Laguna Seca: Roger Penske - ALMS spotlight

PENSKE RELISHING RETURN TO ROAD RACING AT ALMS' MONTEREY SPORTS CAR CHAMPIONSHIPS Salinas, Calif. - Roger Penske is back home in road racing. And what better place to do it than at the last track his Penske Racing team won a Can-Am race more...

PENSKE RELISHING RETURN TO ROAD RACING AT ALMS' MONTEREY SPORTS CAR CHAMPIONSHIPS

Salinas, Calif. - Roger Penske is back home in road racing. And what better place to do it than at the last track his Penske Racing team won a Can-Am race more than 30 years ago?

Penske is back at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the race debut the No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder, fielded by his Penske Motorsports team. It started on the pole for the Monterey Sports Car Championships on Saturday after a record-breaking LMP2 class run in Friday's qualifying session.

"This is coming home, especially at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca," Penske said Saturday afternoon. "Some of the first racing I did was at Riverside and here. Our partnership with Porsche is ideal, and to think we're sitting back here now is great."

The last time Penske was affiliated with sports car racing in the U.S. was the 1973 season finale at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course. Mark Donahue piloted Penske's No. 6 Porsche 917/30 to a victory in Monterey in the team's last Can-Am race.

Whispers that the new Porsche prototype could display a similar kind of dominance have been circulating ever since the program was announced in April at Atlanta. But both drivers and teams have done their best to reel in such high expectations for this weekend, citing this race as a test for a two-car effort in a full season of the ALMS in 2006.

"So far, I'm happy with the result," said Hartmut Kristen, director of motorsport for Porsche AG. "It also depends on Roger Penske and his team. We are happy to work with him on this project. We have a great relationship with Roger, not only as a race team but as one of the best car dealers in the world."

The construction and design of the RS Spyder is impressive. The heart of the new Porsche LMP2 is its newly designed 3.4-liter, 90-degree, V8 engine. Limited to 480 horsepower at 10,100 RPMs by ACO air restrictor regulations, the power plant is lightweight with a very low center of gravity. It features four valves per cylinder, a dry sump lubrication system, and an air intake manifold with single cylinder throttle valves.

The engine is mated to a Porsche-engineered sequential six-speed constant mesh transmission. A structural part of the car, the gearbox is operated by a paddle shift system on the steering wheel and incorporates a triple-disc carbon fiber racing clutch.

"We didn't start with a white sheet of paper, but with a blank screen on a computer," said Hartmut Kristen, director of motorsport for Porsche A.G. "The car consists of about 3,000 parts. It should be less than 750 kg and last for 24 hours. You have to meet the rules and meet the endurance and performance capabilities."

It's a different era than the 917/30 days, Penske said. "We used to do it with horsepower in those days," he said. "Now they have the ability to reduce the performance of the race car. There is more aerodynamics in play, fuel mileage and grip. Certainly we understand the mechanical side of the car with carbon fiber and power steering. We didn't have power steering in the 917."

He's right of course. Technology has come a long way in more than 30 years, especially when one is talking about Porsche. The precision and history that come with both Porsche and Penske Motorsports make for a perfect marriage. Penske summed it up with three reasons.

"We like to race and Porsche likes to race," Penske said. "We're a dealer for Porsche here, in England and in Scotland. The third element is that Porsche is committed to racing. And an important part is that we can show that technology."

The car, to no one's great surprise, has been the talk of the paddock. It's official unveiling Thursday drew a throng of media, and it had one of the bigger crowds around its red-and-yellow DHL livery during the pre-race grid walk.

"The car certainly speaks for itself," said Scott Atherton, president and CEO of the ALMS. "In my opinion, it is the most detailed and perfect sports car I've ever seen. Prior to that I gave the mark to the Aston Martin, so the bar is being raised. When we made the announcement, the Porsche was big enough in itself, then to add an organization like Roger Penske. Then to introduce a company like DHL adds to that. It grows with every step and bodes extremely well for the future."

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Series ALMS
Drivers Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske