Laguna Seca: Thursday night practice report

Thursday Night Practice Thrills American Le Mans Drivers at Laguna Seca Monterey, CA - In preparation for the first-ever night racing event in the long history of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which will be held Saturday, American Le Mans Series ...

Thursday Night Practice Thrills American Le Mans Drivers at Laguna Seca

Monterey, CA - In preparation for the first-ever night racing event in the long history of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which will be held Saturday, American Le Mans Series drivers had one hour of night practice on Thursday and came away both thrilled and impressed.

The Audi Sports Car Championships, a timed event of four hours, will start at 4 p.m. (Pacific) on Saturday and run until 8 p.m. At least 90 minutes of the event will be run in total darkness, with drivers competing at speeds of more than 180 mph with only the light from headlights and tail lights to guide them around the 2.238-mile road racing circuit.

Although ALMS drivers run in darkness in other events such as the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, as well as in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, none of the seasoned pros had ever driven the Laguna Seca circuit in darkness until tonight.

"Racing around Laguna Seca in darkness on Saturday night will be awesome," said JJ Lehto, driver of the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 and the driver with the most overall race wins in ALMS history.

"The surrounding countryside looked beautiful this evening during practice," Lehto said. "The sunset spectacularly lit up the hills before dusk and then into full darkness which is what we'll get in the closing stages of the race. Darkness will add more excitement for the race fans - and the drivers for that matter - and I'm certain it will make for an interesting spectacle."

"Driving in the dark here is spectacular," said Sascha Maassen, the most winning ALMS driver of all time and driver of the YES Network Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. "It's like driving around the Nordschleife of the Nurburgring (Germany). It will be even more spectacular when we have spectators camping next to the track or we see some lights (on either side of the track) and we go between them. I'm really looking forward to Saturday night racing at Laguna. Lighting was not a problem, absolutely not a problem. We have big lights on our Porsche!"

"It's pretty daunting," said Jamie Campbell-Walter, co-driver of the Creation Autosportif DBA-Zytek that was fastest overall in the night session. "Actually, once we sort out our lights I think we'll be fine. Places like the Corkscrew are okay as they are quite well lit up, that's not a problem, but it's at the 'normal' places like turn 1, 2, 3 and 4 - the flat ones - where you haven't got any reference points.

"The Corkscrew is hilly so once you've gone into it the lights are shining up quite well but it's the dead flat ones where you can't see a long way ahead that are more of a problem," he said. "Our lights aren't elevated enough basically so it was quite difficult, but I enjoyed it. I like driving in the dark."

"It's very difficult to drive because it is the first time we have run here in the dark," said Johnny Mowlem, driver of the ACEMCO Motorsports Saleen S7R in the GTS class. "Unlike Road Atlanta and Sebring, where you are used to running a lot of laps in the darkness, this is just a new experience.

"The extra lights the track brought in helped somewhat but you really have to depend on your car's own lighting to show the way," Mowlem said. "The other hazard is the dirt on the track as a result of cars going off, which you can't see in the dark."

"I was able to set a good time in the dark," said Timo Bernhard, driver of the Alex Job Racing Porsche and the fastest driver in the GT class during the night test. "The track really changes at night because of the darkness and a nearly 15 degree temperature drop.

"They have added lights at a couple of the turns, which helps," he said. "The Corkscrew is a little scary because it is hard to see the faster cars coming up on you. Also, the exit of turn 10 coming down the hill - the exit is very dark and you think you are through the turn and then you are on the curb so you have to be careful.

"The parts of the track that are exciting in the daylight are twice as fun in the dark," he said.

"Sports car endurance racing needs to retain this element and to start and now finish the ALMS calendar with races that include night time driving is good," said Lehto. "At home in Finland during the winter, it stays dark late into the morning and then gets dark early in the afternoon so perhaps I'll have an advantage."

CREATION AUTOSPORTIF DBA-ZYTEK LEADS THE WAY

Lap times for Prototype cars were approximately one second slower in the night practice than in Thursday afternoon's test sessions, while GTS and GT cars were faster under night conditions.

Leading the LMP1 Prototype class was the Creation Autosportif DBA-Zytek of Nicolas Minassian and Jamie Campbell-Walter at 1:17.570, followed by JJ Lehto and Marco Werner at 1:17.608 in the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8.

The Miracle Motorsports Courage C65-AER of Ian James, James Gue and John Macaluso led the LMP2 class for smaller Prototypes with a time of 1:22.821, followed by the Intersport Racing Lola B2K/40-Judd of Clint Field, Robin Liddell and Rick Sutherland at 1:23.459.

The two cars of the factory Chevrolet Corvette team were separated by only .022 in the night session, with the #4 Corvette C5-R of Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta fastest at 1:22.910. The #3 car of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell turned a best time of 1:22.932.

In the GT class, the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister was fastest at 1:26.627, followed by the 1:27.297 time of Craig Stanton and David Murry in the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Porsche.

EVENT INFORMATION

The Audi Sports Car Championships event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will get the green flag at 4 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday, October 16. The American Le Mans Series Radio Network will have live coverage that can be heard online at www.americanlemans.com, and MotorsTV will have live flag-to-flag coverage that can be seen in Europe beginning at 24:00 (UK) and 01:00 (Paris).

In North America, NBC Sports will have coverage of the event on a one-day tape delay beginning at 2 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, October 17.

Event ticket information is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ticket office at 800-327-7322.

-alms-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Nicolas Minassian , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , David Murry , Robin Liddell , Sascha Maassen , Ian James , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Timo Bernhard , James Gue , Marco Werner , Rick Sutherland , Johnny Mowlem , Craig Stanton , Olivier Beretta , Alex Job , JJ Lehto
Teams Alex Job Racing