Miami: Street circuit presents unique challanges

Miami street circuit presents unique challenges to American Le Mans drivers, teams. BRASELTON, Ga. - The temporary street racing circuit that will host Miami's Grand Prix Americas presented by Sportsbook.com creates unique challenges to drivers...

Miami street circuit presents unique challenges to American Le Mans drivers, teams.

BRASELTON, Ga. - The temporary street racing circuit that will host Miami's Grand Prix Americas presented by Sportsbook.com creates unique challenges to drivers and race teams in the American Le Mans Series.

The 1.3-mile circuit will bring the Downtown area of Miami alive with the sounds of racing cars the weekend of Sept. 26-28, with the sports cars of the American Le Mans Series to hold a two-hour, 45-minute timed event at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27.

The track, which includes portions of Biscayne Boulevard, Bayfront Park and other Miami city streets, has 13 turns. Most of the turns are to the left, while a few are to the right. The turn 10-11 combination is a tight, low-speed "hairpin" at the north end of the circuit that connects the north and southbound lanes of Biscayne Boulevard, normally separated by a median. The pit area is set up further south, between the two lanes of Biscayne.

Last year's event, which brought street circuit racing back to Miami after an absence of six years, was run on a course slightly different than the course that will be used for this year's event. Due to construction in the Miami downtown, a section that was at the south end of the circuit last year has been eliminated, but, to compensate, event organizers added more race track at the north end.

It is a tight, narrow and challenging circuit, the smallest that the American Le Mans Series races on in 2003 and one of only two "street" circuits on the schedule. The other is at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, in Canada.

"The spectators will definitely see an interesting race because the track is so narrow and short," said Frank Biela, a three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the overall winner of last year's inaugural Miami race. The German driver pilots the Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 Prototype with co-driver Marco Werner. "Between the concrete walls, the smallest mistake inevitably leads to retirement (from the event), which is something we cannot afford."

Ron Fellows, who will co-drive a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R in the GTS class with Johnny O'Connell, will also be seeking to repeat his Miami win from last year. "Street circuits are a little different," said the popular Canadian driver. "It tends to be a little more rubbing and bumping just because there's not a whole lot of room on a street circuit and you've got to be a little careful. There's absolutely no room for error. You're talking about a track surrounded by concrete walls.

"A lot of getting the car to work is mechanical grip," he said. "The downforce the car makes on a street circuit is pretty minimal. A lot of it is a balance between the springs in the car, sway bars, and we've got some choices in tires with Goodyear and they've done a pretty good job for us, certainly with street circuits. We look at how things went at Trois-Rivieres (where the Corvette team swept the top two spots in GTS) and we're pretty confident."

"This year, the track is different, which makes it new for everyone again," said Brad Kettler, Technical Director for ADT Champion Racing, which fields an Audi R8 for drivers JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert. "I think tire choice will be extremely critical. Teams that can quickly find the optimum race setup should prevail although on such a tight circuit, luck will play an important role."

In addition to the race, American Le Mans Series competitors enjoyed their visit to Miami last year, with most choosing to spend some extra time in one of America's most cosmopolitan and exciting cities.

"We're all looking forward to Miami," said Biela. "The atmosphere is awesome and racing on street circuits is something special."

"Being in Downtown Miami is obviously a great spot," said Fellows. "Hot weather, and a really challenging street circuit. We have very fond memories."

The sports cars of the American Le Mans Series and the Champ Cars of CART will share the billing in a unique "dual headline" event being called "The Blast by the Bay." Many fan-oriented activities will take place around the event weekend, including a Fan Fest at Bayside Marketplace on the evening of Sept. 24 and a street festival in the Coconut Grove section of Miami on the evening of Sept. 25. Music star Elton John will perform a concert on Saturday night after the ALMS race at nearby American Airlines Arena. ALMS drivers will hold an autograph session at the racing circuit at 11 a.m. on race day.

Events for the MotoRock Trans-Am Tour and CART Toyota Atlantics will also be part of the weekend in Miami.

The ALMS race will be televised live by the SPEED Channel and broadcast online by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web at www.americanlemans.com. Event ticket information is available online at www.miamirace.com or by calling 1-888-248-7223.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Frank Biela , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Marco Werner , JJ Lehto