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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.