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ALMS GT - Petit Le Mans Adventure Ends Early For Calvert-Jones, Avenatti And Davis

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BRASELTON, Oct. 21, 2012: No. 24 Norton by Symantec Porsche 911 GT3 Cup co-drivers David Calvert-Jones, Michael Avenatti and Andrew Davis and the Competition Motorsports team rode a roller coaster of emotions throughout Saturday's American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón Petit Le Mans until an incident denied them a checkered flag in the grueling endurance race.

The scene in the Competition Motorsports pit was euphoric when Davis wheeled the No. 24 Norton by Symantec Porsche into the GTC class lead two hours and 15 minutes the race, and with good reason. Davis - who was a last-minute addition to the No. 24 car's driver lineup alongside David Calvert-Jones and Michael Avenatti - started the race from pit road as the team had to change a right front upright following the Saturday morning warm-up, in which Davis posted the quickest time.

Because he started from the pits, ALMS rules required Davis to serve a stop-and-go penalty. Unfortunately, the pit road speed limiter would not engage when he came in and Davis received a stop-and-go plus 20 seconds penalty for speeding on pit lane. Already running in last place, the second penalty forced Davis one lap down to the GTC leaders.

"Most of my first triple stint, I was driving pretty angry because I was upset about starting in such a big hole," Davis said. "But I love Road Atlanta, I grew up here and I just pushed as hard as I could. I'm really excited that we were able to get the No. 24 Norton by Symantec Porsche up front. It was a lot of fun leading those laps and everybody was pumped up about that."

Davis led for 30 minutes before bringing the yellow and black Porsche onto pit road to turn the car over to Calvert-Jones for his first ALMS race experience. With nine podium results from 12 starts in his just-completed rookie IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama season and a runner-up performance in the Gold Cup championship, CJ was well prepared for the race.

However, the Petit Le Mans was substantially different than any race CJ had previously driven, as he'd never raced in prototype traffic, never made pit stops and the longest he'd ever driven was 45 minutes. All of that changed on Saturday, as the Aussie dealt with traffic from faster classes on every lap.

He got familiar with pit stops - including a couple unscheduled stops - and spent just shy of three consecutive hours in the cockpit in the heat of a warm early fall afternoon in Georgia. Despite the steep learning curve, CJ was able to keep the car in contention for a top-five result and turn the car back over to Davis in fifth place.

"I'm not sure if I can describe the experience," said Calvert-Jones. "It was like no other racecar experience I've had. It was all pretty foreign, I'd only had a little while in the car, and it's one thing to go out there and practice with the P1 cars and all the faster cars, but when they're racing, it's a whole different story. When you've got GT cars coming through, the Porsches, the Corvettes and the Ferraris, and they're all racing and they're freight training and you're getting pushed around, it's mind blowing."

Davis drove a quick second stint before turning the car over to Avenatti while still running in fifth place. Like his co-drivers, Avenatti also put in a solid effort to keep the car in contention for a top five. Sadly, an impatient prototype "punted" the No. 24 Porsche off course at the top of the Esses, sending Avenatti hard into the barrier.

He was ultimately able to drive the car back to the pits, but with substantial damage to the front end. The team made an effort to get the car back on course without its front bodywork - which it did for a few more laps - but it became clear that there was nothing to be gained and a lot more to lose, so the decision was made to take the car back to the paddock and out of the race after seven and a half hours.

"From my perspective, I had position in the corner and a prototype came out of nowhere, drilled me in the right rear and sent me on 'Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,'" Avenatti said. "All in all, it was a rough week, but it was a pretty good race, at least the first few hours of it. Andrew did a phenomenal job overcoming some significant adversity to bring the car to the front. It was great to have Norton by Symantec on the car and it was great to drive with CJ. We had a lot of fun this weekend. While the result may not show it, all in all, I thought it was a pretty productive weekend."