ALMS returns to Mid-Ohio

ALMS returns to Mid-Ohio

The American Le Mans Series returns to track at Mid-Ohio this weekend after its spring break. The series' traditional three-month hiatus to allow teams to prepare and participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours is over, with teams arriving in Lexington,...

The American Le Mans Series returns to track at Mid-Ohio this weekend after its spring break. The series' traditional three-month hiatus to allow teams to prepare and participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours is over, with teams arriving in Lexington, Ohio for a 2h 45m race this weekend.

Emanuele Pirro.
Photo by Audi Sport Press.
In the case of Mid-Ohio, it has been even longer, as the series did not race here in 2003. Mid-Ohio had originally replaced the ill-fated Mont-Tremblant event on the ALMS calendar in 2001 and 2002, but scheduling conflicts made an event impossible last year.

The overall winners of the season-opening Sebring 12H event was a European-based team that are not making the trip to Mid-Ohio, so new faces will be seen at the top step of the overall podium this weekend.

Pierre Kaffer, Frank Biela and Allan McNish took the Sebring victory in the Audi Sport UK Audi R8, while Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Seiji Ara claimed a Le Mans win in the Audi Sport Japan Audi R8.

#38 Team ADT Champion Racing Audi R8: JJ Lehto, Emanuele Pirro, Marco Werner.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
The favorite, then, at Sebring will be the ALMS veteran crew of JJ Lehto and Marco Werner in the Champion Racing Audi R8. Lehto and Champion had an outstanding 2003, winning at Atlanta, Road America, Miami and season-ending Petit Le Mans. Lehto and Werner finished second at the season opener, and came back from a heavy oil-induced crash at Le Mans to finish third there.

Lehto also took a Mid-Ohio class victory in 2002, driving a BMW M3, and he feels comfortable with the track.

"I've done the CART series here, so I've driven the track in a powerful car," the Finnish veteran said. "For sure the Audi will be good there so I'm not worried at all."

The key challengers for the overall victory will be Dyson Racing's two Lola MGs, driven by James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger (#16), and Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson (#20). The team was fast in Sebring practice, but did not have quite the pace of the Audis in the race. However, the team is optimistic after an encouraging test at Mid-Ohio in April.

"The results of the test were very encouraging," said team owner Rob Dyson, "Both of the cars were under the time the pole-winning Audi set in 2002. We had cooler weather, which was an advantage, but the Audis and everyone else now race with 10% smaller air restrictors."

The LMP2 class is expected to be hotly contested, with five cars entered from Intersport -- winners at Le Mans 24H -- Team Bucknum, van der Steur Racing, Race Car Company and Miracle Motorsports.

The winning Corvettes take the checkered flag.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
The interest in the GTS class surrounds the debut of Krohn-Barbour Racing's new Lamborghini Murcielagos. With veteran driveds like David Brabham (2001 Mid-Ohio overall winner) and Peter Kox, the team is hoping to challenge for class victory over the ever-strong Corvette Racing entries.

"We know we can't match the GM Racing Corvettes on budget or technical resources," said Dick Barbour. "However, we've gathered a massive amount of talent and experience at Krohn-Barbour Racing. We've got some of the best sports car drivers in the world, a great engineer in John Bright, and a car with huge potential."

The Corvettes are coming off a come-from-behind 1-2 victory at Le Mans, where the team recovered from some major accidents to take their third class victory at the 24-hour classic -- endurance and reliability will certainly be the Corvettes' strong points.

#90 White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR: Sascha Maassen, Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
In the GT class, Porsche factory-backed Alex Job Racing took a 1-2 finish at Sebring, but Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing is coming off a strong Le Mans 24H victory in their privateer Porsche 911 GT3, and will be fighting hard for victory at Mid-Ohio.

With a total of 13 cars -- Porsche, Ferrari and Panoz -- entered in the GT class, the victory will be hard-fought, and the winner could easily be one of the smaller teams as well. The wild card is the works Panoz Esperante, which is also making its ALMS debut this weekend.

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