PORSCHE "BIG THREE" - JOB, LIGHTNING, LIZARDS - BATTLE PANOZ, OTHER PORSCHES AT ALMS RACE IN SOMOMA In a classic road racing battle at one of America's favorite tracks - Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California - the fight for the American Le Mans...
PORSCHE "BIG THREE" - JOB, LIGHTNING, LIZARDS - BATTLE PANOZ, OTHER PORSCHES AT ALMS RACE IN SOMOMA
In a classic road racing battle at one of America's favorite tracks - Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California - the fight for the American Le Mans Series GT2 class championship will be played out for the two-hours and 45-minutes on Sunday, July 17 before a large crowd in Northern California and a national network TV audience live on CBS.
SONOMA, Calif. - July 14 - As the 2005 American Le Mans Series takes its "clubhouse turn" - round five of the ten-race season - three Porsche teams are in contention for the GT2 class championship, and several other teams have a chance to upset them on the twisty 2.53-mile, 12-turn circuit formerly known as Sears Point as the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma comes to Northern California on Sunday, July 17, at 2:00 PM EDT. The race will be broadcast live on CBS-TV starting at 3:00 PM EST - the network will join the race in progress with highlights of the first hour while showing the last half of the race in real time.
The weather promises to be hot for the weekend, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees F, but no rain is expected.
For the first four events of the season, a lot of demons have been exorcized for all the GT2 teams, but perhaps the strangest one was the fact that the most successful team in the history of American Le Mans Series racing - Alex Job Racing - with four series championships and endless class wins, had never won a race either at Mid-Ohio or Lime Rock Park. Granted, ALMS has not raced at either track for all six years of its existence, but Job had not won at Mid-Ohio or Lime Rock going back to his early IMSA days (since 1988), either.
"It hasn't been anything about the track surfaces or location - we have just had bad luck there over the years. When both our cars did not finish Sebring, and then Timo lost in a tussle with the Panoz at Road Atlanta, I thought this might be a long season heading into those two events. But the our drivers came from behind at both Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock, giving our team its first wins ever, and putting us back into the championship chase," said Job, who Tavaras, Florida- based team has won the year-end class title each of the past three years.
The drivers he is referring to are the defending ALMS GT2 champion Timo Bernhard and co-driver Romain Dumas, and the car is the #23 Alex Job Racing Hyatt Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Last year, the #23 Porsche crossed the finish line second in GT2 at Infineon, only to inherit first place when the apparent winning was cited for a pit stop rules violation.
Randy Pobst, originally from Ohio and now from Gainsville, Gerogia, and Ian Baas, from Nobelsville, IN, will be driving the other Alex Job Porsche. Pobst, an Alex Job team driver for many years, has re-joined the team with Baas, the defending U.S. Formula Ford 2000 champion. The pair had its best showing of the season on July 4 at Lime Rock, finishing fourth.
Besides their Sebring DNF, the main reason that Alex Job Racing is playing catch-up in the point standings is that the Las Vegas-based Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR not only won the 12 Hours of Sebring - their first win there in six tries, but has kept its lead in the points as drivers Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister have put their car on the podium at each of the subsequent events (third at Road Atlanta, and second at Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock). At the Lime Rock event, they were contending for the lead when an accident brought out a yellow flag, and Bergmeister got caught behind the pace car after the overall leader went by him - causing to lose a lap and putting the team out of contention.
Flying Lizard Motorsports, based right at the raceway in Sonoma, has entered two Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs, including the lead "Lizards'" entry with drivers Johannes van Overbeek, from San Francisco, and Jon Fogarty, from Petaluma, CA, sharing the racing duties. It was van Overbeek's car that had taken the checkered flag at last year's event, but was penalized for coming into the pits and exiting without making a pit stop - a violation which moved them from first to second place. Fogarty and van Overbeek are looking to build on third place finishes at Sebring and Lime Rock, while Seth Neiman and Lonnie Pechnik, driving the second team car, lead the Mid-Ohio event into the last hour of the race before falling back. while van Overbeek/Fogarty were heading for a second-place finish at Mid-Ohio when a deflating right-front tire and a communications problem with their pit resulted in a front-straight-away spin into the gravel, ending Fogarty's day with only 13 minutes remaining.
The BAM! Racing team, from Stuart, FL, is not in the season championship points race at it has employed a selection of different drivers for the first four events, but for Infineon, it has recent 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller co-driving with defending Porsche Michelin Supercup champion and current SCCA Speed World Challenge contender Wolf Henzler in their Le Mans-winning Porsche. Rockenfeller, along with Martin Jensen and Tony Burgess, were running in the top three at Sebring when drive train problems sidelined their effort. Henzler, who is currently in fifth place in the World Challenge series in his Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, has one win and three pole positions in that series, as well as two 2005 Grand-Am GT wins, including a victory at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
The other Porsche 911 GT3 Cup driver with a win in World Challenge is Robin Liddell, from Scotland, in his Jon Groom Racing Porsche, currently third in the championship points. After the Infineon World Challenge event, Liddell, like Henzler, will jump into an ALMS GT2 car, but Liddell's mount is the Panoz Esperante, which beat the Porsches at Road Atlanta, and is a competitive threat at every event.
All the teams mentioned above had a role in the American Porsche team sweep of the GT2 podium at last month's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The winning car is the same BAM! Porsche fans will see at Infineon, entered by Alex Job Racing, and driven by Rockenfeller along with his FIA-GT teammate Marc Lieb and American TV executive Leo Hindery. Second was the same Petersen Motorsport/White Lightning Porsche driven by Patrick Long/Jorg Bergmeister/Timo Bernhard - contenders all the way despite an engine which was down on horsepower because of cooling problems. Completing the American sweep was the third place Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche of Seth Neiman/Lonnie Pechnik/Joahnnes van Overbeek - all drivers from the San Francisco Bay area and all first-timers at the French classic.
J3 Racing, from Buford, GA, had its best ALMS finish ever at Sebring, finishing second in GT2 with regular Tim Sugden, from Leeds, England, and guest driver Nic Jonsson, from Atlanta. Ironically, team owner and lead driver Justin Jackson, was sick the day before the race, and was not allowed to race in the J3 Racing Coca-Cola Porsche, although he was in the pits cheering the team on. The team will have a second car at Infineon Raceway, driven by Santa Rosa resident and 2005 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona winner Pierre Ehret along with Porsche 911 veteran driver David Murry.
The Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma event will be televised live by CBS-TV at 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight time on Sunday, July 17, with the network joining the race in progress.