STRONG 2007 FINISH BOLSTERING RLR FOR NEXT YEAR
When the checkered flag on the 2007 American Le Mans Series flew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, no team in the paddock wanted the season to continue more than Rahal Letterman Racing. Five podium finishes in the last seven races put the famed Ohio organization in great standing for the 2008 season.
The duo of veteran Ralf Kelleners and young gun Tom Milner finished fourth in the GT2 championship behind the wheel of the No. 18 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. That was despite having three races where the team didn't complete enough laps to score points.
"We wish there were more events," admitted Jay O'Connell, team technical director. "We were definitely getting better and better and reaching the podium consistently. The street courses weren't good to us and I don't think we ever finished one. It was tough after being there with the Ferraris."
Being a rookie team in what turned out to be one of the most competitive classes in the Series was a tough chore. Fielding a brand new car like Porsche's Type 997 RSR made it more challenging as well.
"We tried to start relatively conservative knowing that the first race is the longest race and wanted to make sure the car would last," O'Connell said of the team's sixth-place class finish in its debut race at Sebring. "We were a little more aggressive for the shorter events. Also we got to learn the car more and figured out the setup for Ralf and Tom. We went into the first race with lots of spares and boy did we need them.
"I was amazed that when we got to Petit and we qualified within a half second," O'Connell said. "We learned as we went. With my background, having raced and prepared cars in IMSA, I went back through some of my notes. As different as it was, it was still a 911.
"The biggest thing is that the car was developed in Europe, and tracks here are different," he added. "Tire sizes and restrictors that worked over there didn't necessarily work over here. That made it difficult to stay with the Ferrari. Porsche has to go back and do more work to get the car more competitive."
That's already in the works, and O'Connell said Rahal Letterman plans to be a part of the Porsche family once again when the 2008 season opens.
"Our guys did a great job of improving the car week after week and gave us a car good enough to finish on the podium at every race," said team co- owner Bobby Rahal, himself a former Porsche pilot and Sebring race winner prior to his open-wheel days. "While we are disappointed that we didn't take the final step to the top of the podium, we feel we learned a lot about the Porsche and the American Le Mans Series and look forward to challenging for race wins next season."
Preparations for the 2008 American Le Mans Series, its 10th season of world- class sports car racing, begin January 28-30 with the annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway.