Porsche RS Spyder makes debut

PORSCHE RS SPYDER MAKES LONG-AWAITED ALMS DEBUT AT LAST, PORSCHE RS SPYDER HITS THE TRACK IN ALMS Salinas, Calif. - Christmas is coming early for Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr. The weekend they, and most of the motorsports world, have ...

PORSCHE RS SPYDER MAKES LONG-AWAITED ALMS DEBUT

AT LAST, PORSCHE RS SPYDER HITS THE TRACK IN ALMS

Salinas, Calif. - Christmas is coming early for Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr. The weekend they, and most of the motorsports world, have been waiting for is finally here. This is, of course, the debut race for the No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder fielded by Penske Motorsports.

Maassen and Luhr took the car out for the first time in an official American Le Mans Series practice session Thursday, just two days before the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The first session looked extremely promising, with the car posting the quickest lap among LMP2 cars at 1:18.170.

"It's the first test under race conditions," Luhr said. "We did a lot of testing, but a race is always another thing with the traffic. It will be quite a big issue. We know the limits of the GT cars, so it will be tough. The race weekend, you always will have limited time to set up the car. The fact that we have a brand new car, it's tough because we don't know a lot of the setups as the others because it is our first race. That's another thing if you go testing and have six full days, where here we have just a couple of hours. So it will not be so easy."

Earlier in the day, Penske Motorsports officially unveiled the car and its new DHL livery. The red-on-yellow scheme is easily visible on the racing surface, and its V8 engine has an unmistakable sound. In short, the only way anyone's going to miss the car is if they just aren't paying attention.

Maassen and Luhr are the two most prominent Porsche drivers to have ever competed in the ALMS. After dominating GT2 in the early part of the decade, Porsche decided the pair was the perfect tandem to campaign its first factory prototype in the United States since the 1998 Petit Le Mans.

"Everyone dreams of being successful in a bigger car," Maassen said. "My goal was always to be a part of that. There were talks over the years that something like this could happen. It looks pretty good."

That's an understatement. With all the talk about three drivers' and three team championships up for grabs, much of the attention still remains focused on the RS Spyder. Porsche and Penske are using this as a test race before fielding a two-car team for 2006, with drivers yet to be announced.

The car has tested significantly in both Europe and North America in recent months. While it has admittedly had some teething problems, Maassen and Luhr have had nothing but praise for the car.

"This is looking very big now and very professional," Maassen said. "I'm deeply impressed. With Porsche and Penske together, it's going to be big. I didn't know the team that had been chosen until they announced it at Atlanta. It was really a big surprise, a happy one. After working with them, it's not just the name but it's making an impression. There is a reason for the name. People are working hard and looking forward to it.

"When you go out and test for the first time, you have to have every single part working together," Maassen continued. "You can simulate a lot in the computer, but the race track is always different. The Michelin tires had to work well with the chassis, and the other way around. In the beginning, we had pretty bad tire wear. We improved that a lot during testing and is the biggest step forward we've had."

The biggest challenge both drivers have faced is going from the familiar Porsche GT2 cars to the new LMP2. Maassen said the straightline speed is about the same as the Porsche GT cars. The biggest difference is in cornering speed and braking, both facets that are much more advanced in the exotic prototypes. Naturally, it's taken some time to get adjusted to the prototype, as well as becoming aware that they are no longer competing in the slowest class on the track.

"Suddenly we are not the prey anymore. We are the hunter," Maassen said. "That's the unknown factor. That's the biggest threat I have. We will try to be as quick as possible, but we have to be aware that there are other people racing as well."

The biggest question is how the car will do this weekend. Certainly, Thursday's performance likely raised expectations. But for now, the first order of business is to finish the race. After that, whatever happens will happen.

"Don't expect too much from us," Maassen said. "For us, the most important thing is that we seem to be reliable. We are happy with our car for sure. We are in LMP2 and we hope we can keep up with the Intersport car.

"Our main goal is to finish the race," he said. "If we finish it, then our chances of winning the class will be pretty high. Finishing is the first thing, then we want to be on the podium, which should be possible. As a driver, I want to win."

The final round of the 2005 American Le Mans Series is the Monterey Sports Car Championships on Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The race is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. PDT, with SPEED TV broadcasting the race from 1 to 5 p.m. EDT Sunday. Qualifying scheduled for 2:10 p.m. PDT. Friday. American Le Mans Radio, and IMSA Live Timing and Scoring, will be available at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Sascha Maassen