After Eight Races and Monumental Struggles, ALMS GT Drivers Championship Comes Down To Three Porsche Drivers - and The Numbers --With a 15-point lead going into a race which yields a maximum of 23 points, Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR...
After Eight Races and Monumental Struggles, ALMS GT Drivers Championship Comes Down To Three Porsche Drivers - and The Numbers
--With a 15-point lead going into a race which yields a maximum of 23 points, Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driver Timo Bernhard seems headed for the American Le Mans Series GT drivers championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but-- -
MONTEREY, California - October 12, 2004 - German Porsche driver Timo Bernhard holds the upper hand in the season-long battle for the American Le Mans Series GT drivers title, but Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche drivers Johannes van Overbeek, from San Francisco, and Darren Law, from Phoenix, are still in the running - and anything can happen right to the end for this weekend's Audi Sports Car Championships at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway.
The American Le Mans Series event starts Saturday, October 16, at 4:00 PM Pacific time, and runs for four hours. The race will be telecast on a delayed basis on NBC-TV the next day, Sunday, October 17, at 2:00 PM Eastern.
"We are grateful that a Porsche driver will win the ALMS GT championship for the fifth time in the six year history of the series, but it would be foolish to predict the outcome before the event," said Uwe Brettel, president of Porsche Motorsport North America.
"Auto racing holds many surprises - both human and mechanical - during a four-hour event, and the team that makes the least number of mistakes should win the title," said Brettel.
Here are the championship scenarios:
If the #23 Alex Job Racing McKenna mail2web.com Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, with Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister, also from Germany, aboard, finishes in the top six, Timo wins the GT drivers championship no matter where anyone else finishes (a sixth-place finish would guarantee a tie in points, but Timo wins the tie-breaker based on more wins). Jorg Bergmeister, who has co-driven with Timo all year, will not share the title as he missed the season opener at Sebring due to illness.
If Timo and Jorg finish seventh through tenth, the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, with Johannes van Overbeek and Darren Law, could win the championship by finishing first in the event (tenth for Timo would result in a tie if the Lizards finished second, but Timo would win the tie-breaker). If Timo and Jorg do not finish in the top ten and score no points, then Johannes and Darren can win the title by finishing in any of the top three positions. This race gives teams three extra points because of its length, so first place is 23 points, second place is 19 points, etc.
In the six years of the American Le Mans Series, Porsche has the most class wins - 47 (Audi is second with 39), and the longest winning streak - 21 races in a row (Sebring 2002 - Mid-Ohio 2004).
In contrast to the 2002 and 2003 seasons, when Alex Job Racing Porsches won virtually all the GT races, and Germans Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr won the GT championships handily, this year's title chase has been a struggle for both contenders. On the Alex Job side, a disappointing tenth-place finish at Lime Rock and a fourth at Portland for Bergmeister/Bernhard, along with Jorg's illness at Sebring, has brought the competition down to the final event despite five wins in eight events for Timo and Jorg.
For the Northern California-based Flying Lizard team, in its first full year of competition despite veteran drivers and an experienced crew, seven podium finishes including a win a Mid-Ohio for van Overbeek/Law in their #45 Porsche has been tempered by a win taken away at Infineon Raceway due to a rules violation and a disappointing fifth-place finish three weeks ago at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, a race that Bernhard/Bergmeister won including six valuable bonus points attached to the 10-hour event.
"The competition in our class is so fierce that a small stumble can put you right out of the points lead, as we found out at Lime Rock this year, but the whole team - drivers and crew - has gelled in the second half of the season, and we will do everything we can to clinch our third straight GT title," said Alex Job, whose driver (Cort Wagner) won the GT drivers championship in 1999 as well.
The other Alex Job car, the #24 Porsche driven by Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, who claimed victory at the ALMS event in Portland, fell back in the points at Mosport when an early race crash results in an 11th place finish - and no points. Their luck did not improve at Road America when a broken axle also led to no points, but they scored a fine second-place finish to Bergmeister/Bernhard at Petit Le Mans, with the aid of 2004 Porsche Supercup champion Wolf Henzler from Germany, who joined the team as a third driver. Dumas has earned four pole positions in the eight events this season.
