No one admits it, but everyone "watches the scoreboard" as ALMS GT points race tightens; seven drivers could take lead with a win. ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. - July 4 - When Sunday's Road America 500, round ...
No one admits it, but everyone "watches the scoreboard" as ALMS GT points race tightens; seven drivers could take lead with a win.
ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. - July 4 - When Sunday's Road America 500, round #4 of the 2002 American Le Mans Series, gets the green flag, team owners and drivers say they will be 100 percent focused on race strategy and track performance, but let it be known that their decisions will be based in part of who has how many points.
"It's all about driver, team and manufacturer's championships," said Alex Job, owner of the two leading GT class Porsches 911 GT3 RS' and entrant for the four top drivers in the GT Drivers Championship standings so far after three races.
"We were obviously disappointed that we had a chance to have two cars finish in the top three last weekend at Mid-Ohio, but one of our cars was in an accident contesting for the lead and did not finish. However, when you look at the points, it wasn't as ba d as it could have been. The #22 Xybernaut McKenna Porsche had a frustrating DNF at Sebring. But a second-place finish last weekend allowed German drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard to move up to third and fourth, respectively, in the standings. The #23 Xybernaut Porsche, while it did not finish at Mid-Ohio, still earned enough points to keep drivers Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, also from Germany, respectively atop the points chase. So we have to put the incident behind us and try to win Road Am erica," said Job.
The accident Alex Job was referring to took place late in the ALMS race last weekend at Mid-Ohio when Lucas Luhr was fighting for first place with Randy Pobst in the #31 Petersen Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Pobst, from Melbourne, Fla, had taken the le ad after a yellow flag, but Luhr was less than a second behind, hounding Randy at every turn. Finally, when Randy's car went a little wide in a corner, Lucas attempted to pass, but there was not enough race track for both cars. The two Porsches hit each other at speed, causing enough damage to knock both cars out of the event.
Neither driver was happy about the incident, but everyone has to look ahead, and the combatants will go at it again this weekend in Wisconsin. Pobst's co-drivers will again be team owner Michael Petersen and British driver Johnny Mowlem.
The Luhr/Pobst accident wasn't bad news for everyone, as The Racers Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS, driven by team owner Kevin Buckler and B.J. Zacharias, was lurking in third place when the leading Porsches hit, and went on to claim the Mid-Ohio win. It was no t only Buckler's first ALMS win, and another victory in a year where he has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a Grand-Am event, but it gave him much-needed points to get back in the championship hunt.
Buckler's team has been boosted considerably for the rest of the season by the addition of Brian Cunningham, from Ashland, Kentucky, as a co-driver for the rest of the season. Cunningham, who drove for the rival PTG BW team the last two years, was without a ride in ALMS this year when BMW dropped out of U.S. racing.
In the team championship, Alex Job Racing only lost four points to The Racers Group at Mid-Ohio because of the Bergmeister/Bernhard second-place finish, and Porsche is ahead by 64 points in the manufacturers championship (25 points for a win), but there is a new Ferrari 550 Maranello entered this weekend that could challenge the Porsches entered in GT.
Seikel Motorsports, the team based both in Germany and the U.S., and winners at Le Mans in 2001, has entered the #52 Porsche 911 GT3 RS for Phillip Collin, from Lincolnshire, IL, and Tony Burgess from Toronto.
Another team that has bolstered its driver line-up for this 500-mile event - at least 90 minutes longer than the usual ALMS race - is the J3 Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS entry of team owner Justin Jackson and 2000 Porsche Cup winner Mike Fitzgerald. For this longer race, Jackson has added former World Challenge Champion and Porsche factory driver David Murry from Atlanta. The J3 Porsche was also in contention to win Mid-Ohio last weekend, with Fitzgerald finishing third after suffering heat exhaustion on the last lap. The Larry Schumacher Porsche that Murry drove last weekend in not entered at Road America.
A new team in the American Le Mans Series is the Jupiter, Florida - based Orbit Racing, which has moved from the rival Grand-Am series to run two Porsches in this year's ALMS events. Leo Hindery, from Hillsborough, Calif., and Peter Baron, from San Mateo, Calif., will pilot the #43 Orbit Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS (they were joined by Kyle Petty at Daytona earlier this year), while the team's #42 Porsche will be driven by Gary Schultheis from Boca Raton, Fla., Tony Kester, from Michigan City, Mich and John L loyd, Jr., from Boston, Mass. The team finished sixth at Sebring (Hindery/Baron/Borkowski), and second at Daytona (Schultheis/Baron/Tremblay). The team's entry at Le Mans did not finish due to transmission trouble. Baron had lead the race last weekend a t Mid-Ohio during the first half-hour when a spin put his car in the gravel trap.
Another Porsche team new to ALMS is the Canadian Porschehaus Racing entry, with the #89 Porsche 911 GT3 RS of Adam Merzon and Robert Julien, and the #88 Porsche of Peter Overing and Stephane Veilleux. Merzon was leading the Grand Am race late in the event two weeks ago at Watkins Glen when the windshield collapsed on the last lap, leaving Merzon with cuts and bruises and a second-place finish in GTS.
In all, seven drivers - Lucas Luhr, Jorg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard, Peter Baron, Larry Schumacher, Leo Hindery and Kevin Buckler - are within striking distance of points leader Sascha Maassen going into this event.
Since the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars was introduced in 1999, the car has been updated and improved, but race fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 1999 and 2000 GT3 R, and the 2001 and 2002 GT3 RS.
The latest version of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is almost identical to the 2001 model. The engine and drive train are the same, and the car still produces 420 horsepower, but improvements have been made in the suspension, including a blade adjustment for the front sway bar for easy pit lane adjustments, and new rear suspension uprights. The bodywork is slightly wider to accommodate the wider offset Michelin tires.
Built at the Porsche Motorsport in the Research and Development Department at Weissach, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS delivers 420 horsepower from its 3.6-liter normally-aspirated engine. In 1999, its first year of competition, the car finished 1-2 in class at Le
Mans, and has won its class in the both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series two years in a row. The car has also won its class three years in a row at the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. So far in 2002, the Pors che 911 GT3 RS has won all three ALMS races.
More than 80 Porsche 911 GT3 RS have been sold so far worldwide, with almost half of those cars having raced in the U.S.
The American Le Mans Series Road America 500 will be broadcast live on the CBS television network starting at 4:00PM Eastern time on Sunday, July 7. The network will join the race in progress and broadcast live to the finish. The race will be broadcast i n Europe on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, July 14, at 20:00 Central European Time on the Eurosport television network. The Road America event, along with qualifying sessions starting Saturday, July 6, at 3:00 PM Eastern, will be broadcast live online on the American Le Mans Radio Network, which can be accessed on the Web at www.imsaracing.net. That same American Le Mans Series/IMSA web site will also have live timing and scoring during qualifying and the race event.