IN THEIR OWN WORDS: MEDIA DAY AT SEBRING
Plenty to talk about at the ALMS' annual Winter Test
A collection of drivers, teams and officials from the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrуn visited with media members Wednesday at Sebring International Raceway. A record 31 cars are participating in the annual Winter Test, only one of many pieces of noteworthy news making the rounds in the Series.
Atherton: Carrying the Momentum
Series President and CEO Scott Atherton remained bullish on the outlook for 2011. There is good reason, given last year's fantastic championship battles, a full-season grid of between 35 and 37 cars for this season, and an increasing share of a coveted youth demographic.
"Last year was the first year where all four class championships went down to the final race - in one instance, it was the last lap of the final race to decide the GT championship," he said. "It was an incredible level of competition and mix of winners that we've never had.
"There's a lot being written about the fact that traditional sports have lost the youth market," he added. "It's an important part of our demographic makeup, because those are our future core fans, and it's important to be relevant to that fan base as you look at a long-range perspective. In our category of 18 to 34 age group, from two years ago, we doubled. That has caught the attention of a lot of organizations and companies that are already involved with us and those, who for the first time, are looking to be involved with us. At a time when other areas of our industry are experiencing significant declines, that demo is headed our direction."
Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook are growing quite comfortable at Corvette Racing.
"When I was invited to be part of the Test, I was both nervous and excited," said Milner, who raced against Corvette the last two seasons with BMW Rahal Letterman Racing. "As Doug (Fehan) said, it is a family- atmosphere and that is exactly what it was like when I showed up.
"With Corvette Racing, no matter what session, if it was pouring down rain or blazing hot, you would always see a Corvette out in the front. I look forward to having a target on our backs and being held to that standard- and to win races."
Milner will drive the full season with Olivier Beretta. Westbrook will team with Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin at Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans.
"It is great to be a part of the team. As you know, I am used to driving Porsches and they are quite different from Corvettes," Westbrook said. "I would rather be racing a Corvette than racing against one."
Corvette and Road America
Chevrolet and Road America announced a multifaceted marketing partnership today that will put Chevrolet in the spotlight at one of America's premier racing venues. Chevrolet is now the Official Vehicle of Road America, the renowned Corvette Bridge will return to the historic track, and the Corvette World Tribute will celebrate Corvette's rich racing heritage.
A ceremony will be held during the ALMS race weekend in August to rededicate the famed Corvette Bridge, which spans the track at Turn 6. The Corvette Bridge was a signature landmark at the track from 1963-81, and the Corvette logo reappeared on the crossover in 1992. The Corvette World Tribute, to be held on August 21, the day following the seventh round of the ALMS, will include a Corvette racers reunion, club and pro series races, a concours, parade laps and other activities.
"When you think of iconic venues, Road America is definitely on the list," said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. "It started out as a race on the streets and then moved to a road course. What we like about Road America is how it embraces and values all the cars on the grid. The Corvette nation is excited for what's to come at Road America."
Secret to Lizards' Success
According to Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, the formula for back-to- back driver championships with Flying Lizard teammate Jцrg Bergmeister isn't really that complicated.
"Our goal for 2011 is to continue on what we have been doing," Long said. "The Flying Lizards have held the championship for three years. We don't usually start out as favorites in pure speed or lap times. The strategy and pit stops are what we have worked on which helps us in the highly competitive field. You have to have a flawless season, not just a weekend, to defend a championship."
The Lizards' dynamic duo is testing out a series of updates in Porsche's 911 GT3 RSR racer.
"There are updates with the suspension; right now we are trying to find where the car works the best at Sebring," said Bergmeister, a five-time ALMS champion. "Also we have some aero changes along with different mufflers and restrictors to help reduce the noise on the track."
The new car also features a paddle-shift system, which requires a bit of mental adjustment.
"Jцrg and I both reached down for the gearshift and it wasn't there," Long cracked. "I was hoping our in-car camera wasn't on when that happened!"
Bringing on Ferrari's 458
Both Risi Competizione and Extreme Speed Motorsports are testing Ferrari's new F458 this week at Sebring - the first time the car has turned a wheel in North America.
"This is the first real test for the 458," said Risi's Jaime Melo, a winner at Sebring three times with the Ferrari F430. "We have spent some days testing in Europe but the weather was not so nice and it was definitely not Sebring. The car has a lot of potential. We need to work on the setup some more, but the performance has been something that will only get better and better."
Speaking of the 430, how is it similar to the 458?
"The biggest difference is the engine, aero, suspension... so it is actually a completely different package," Risi team manager Dave Sims. "There is no comparison. But we have to get it up (and ready) straightaway. The GT championship is so challenging that there is no choice."
ESM's Ed Brown was in Italy a couple of weeks ago at Ferrari's official test track to shakedown the first of the team's F458s.
"The car is unbelievable. We are working through some things right now, but it will be great," said Brown, who will drive for the full season with Guy Cosmo. "Sebring is a huge test for the car. The biggest strain right now is to have the car race-ready for Sebring. Our crew's goal is to shake it down to make it as reliable as possible."
The 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida is set for 10:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 19. The race will be shown live and in its entirety on ESPN3.com and americanlemans.com starting at 10 a.m. ET. ABC will provide coverage from 12:30 to 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20. Visit the American Le Mans Series' schedule page for information on tickets and area accommodations.