After Three Months, American Le Mans Series to Resume Season with New Teams, Drivers at Mid-Ohio
Braselton, GA - The stars and cars of the American Le Mans Series have been idle and silent on North American shores for three months, but the long wait for followers of the professional sports car racing series is finally over. For the first time since the running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, the series will be in action this weekend.
The June 25-27 event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, begins a stretch of five races in seven weeks for the series, which took April, May and most of June off to give its racing teams the opportunity to compete in the recent running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. Cars and equipment are now en route to Ohio from France, as well as other points, and practice for Sunday's race starts on Friday.
"Sebring seems like a really long time ago, almost last year," said Johnny O'Connell, co-champion of the GTS class in the ALMS last season and a driver for the factory Chevrolet Corvette team. He and co-driver Ron Fellows lead the GTS class standings again after winning their class at Sebring. "Finally, our season really begins."
The ALMS is returning to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course after a one-year absence due to scheduling conflicts. The 2.25-mile, 13-turn circuit has been one of the classic road racing venues in North America for many years. Sunday's two-hour, 45-minute timed ALMS race begins at 1 p.m. (EDT).
CBS Sports will have live coverage of the Mid-Ohio race from 2-4 p.m. (EDT), while MotorsTV will have live flag-to-flag coverage in Europe. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage of the race and of Saturday's qualifying session online at www.americanlemans.com.
Racing teams that won three of the four classes of competition in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will race at Mid-Ohio and in the balance of the nine-event ALMS season for 2004. Corvette Racing won its third GTS class crown at Le Mans in four years, while the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche team won the GT class at Le Mans for the second straight year. Ohio-based Intersport Racing won the LMP2 class at Le Mans and will seek victory this weekend at its home track.
ADT Champion Racing, which finished third overall at Le Mans and was the highest-finishing team from the ALMS, will seek the overall victory at Mid-Ohio with an Audi R8 Prototype driven by JJ Lehto and Marco Werner. Neither has ever driven at Mid-Ohio in a Prototype.
"It shouldn't be a problem at all," said Finland's Lehto, who won the GT class in a factory BMW in the last ALMS race at Mid-Ohio in 2002. "I've done the CART series there, so I've driven the track in a powerful car. For sure the Audi will be good there so I'm not worried at all."
One driver especially ready to race at Mid-Ohio is Porsche factory driver Jorg Bergmeister, part of the Petersen team's winning driving squad at Le Mans but sitting at zero in the ALMS point standings after not being able to drive at Sebring due to illness. He will be back with co-driver Timo Bernhard in his normal ride, the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
"I am ready for Mid-Ohio!" he said. "Our new GT3 RSR has increased downforce since our last visit there and will help in the very quick turn-one and through the Esses. We will need a good race setup to get through the off-camber turns where we tend to oversteer. Timo and I will have to find the right compromise between having an aggressive car for the beginning of the stint and one that is still good at the end."
American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio will see the debut of several new racing teams and cars, notably the new factory-affiliated Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT machines of Krohn-Barbour Racing. Drivers David Brabham, Peter Kox, Scott Maxwell and Tracy Krohn will drive the new Italian cars in the GTS class.
Also debuting at Mid-Ohio will be a new American-built Panoz Esperante GT-LM, run in the GT class by the Panoz Motor Sports factory team with drivers Gunnar Jeannette and David Saelens. Another debuting entry will be a new LMP2 class team, Race Car Company, which will run a Lola B2K/40-Millington Prototype for Georgia driver Ryan Eversley.
ALMS NOTES - Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell have won the GTS class both previous times the ALMS has raced at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2001 and 2002) .. The New Century Mortgage/Racer's Group Porsche team returns to the scene of its first-ever ALMS win when it competes at Mid-Ohio. The team won the GT class in the 2002 ALMS event at Mid-Ohio with team owner Kevin Buckler co-driving with B.J. Zacharias. Cort Wagner and Patrick Long will drive the team's lead Porsche at Mid-Ohio . Following this weekend's race, ALMS teams will head directly to Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., for the July 2-5 New England Grand Prix . The Lime Rock event will be the 50th race since the formation of the ALMS in 1999 ..
Ticket information for American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling 1-800-MID-OHIO.