As Andretti Green Racing prepares for its first Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the team is looking forward to the race for many reasons. It represents a chance for AGR to capture both endurance race victories and a chance to showcase the progression the Acura program has made during the season. The American Le Mans Seriesâ€™ cornerstone event also means that for a few crew members, the Petit event will be a homecoming.
Three AGR team members hail from the Atlanta area. Scott Graves, AGRâ€™s director of American Le Mans Series operations; Steve Newey, the race engineer of the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura; and Ron Weaver, a mechanic and tire changer on the No. 26 car, all have ties to Atlanta. All three expect to be searching for tickets for friends and family as the weekend draws closer.
L to R Ron Weaver, Steve Newey and Scott Graves
One of the longest tenured employees at AGR, Graves is also one of the most instrumental to the success AGR has experienced. Graves began working as the director of engineering at Team Green in 1994 and stayed in that role until 2002. When the team became Andretti Green Racing in 2003, Graves continued to lead the engineering department until 2006 when he took charge of the American Le Mans Series program.
The Georgia Tech graduate was a key figure in the back-to-back IndyCar Series championship efforts in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, AGR won 11 of the 17 IndyCar Series races including the Indianapolis 500 â€“ all with Graves at the engineering helm.
Graves started his racing career as a design engineer for FABCAR Engineering, working on the companyâ€™s IMSA GTP and Porsche GTO programs. He also developed fuel consumption and race strategy software for Galles-Kraco and Team Green.
Prior to the 2007 season, AGR hired veteran engineer Newey to become the first race engineer for the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura. No stranger to sports car racing, Newey was employed as a sports car design engineer for the Jaguar and Ford racing programs after graduating from Southern Polytechnic State Institute in Marietta, Ga.
From there, Newey spent many successful seasons engineering all forms of open-wheel race cars, starting at Galles Racing. Newey then ventured overseas to engineer Arrows Formula One team, where it finished fourth in the Formula One championship for its highest finish ever.
Following his stint at Arrows, Newey returned to the United States and worked on cars driven by Al Unser Jr., Danny Sullivan and Tony Kanaan. Newey also engineered Bobby Rahal to four wins and the 1992 IndyCar World Series Championship.
Newey, who witnessed several Camel GT and Formula 5000 events at Road Atlanta, spent the 2001 season with Team Green and engineered Michael Andretti to a third-place finish in the Indianapolis 500.
Weaver, the final member of the AGR staff to call Georgia home, has made more trips to the Road Atlanta track than he can count.
The Roswell, Ga., native moved to the AGR American Le Mans Series program after spending many years working on the Andretti Green Racing IndyCar Series program. Weaver is a mechanic and changes the right-side (inside) tires on the XM Satellite Radio Acura. He also was a mechanic and tire changer on the 2004 Team 7-Eleven crew that captured the IndyCar Series championship by completing every possible lap â€“ a first for any car in American motorsports history.
The University of Georgia graduate made his first trip to the Road Atlanta in 1983 with his dad to see the SCCA Showroom Stock endurance race. Following that, Weaver attended all IMSA Camel GT, Vintage and SCCA national championship events he was able to.
â€śRoad Atlanta is a great track for spectators because there are so many different views,â€ť said Weaver. â€śThere are straightaways and great corners and plenty of areas to sit and watch the races.
â€śDuring the IMSA events, I used to skip school on Thursdays and Fridays and go up and watch the trucks come in on set-up day,â€ť he added. â€śThe biggest disappointment of the year was always when that race or the Runoffs were over because I had a year to go until they came back.â€ť
Weaver began his career in motorsports working on sports cars with Comprent Motorsports and Doran/Momo Racing in the 1990s. After getting his racing start, Weaver moved on to Forsythe Racingâ€™s Indy Lights program in 1999 and Team Greenâ€™s Indy Lights program in 2000.
Because the three have been so extensively involved in motorsports, only Graves has actually been to a Petit Le Mans event. However, all three have spent countless days at the track watching various SCCA and IMSA events.
â€śObviously this is a very important race, not only for Andretti Green Racing, but also for Acura,â€ť said Graves. â€śThereâ€™s a significant amount of pressure to win this race. From a performance standpoint, weâ€™re pretty happy with the XM Acura. Petit is a reliability race so weâ€™re going to try and duplicate what we did at Sebring and have the most reliable car.â€ť
The 10th running of Petit Le Mans, the annual 1,000-mile/10-hour endurance classic at Road Atlanta, is set for 11:15 a.m. ET on Saturday, October 6. SPEED will provide live coverage from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 6:30 to 10 p.m. American Le Mans Radio and IMSAâ€™s Live Timing and Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.