Laguna Seca: VICI Racing race report

T-MOBILE® VICI RACING MONTEREY SPORTS CAR CHAMPIONSHIP AT LAGUNA SECA, RACE REPORT Monterey, Calif. - After 4 hours 1 minute and 59 seconds of hard-fought racing and having completed 153 laps of the Laguna Seca Raceway, in the gathering...

T-MOBILE® VICI RACING MONTEREY SPORTS CAR CHAMPIONSHIP AT LAGUNA SECA, RACE REPORT

Monterey, Calif. - After 4 hours 1 minute and 59 seconds of hard-fought racing and having completed 153 laps of the Laguna Seca Raceway, in the gathering darkness and under a crescendo of fireworks Johannes Stuck brought the #18 T-Mobile® VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR safely over the finish line last night as the clock ticked past six-thirty.

The final round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the Monterey Sports Car Championships, also wrapped up the Miami, Florida-based team's racing programme for the year, and the performance comfortably exceeded our expectations which had been to look at this concluding race effectively as an extended test session in full racing conditions and the start of our 'winter' test programme, and Johannes' team mate Richard Westbrook, who shouldered the bulk of the responsibility as he triple stinted from the start, had battled his way through the competitive field to climb as high as second place, thanks to skilfully, determined driving, shrewd tactics from the pit wall, and slick work by the crew, the Briton also closing in on the race leader and having forced his way past much vaunted factory machinery in the process. In the end Johannes, in for the fourth and final stint, guided the #18 car through the darkness to collect seventh place just as the race ended in dramatic circumstances with a finish-line crash.

VICI Racing is a long-established German/US racing team competing in the prestigious ALMS series. T-Mobile USA is a leading innovator and provider of mobile communications. At the end of 2008, T-Mobile USA served more than 32.8 million customers. T-Mobile USA is the U.S. operation of Deutsche Telekom AG's Mobile Communications Business, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of T-Mobile International, one of the world's leading companies in mobile communications. T-Mobile is a federally registered trademark of Deutsche Telekom AG. Michelin is a technical partner of the team.

It was a long morning and early Saturday afternoon at the Laguna Seca Raceway as the final appointment on the ALMS calendar built up to the green flag which was scheduled for 2:45PM (PT) while temperatures were rising steadily at the 2.238-mile track which nestles in a spectator-friendly dust bowl in the hills just inland of Monterey, and it was must more pleasant than the last two days when there had been a distinct chill in the air. Richard, who would start the race this afternoon, was strapped in, and after the pre-race festivities, which included dancers, the national anthem and a fly-by from a pair of screaming jet fighters, the command to "start your engines" was given at 2:40PM and at 2:45PM, after a warm-up lap and exactly on time, the green flag was waved and the massed field roared away in anger. The #18 T-Mobile VICI Racing Porsche immediately gained a place before even the flag was waved as the #44 Flying Lizard Porsche spun and was forced to drop to the back of the GT2 field.

Hardly had the race swung into life than a pair of prototypes, the #88 P1 Lola B09 60 Judd and #6 P2 Porsche RS Spyder, came together at Turn 9 and went into the gravel meaning that the first yellow flags of the afternoon were waved after just 4 minutes of racing.

It stayed at full yellow conditions for more than ten minutes with green flag racing resuming after 17 minutes (3:02PM). The story of the early laps was Richard posting laps in the low 1:26s, and holding off the #44 Flying Lizard Porsche. The next 30 minutes saw uninterrupted green flag racing until at 3:34PM a prototype went off track and brought out the yellows. The resulting yellow flags saw Richard dive into the pits at 3:37PM (52 minutes of running) where the crew put on four new tires and a fresh fuel load, with the experienced Englishman remaining in the cockpit to double stint. At 3:45PM the race went to green again, but within seconds two GT2 cars, the #4 Corvette C6.R and #92 BMW E92 M3 had been involved in a four-way tangle with two ALMS Challenge Porsche runners, and the race went straight back to full course yellows and while the damaged Corvette struggled back to the pits and the beached BMW was dragged back into the race.

That caution lasted for 13 minutes before at 3:58PM (1h 13m of running) the course went to green flag conditions again. Combined with the expert strategy of Technical Director Roland Wall on the pit wall and the skill and tough streak that Richard has demonstrated in his climb to the top level of sports car racing, the #18 car sliced its way through the field and by the hour-and-a-half mark the Londoner was up to fourth, leading out a train of Porsche 911 GT3 RSR runners, with the #87 Farnbacher-Loles car next up in fifth, the #17 Team Falken Tire car in sixth and the #44 Flying Lizard in eighth. By the hour-and-three-quarter-mark Richard was closing up tightly, to 5 seconds, on the leading #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche as the magenta-and-white #18 car continued to make a stunning pace.

The race stayed green until 4:33PM (1h 48m of running) when the next yellows, the fourth and final set, were waved after one of the ALMS Challenge Porsches went off the course, and at 4:50PM and having covered 68 laps Richard, who had never driven on this track prior to yesterday, blasted into the pits for fuel and tires but again remained in the cockpit to triple-stint. The next half an hour saw the #18 car battle its way up to a stunning second place, far exceeding our objectives for this final race of the year which were purely to use this weekend to kick start our winter test programme, and as Richard dug deep, a titanic battle occurred as he got the jump on the two mighty Corvettes, keeping the #3 blue-and-yellow machine behind him for position lap after lap and the same for the sister factory #4 which was battling back up the order after an early race incident, only conceding positions after showing the potential we will look to turn into top results next year.

As five o'clock ticked round the conditions were swiftly changing, the air temperature was dropping quickly; it was now a chilly 55 degrees with the track temperature hovering at around 65 degrees, while there was a slight breeze out of the southwest. At 5:39PM and having spent 2 hours and 54 minutes in the cockpit, Richard brought the #18 car into the pits for the third and final scheduled pit stop and with three hard stints behind him the former multiple Porsche Carrera Cup and Porsche Supercup winner handed over to Johannes, the 22-year-old Austrian quickly blasting back into the fray with a new fuel load and fresh tires.

"The start was clean, but we really came alive and hit a good rhythm after the first stop when we moved away from the tires we chose for qualifying and the car felt very good," said a remarkably fresh Richard. "Everything worked really well, it was tiring driving a triple-stint but I had a lot of fun out there, putting passes on the Corvettes. I like the track and it was very busy out there, all the time. We all dug deep and showed that we can turn in a competitive performance."

Johannes, who was also driving on this circuit for the first time in this his ALMS rookie year, kept the #18 car safety on track during the last hour, and on the pit wall they started counting down the laps to the chequered flag. For the record the #18 car's fastest lap of the race was set by Richard in 1 minute and 25.155 seconds on lap 46 of the 153 that the car completed.

"I'm satisfied with the potential we showed here, we had a lot of odds to battle against and not running on the test day [on Thursday] as we had to fit the new engine and other parts, it meant we had to predict our settings, and we lost more valuable track time during the Friday practice with a sensor issue so we were constantly fighting to keep up," said Technical Director Roland Wall afterwards. "The team worked very hard all weekend, the drivers did well, learning the track very quickly, Richard fought in the race as I know he always does, the new team members bedding in well, and everyone pulled together superbly."

-credit: vr

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