Flying Lizard Motorsports also has a second car, the #44 Porsche, driven by Seth Neiman, of Hillsborough, Calif., and Lonnie Pechnik, of Pacific Grove, Calif. Pechnik also has a pole to his credit.
The Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR has been competitive all season, leading several races at the halfway point, and one race (Portland) with only ten minutes to go - but has yet to register a win. Drivers Craig Stanton and David Murry hope they can break through for their first win of the season. Earlier in the year, the car made its racing debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, when Sascha Maassen, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long drove to the car to a GT class win. Murry/Stanton were third at Petit Le Mans in September, their sixth podium finish of the season.
Although the aforementioned Maassen and Luhr have spent the season driving for Porsche in Europe, they have been frequent guests in this year's American Le Mans Series. Maassen co-drove with Bergmeister and Bernhard to two of their victories (Sebring and Petit Le Mans), while Lucas was second at Sebring in the Dumas/Lieb Porsche. But both drivers have been part of the BAM! YES Network Porsche 911 GT3 RSR effort, each pairing with team regular Leo Hindery throughout the season. For this event, both Maassen and Luhr will team up with Hindery in the hope of scoring BAM!'s first podium finish.
The Racer's Group Porsche team, with two 911 GT3 RSR cars entered, features Patrick Long and Cort Wagner at the helm of the lead car. Wagner, a former ALMS GT champion, and Long, the 22 year-old Porsche factory driver, who was on the winning GT team at Le Mans, are still looking for their first podium finish of the year. Long/Wagner also led at Portland and Mosport for a time, but extra pit stops for mechanical ills and flat tires torpedoed their efforts for a top finish.
Pierre Ehret, from Santa Rosa, Calif., and 24 Hours of Daytona and Grand Am Cup winner Robert Julien, from Toronto, will drive the second The Racer's Group Porsche.
The J3 Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, based in Buford, GA, will be co-driven by Justin Jackson and Tim Sugden. Sugden, who had the J3 Racing Porsche in the lead for almost two hours at Lime Rock, will be shooting to stay with the leaders again with Jackson at Laguna Seca.
After missing the Road America event, the British-based P.K. Sport Porsche GT3 RS is back in the field, with Piers Masarati/Liz Halliday sharing the driving duties.
The Audi Sports Car Championships will be televised on a delayed basis on NBC-TV starting at 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on Sunday, October 17. The live radio broadcast (on www.americanlemans.com) will be aired on Saturday, October 16, at 7:00 PM Eastern and will last four hours.
The official Porsche media web site - www.press.porsche.com - will have qualifying information for the Audi Sports Car Championship event for the Porsches entered, and will post stories and photos during and after the race. Porsche media web site users enter the word "carrera" for both user name and password, then choose "motor sports news" and "ALMS" to find the Petit Le Mans updates. The same information is posted for consumers on Porsche's main site www.porsche.com/motorsport (click on "news").
The official race notes and results for all the classes at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca even can be found on the official site for the American Le Mans Series (www.americanlemans.com), where fans can follow the qualifying sessions and the race with live timing and scoring on-line as well as American Le Mans Radio Web, a live radio broadcast of all qualifying sessions as well as the entire four hour race race.
Other Web sites that will follow the Road America event include Daily Sports Car (www.dailysportscar.com), The Race Site (www.theracesite.com), the Speed Channel site (www.speedTV.com), Sports Car Pros (www.sportscarpros.com) Motorsport.com (www.motorsport.com), AutoSport magazine's site (www.autosport.com), AutoRacingDaily.com (www.autoracingdaily.com), Motorsport-news.com (www.motorsport-news.com), Crash.net (www.crash.net), racinglines.com (www.racinglines.com), EnduranceSportsCar.com (www.endurancesportscar.com), pitstop.com (www.pitstop.com); and Speed Arena (www.speedarena.com).