After dominating last year’s race, Rebellion Racing has returned to Road Atlanta looking to close out the American Le Mans Series with a hard-fought battle for the overall win in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans.
The 1,000-mile/10-hour enduro will mark the end of an era for North American sports car racing, with the final race for the P1 class in a U.S.-based championship.
And after Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s runaway performance for much of this season, racing virtually unopposed, the return of Rebellion’s Lola B12/60 Toyota comes as a welcome sight to many hoping to see a proper send-off for the once-flagship prototype class.
“I’m definitely looking forward to a great fight and I hope it will be a good fight,” said Rebellion’s Neel Jani, who claimed victory here in 2012 with Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi. “Because last year, once Muscle Milk [had problems], it was not a race for us. We just needed to finish it to win it. We prefer something more intense.”
While the Muscle Milk/Rebellion rivalry effectively began here last year, the two P1 teams faced off in the first three rounds of the ALMS this year, prior to the Anglo-Swiss squad’s withdrawal from full-season competition.
The most memorable battle came at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, which saw Jani and Nick Heidfeld’s Lola B12/60 Toyota swap the lead with the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr on numerous occasions but ultimately ending up six seconds short of victory due to a late-race puncture.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t have done the other races in the ALMS as I would have loved to fight for the championship,” Jani said. “I still say that Laguna Seca was the most fun sports car race I ever had. We lost it, but it was the best race I ever had in sports cars. And that’s why we love racing.”
For Petit Le Mans, Jani and Heidfeld are joined by Prost in the No. 12 entry, which makes up of Rebellion’s efforts this weekend. The team is also competing in Sunday’s FIA WEC Six Hours of Fuji with another Lola-Toyota for Andrea Belicchi and Mathias Beche, which has forced them to split their efforts between the two continents.
“In terms of the mechanics and engineers on the car, it wasn’t too big of a challenge as we had run two cars in the early part of the year already,” explained team manager Bart Hayden. “Where it’s become a bit more challenging has been the management level. I can’t be in both places. I’m here in Atlanta; Ian Smith is holding the fort in Fuji for us.
“It’s quite interesting because there’s a 13-hour time difference, which means if we run through to the end of the race at 9:30, it’s going to be about a half-hour before they start the race in Fuji. Rebellion Racing will be racing on both sides of the globe, almost for 16 hours!”
But with no other direct competitors in the WEC LMP1 Privateer’s class on tap in Japan, much of the focus will be on taking the fight to Muscle Milk in Saturday’s ALMS finale, in a race that has seen it all through the years.
“That’s the only reason we’re here,” Hayden said. “The objective is to win. It would mean a heck of a lot to us because this time last year was the first outright win for Rebellion Racing in any category. We’d love to repeat that again.”