THE CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE FOR THE AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES TITLES STARTS IN ERNEST AT ROAD AMERICA THIS WEEKEND; PENSKE, FLYING LIZARDS LEAD FOR PORSCHE IN TWO CLASSES
Penske Motorsports and Flying Lizard Motorsports have battled to put their drivers and their Porsche race cars in respective class leads after seven rounds of the American Le Mans Series, but neither team is secure in its championship bid as the series heads to Wisconsin for the Generac 500 at Road America in Elkhart Lake.
The American Le Mans Series race will begin on Saturday, August 11, at 5:00 PM EDT, and last four hours into dusk. That race will be telecast on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, August 12, at 2:30 EDT on CBS-TV. The ALMS event features the very successful Porsche RS Spyder prototype, which won seven of the ten races it entered in 2006 -- its inaugural season - to win both the drivers and manufacturers LMP2 class championship, and has won six of the seven events -- including five races in a row overall -- in 2007 to lead both categories by a wide margin. In the GT2 class for smaller displacement, production-based sports cars, the Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR has won its class for either drivers of manufacturers championship (or both) seven of the eight years the series has existed, and leads the drivers championship so far in 2007 with two straight wins in the last two races.
"If everything goes the way it has been going, it looks like both Penske Motorsports -- in the LMP2 Class, and Flying Lizard Motorsports -- in the GT2 class, will win championships for Porsche, but the one thing I can tell you about racing is that you can never be sure what will happen," said Uwe Brettel, president of Porsche Motorsport North America.
"In LMP2, the Penske Porsche RS Spyders have won six of the seven races, but the Acuras have been close in each event. They have the potential to win a race at anytime, and with five events remaining, our Porsche teams must continue to push. In GT2, the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR has won two races in a row and taken over the points lead, but the Ferraris won the first five events and are still a threat to win that title," said Brettel.
Even though the American Le Mans Series scores cars within their own class, the Penske Porsches have won the last five races overall, out-distancing the faster LMP1 prototypes as well as winning their class. But Brettel cautioned that, while winning the races overall has been exciting, Road America's long straight-aways and the recent LMP2 five percent air intake restriction will probably force the RS Spyder teams to concentrate on winning their class.
"The LMP1 cars have approximately a 225 horsepower advantage over our class in addition to wider tires, which gives them more rubber for longer tire life. Although both LMP1 diesel race cars and the LMP2 gasoline/ethanol cars now have the same energy on board and the fuel filling restriction for diesel-powered cars assures that everyone can fill the same amount of energy in the same time frame in the pits, it will be hard to overcome the LMP1 horsepower advantage at Road America's four-mile track," said Brettel.
For clarification, Brettel explained that the ACO and IMSA, the French and U.S. rule makers respectively, put in fuel cell size and fuel flow refill regulations for the diesel-powered race cars in order to equalize the amount of energy between diesel and gasoline/ethanol.
For #6 Porsche RS Spyder driver and defending class champion Sascha Maassen (Germany), the 14-turn circuit is very much to his taste because of its 14 corners, several of which are extremely fast.
"Some of these corners are so quick that you have to take good aim not to miss the turn-in point and come out safely on the other side," said Maassen, whose class victory here last year paved the way for his championship.
For #7 RS Spyder driver Romain Dumas (France), who turned the fastest race lap two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio during the team's overall win, Road America reminds him of many passages on the Grand Prix circuit at Spa-Francorchamps.
"The circuit is quick, bumpy and very demanding, a real challenge for us drivers. If you don't get a corner right you lose a lot of time and once this happens it's difficult to catch up," Dumas said.
Sharing the #6 Penske Porsche cockpit are the overall winners from Salt Lake City and Lime Rock, Sascha Maassen and Ryan Briscoe (Australia). Co-driving the #7 RS Spyder are points leaders Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas, who with their overall victories in Long Beach, Houston and Mid-Ohio, where they not only conquered their LMP2 rivals but also the more powerful LMP1 vehicles. Penske Motorsports enters and prepares both cars.
For Penske Racing, the parent company which also prepares NASCAR Busch and Nextel Cup stock cars and IndyCar entries -- all of which will be running this weekend in various locations -- everyone will be striving to win the company's 290th major motorsports event.
The Poughkeepsie, NY-based Dyson Racing also competes with two of the Weissach- developed and built sports prototypes. Andy Wallace (Great Britain) and Butch Leitzinger (USA) share the #16 RS Spyder, with the #20 vehicle occupied by Chris Dyson (USA) and Guy Smith (Great Britain). Wallace/Leitzinger are only two points behind the leading Acura drivers in the LMP2 class, and will try to get by them for third place this weekend. Dyson/Smith are tied for fifth with another Acura driver, only ten points behind their teammates.
With six class victories this season, Porsche holds a comfortable lead in the LMP2 class engine and chassis manufacturers championship and is on an clear course to claim the title.
In the GT2 class for modified production sports cars, title defender Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) and Johannes van Overbeek (USA) recently celebrated their second consecutive victory in their Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The pair now leads the class by eight points over their nearest Ferrari rivals. Wolf Henzler (Germany) and Robin Liddell (Great Britain) in a Tafel Racing 911 GT3 RSR are in third behind the Ferrari team, and would like to see a class win put them back in the championship chase. Ralf Kelleners (Germany) and Tom Milner (USA), sharing driving duties in the 911 GT3 RSR fielded by Rahal Lettermann Racing, will try to build on their second place finish at Lime Rock. The Team Trans Sport Racing Porsche of Tim Pappas (USA) and Terry Borcheller (USA) has finished in the top six three of the last four races, moving them up to 11th in the standings.
Both the Flying Lizards and Tafel Racing have entered two Porsches in ALMS this season, and Road America is no exception. The second Tafel Racing Porsche will be driven by team owner Jim Tafel (USA), Dominik Farnbacher (Germany) and 2006 IMSA GT3 Cup champion Nathan Swartzbaugh (USA), while the second Lizard Porsche will be piloted by team owner Seth Neiman (USA) and Darren Law (USA).