Sebring: Monday test report

Optimism Prevalent As American Le Mans Series Teams Prepare For Sebring SEBRING, Fla. (March 15, 2004) -- Optimism was prevalent Monday as American Le Mans Series race teams began their on-track preparations for Saturday's season-opening Mobil 1...

Optimism Prevalent As American Le Mans Series Teams Prepare For Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. (March 15, 2004) -- Optimism was prevalent Monday as American Le Mans Series race teams began their on-track preparations for Saturday's season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Teams had four hours of unofficial testing time on the 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway as they began the process of dialing in new cars, shaking off rust from drivers and in some cases getting used to new teammates. Though there were some minor spins, there were no serious incidents during the sessions. No official times were kept.

"Shaking it down," said Cort Wagner, driver of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for The Racer's Group/New Century Mortgage team. "It's a brand-new car and today was the first time it has been on the track. Everything went great."

Johnny Herbert, Sebring winner in 2002, traveled across the Atlantic from England to join the Audi UK Team Veloqx squad for today's testing session.

"Having just stepped off an aircraft from London, I was reasonably happy with my time especially as we're still making details changes to the Audi," said Herbert. "The Veloqx team have laid the foundations for a good event here at Sebring having tested since Friday."

Danny Sullivan, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner who is making a racing comeback in the Sebring event, is driving a never-raced Ferrari 575 GTC for Barron Connor Racing and was happy to be back on a race track.

"Even though the car isn't where we want it to be yet, it was great just to be out there with other cars again," he said. "Just thinking 'should I try to pass here?' or 'what if I do this?' again is fun.

"We have a lot of work to do on the cars before the race because they are new," he said. "A lot of sorting to do."

Another driver who was happy just to be on the track was Bryan Willman, one of the drivers for Team Bucknum Racing's Pilbeam MP91 Prototype.

"I'm full of joy because we were out testing and not building the car in the paddock," he said. "The last two years here, that's what we've had to do. Today, we were actually working on the mundane things like handling, gear combinations and the other things that you normally work on and should be working on."

Teams will have another two hours of testing on Tuesday before official practice for the event begins on Wednesday. Forty-four American Le Mans Series cars are on hand for the event and most of them went on the track Monday.

Wagner and Bucknum, both former winners in ALMS competition, were full of optimism for the race and the season.

"It's a great team and I have great co-drivers," said Wagner, who was the GT class champion of the ALMS in 1999 and won the class at Sebring that year. He is co-driving with Kelly Collins and Patrick Long. "The parity in the class is a lot better this year and it's accurate to say this is the best chance I've had to win here since '99."

Willman and co-drivers Chris McMurry and Jeff Bucknum are running the only Pilbeam in the LMP2 class, taking on a field of Lola B2K/40s. Like Wagner, he praised the parity in the class that is evident as the season begins.

"The fastest drivers in these cars will be very equal," he said. "The class looks very good for racing this year."

The 52nd annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will get the green flag at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 20, and will be televised live from flag-to-flag by the Speed Channel. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.

Ticket information is available online at www.sebringraceway.com and www.americanlemans.com or by calling (863) 655-1442 (toll-free 800-626-RACE).

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Kelly Collins , Danny Sullivan , Patrick Long , Chris McMurry , Bryan Willman , Jeff Bucknum , Cort Wagner