill and then pass him on the straight? We'll never know but to quote former NBA star Allen Iverson, “We just talkin' bout practice, man!”
As for the Muscle Milk-Green Hornet contact, I will admit my initial reaction was, like many who saw it live, “(Expletive) Green Hornet again!!” and I tweeted as much. But, again, if LeSaffre didn't see Luhr as quickly as Luhr approached, it's hard to put the full weight of the blame on him for turning in at his natural apex point. It's only when you look at Luhr's take that he had made it past LeSaffre on the grass, and then got pitched by contact, that you'd put a more substantial percentage of the blame on LeSaffre.