ALMS teams prep for Le Mans June classic

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ALMS teams prep for Le Mans June classic

The usual summer break for the American Le Mans Series sees the sports car division off from its previous race mid-May at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, until mid-July and the shortest track on the schedule, Lime Rock Park. ...

The usual summer break for the American Le Mans Series sees the sports car division off from its previous race mid-May at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, until mid-July and the shortest track on the schedule, Lime Rock Park.

#2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI at Sebring.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

In between, those select teams and drivers who have been invited to the premier sports car event of the calendar year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, are busy assembling transporters and equipment to fly over to France.

There are fewer current ALMS participants running at Le Mans this year than usual, thanks in large part to manufacturer pullouts.

Audi Sport North America and Penske Racing's Porsche RS Spyder each earned automatic invitations based on finishing first and second in class points in LM P1 and P2 last season.

Audi is of course still running and is heavy favorite to win overall with their new R15 TDI turbo diesel, but only two Porsches will run in P2, neither one by Penske; instead, those will be fielded by Navi Team Goh and Team Essex.

The three teams representing ALMS in this year's Le Mans are all in the GT classes. Corvette Racing and Risi Competizione each have two cars entered, Flying Lizard Motorsports one.

Corvette signs off from Le Mans - at least in its current form with its C6.R - having not won in class since 2006. The last two years have seen Aston Martin's DBR9s take the checkers, but the task is made easier for Corvette this year by Aston's step up to P1 with its Lola coupe factory effort. Only one privateer Aston is entered in this year's Le Mans.

The C6.R has raced five years since the start of 2005, winning its first two years at Le Mans as the successor to the all-conquering C5.R that won at Le Mans three times.

The low, rumbling 7-liter small-block V8 will be driven by Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia (No. 63), and Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler (No. 64).

#64 Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R at Le Mans 2008.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Gavin admitted after winning the team's ALMS GT1 finale at Long Beach that there was still work to be done come June, in the C6.R's third race of 2009.

"Although this is our last ALMS GT1 race, it isn't the last hurrah for the GT1 Corvettes," Gavin said. "We still have unfinished business in Le Mans."

As the O'Connell/Magnussen entry had a rare driveline problem at Long Beach, each driver was thankful the gremlins struck there and not for the French classic.

"The number of problems we've had is so incredibly small, I'd much rather have an issue today and then go to Le Mans and win that one," O'Connell said. "That's what we're really thinking about."

"To be completely honest, I don't mind it so much here as long as we don't have any problems at Le Mans," Magnussen said. "We'll come back at Le Mans strong and reliable. Finishing off a decade with this car with everyone involved in the program at Corvette Racing, Chevrolet, Compuware, Michelin, and Katech, we owe them a big thanks."

In GT2, Flying Lizard Motorsports has won the last three ALMS races with Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long. Long leaves the team to race for IMSA Performance Matmut at Le Mans while Bergmeister is paired with Seth Neiman and Darren Law in the team's No. 80 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

Bergmeister counts a 2004 GT2 class win in his seven prior Le Mans starts; Neiman has five prior starts. Yet Law, who has spent parts of the last 22 years in and around sports car racing, will be making his Le Mans debut this year. He already was part of the overall winning team at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Brumos Racing Porsche Riley.

"I'm really looking forward to Le Mans; racing in a 24-hour event is nothing new to me but this track is," Law said. "Although Joerg and I haven't driven together before, I've been teammates with both Joerg and Seth for several years now and their experience with this track should help me get up to speed quickly."

#45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR at Sebring.
Photo by Bob Harmeyer.

Law also said in the team's press release that it will take making the most of the practice day on Wednesday to learn and get accustomed to the track as there was no test day this year in May.

Flying Lizard will again have to take down Risi - defending GT2 class champions at Le Mans. Jaime Melo and Mika Salo are again in the team's No. 82 red Ferrari F430 GT, joined this year by German Pierre Kaffer who replaces former Minardi Formula One pilot Gianmaria "Gimmi" Bruni.

Melo and Kaffer have already driven together in all ALMS races and Salo's schedule has shifted to a part-time basis. Kaffer finished second overall and first in the SP9 class at the Nurburgring 24 Hours two weeks ago while driving and Audi R8 LMS.

Salo said the key to Le Mans, more so than the necessary training and physical fitness, is getting valuable hours of sleep.

"The driving at Le Mans is not the big thing; it's that you don't get much rest in between the driving," Salo told americanlemans.com. "You have to be fit enough to deal with that."

Risi's second car is run in partnership with Krohn Racing. Longtime co-drivers Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Eric Van De Poele will drive the lime green No. 83 Ferrari F430 GT.

Van De Poele has won the Spa 24 Hours five times overall, but never at Le Mans despite his best chances coming in 2001 and 2002 aboard the Bentley Speed 8.

Other ALMS regulars are peppered in throughout the field. Simon Pagenaud of de Ferran Motorsports hopes to continue his excellent 2009 season in Pescarolo Sport's No. 17 Peugeot 908 (P1).

Three of Dyson Racing's four ALMS pilots will be at Le Mans as well. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith will be in separate P2 entries (the No. 25 RML Lola Mazda coupe and No. 40 Quifel-ASM Ginetta Zytek 09S respectively) while Marino Franchitti joins the Drayson Racing team's Aston Martin Vantage in GT2.

The final week of preparation for this year's classic begins with scrutineering on Monday and Tuesday before the first day of practice on Wednesday.

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