** SEBRING APPROACHING FAST; FIRST SPECTATOR ARRIVES -- With just over two months until the 2003 American Le Mans Series season gets underway, entries are arriving and momentum is building for the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway Mar. 13-15.
The first spectator is already in line, with perennial early-bird Patrick Taylor of Palm Bay, Fla., arriving to set up camp on Dec. 24 at 5:20 p.m. Taylor, who was first in line in 2001 and second last year, arrived 77 days before the gates open for spectators to claim their favorite spots in the famed infield at Sebring. Seventy-seven days is a record, breaking the mark of 65 that was set last year.
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will start at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. Ticket information is available online at www.sebringraceway.com or by calling (863) 655-1442, or toll-free in Florida (800) 626-RACE. Four classes of American Le Mans Series cars will compete in the event, and some 60 cars are expected to take the green flag.
The race will be televised live from flag-to-flag by the SPEED Channel, with live coverage by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web online at www.americanlemans.com.
** SPEED CHANNEL AUDIENCE CONTINUES GROWTH -- SPEED Channel, which will televise six of the 10 events for the American Le Mans Series in 2003, continues its position as the fastest-growing sports network on television.
SPEED Channel's January Nielsen universe estimate is 55,514,000 U.S. homes, an increase of 708,000 homes from December. In the last 12 months, SPEED has added 8,996,000 homes, the eighth-fastest growing in cable. In the last 24 months, the network has added 23,074,000 homes.
With more than 4.5 million homes in Canada, SPEED Channel is now available in more than 60 million North American households.
** CORVETTE TEAM MAKES DRIVER LINEUP CHANGES -- The Corvette Racing team, winner of the GTS class championship in the American Le Mans Series, has made some changes in its driver lineup for the 2003 season.
Andy Pilgrim, who has been a fulltime driver for the team since its inception, has been selected to be the Corvette Racing 50th Anniversary Program Representative. As a result, he will reduce his participation as a driver and will race only in the longer events, including the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that will open the 2003 ALMS season.
Oliver Gavin, who drove only in the endurance events last year as a third driver for one of the Corvettes, will now race the full schedule as a teammate to Kelly Collins in the #4 Corvette in place of Pilgrim. Pilgrim will join Gavin and Collins when he races.
Ron Fellows, the GTS champion of the ALMS in 2003, will continue to co-drive with Johnny O'Connell in the #3 Corvette in most rounds of the ALMS. Franck Freon will join them for the longer races.
In his new role with Corvette, Pilgrim will interact with the considerable Corvette dealer base, the Corvette Museum, Corvette clubs and special GM organized functions, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary on a national level.
"Andy has a direct and extremely strong connection with our dealer and customer base," said Gary Claudio, GM Racing, manager Motorsports Marketing. "There are several key events that Andy will play a critical role in, which will conflict with a few dates on the race schedule. Andy will adjust his driving schedule slightly to fulfill a larger role in the overall celebration of the Corvette."
** MATTHEWS TEAM TESTS AT SEBRING -- The Jim Matthews Racing team tested its Riley & Scott MkIIIc-Elan for two days earlier this week at Sebring International Raceway, giving the team its first track time on Michelin tires.
The team, which competed in three American Le Mans Series races last season, along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, ran on different types of tires last season.
Marc Goossens of Belgium, who drove for the team last year, shared the driving chores with Matthews in the test, which was conducted on a "short" course at Sebring rather than the full 3.7-mile circuit used for the 12-hour event.
** MAZDA RACEWAY TO UNVEIL NEW PIT ROW SUITES -- Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., which will host the American Le Mans Series Sept. 5-7, is inviting the general public to attend the unveiling of its new Premier Pit Row Suites and Garages. The Grand Opening will be at 4 p.m. (PST) on Friday, January 17, in the raceway's paddock.
The Premier Pit Row Suites consist of 12 state-of-the-art suites, situated on top of 10 double-car garages. The new complex, which is Phase 1 of a major capital improvement campaign for the facility, also includes a catering kitchen and restrooms.
Admission to the event is free, and visitors will be able to tour the new suite and garage complex from 4-6 p.m.
** ZIP RACING JOINS SERIES FOR 2003 -- The GT class of the American Le Mans Series continued its growth as ZIP Racing announced that it will field a pair of cars in all series events for 2003. It will mark the team's first full-season effort in the series.
The ZIP team will run two Porsche 911 GT3 RS machines in the American Le Mans Series, including a new 2003 model and a 2002 car that the team raced in selected events last year.
Steve Ivankovich of Chicago, who is beginning his third season of endurance sports car racing, will share one of the cars with Brent Sherman of Barrington, Ill., a veteran of racing in open wheel, stock cars and sports cars.
Two other experienced racers, Spencer Pumpelly of Mason Neck, Va., and Andy Lally of Northport, N.Y., will co-drive the other ZIP Racing entry. Paul Chabris will serve the team as crew chief while engineering support will be provided by Pratt & Miller's Aletheon division.
** MICHAEL LEWIS TO DRIVE PROTOTYPE -- American Spirit Racing, which announced in October that it was starting an American Le Mans Series team for the 2003 season, has named one of its drivers and its choice of chassis for its initial season of racing in the series.
Trans-Am Series veteran Michael Lewis will share the cockpit of a Riley & Scott MkIIIc-Lincoln with a driver to be named. Lewis has been with American Spirit Racing in its AmeriSuites Trans-Am entry for many years, and AmeriSuites Hotels will continue its sponsorship of Lewis as he moves to the top class of the ALMS in a Prototype 900 car.
"I am very excited about our plans for 2003," said Jon Lewis, President and CEO of American Spirit Racing, Inc. "For the past several months we have been developing our program to be one of the best in the LMP 900 class. The Riley & Scott MkIIIc has proven its competitiveness. Michael is a smooth, fast and consistent driver and I feel he will do extremely well in this division of auto racing."
Lewis, a four-time SCCA national champion, scored a win in the Trans-Am Series in 2001 at Road America. "I am excited about driving in open cockpit, prototype racing. I feel confident that we will finish on the podium this year," he said.
The team's car has received numerous updates from manufacturer Riley & Scott at its headquarters in Indianapolis and will be powered by a Lozano Bros. Porting engine.