The St. Petersburg street circuit proved to be a challenge for the Lizard squad yesterday at the Acura Sports Car Challenge - the second race of the ALMS season. It was a mixed result for the Lizards: the No. 46 Lizard Porsche of Johannes van ...
The St. Petersburg street circuit proved to be a challenge for the Lizard squad yesterday at the Acura Sports Car Challenge - the second race of the ALMS season. It was a mixed result for the Lizards: the No. 46 Lizard Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet overcame late-race contact with the No. 28 Corvette to finish second in GT2: their first podium of the year. The No. 45 Porsche of Joerg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler, which started on the pole and was a hands-on favorite for a podium finish, saw those hopes vanish with just 15 minutes to go in the race after colliding with the No. 20 Dyson prototype on course, damaging the No. 45 radiator, and sending it into the pits just 5 minutes before the checker. Only the No. 44 was able to completely avoid the race chaos which claimed 20% of the starting field, emerging unscathed to finish seventh in GT2. The No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari won in GT2, their first win and second podium of the season.
With this result, the team retains the ALMS team championship lead, but No. 45 drivers Bergmeister and Henzler fall to second behind the No. 71 Tafel Dominik Farnbacher and Dirk Mueller in the ALMS drivers' championship. With their podium finish, No. 46 drivers van Overbeek and Pilet have climbed back into the points chase; there is only a five point spread among the top 8 drivers.
The week got off to a solid start for the Lizards. Coming off of a one/two finish at Sebring for the No. 45 and the No. 44 Porsches; all three cars were able to quickly get to race setup in the brief (2 hours) of track time prior to the race. In Friday's qualifying session, Wolf Henzler set a new GT2 record at St. Pete, putting the No. 45 Porsche on the pole, his first ALMS career pole. Of the 14 GT2 cars, the No. 46 qualified to start fifth on the grid and the No. 44 seventh.
With heavy rain forecasted for raceday, the teams were prepared for a rainy and slick race. Luckily, the weather front did not materialize, and the race started under dry but extremely hot and humid conditions. Scheduled for 1 hour and 55 minutes, the race started under a yellow flag, to remove the 007 Aston Martin GT2 entry, which had stopped on the pace lap. Five minutes later, cars moved to a single file restart and it was green flag racing. At the restart, there was some tussling among the prototypes as the front of the field settled out, but the now 27-car field made it cleanly through the restart.
For the Lizards, on the restart, Wolf Henzler in the No. 45 retained the GT2 lead, with the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari (Mika Salo) close behind. The No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari was in P3, and Patrick Pilet in the No. 46 Porsche moved quickly from fifth to fourth. Over the next 20 minutes, the four cars stayed close together, jockeying for position among themselves while dealing with the intense traffic of the faster prototypes. At the 20-minute mark, the No. 62 Risi Ferrari passed Wolf on the inside, forcing him to lift and brake to avoid a collision with the Ferrari and the barrier wall. In the No. 46 Porsche, Patrick was unable to safely pass the No. 71 Ferrari and remained in fourth place.
35 minutes into the race, the Lizards caught an early break, when the No. 62 Ferrari made an early pit stop under green for driver change, tires and fuel. This put Wolf in the No. 45 back in the lead, and moved Patrick in the No. 46 to third.
Amazingly, given the unforgiving street course, there were no yellows for the first 40 minutes of the race (other than the initial race-start yellow). Things changed quickly at the 40-minute mark when the No. 37 prototype impacted the tire wall, littering the course with debris. Most teams were close to or in their window for fuel so drivers scrambled for an early change. All three Lizard Porsches pitted at the end of the 15-minute yellow for new divers, tires and fuel. In the No. 45, Joerg Bergmeister took the wheel, with new tires and full fuel. Unfortunately, the No. 62 Ferrari, which had also pitted again under yellow but needed less fuel and no driver change due to an earlier stop, was able to beat the No. 45 out of the pits to retake the lead. In the No. 46 Porsche, Johannes van Overbeek took over from Pilet, heading out in P4. Darren Law headed out in the No. 44, out in P 11.
After another yellow to remove the No.11 Viper (GT2) and the No. 008 Aston Martin (GT1) which had collided on course after a racing incident with a passing prototype, the four GT2 cars were still on the lead lap and now closely packed: with No. 62 in the lead, No. 45 in P2, No. 71 in P3 and No. 46 in P4. At the green flag, the No. 62 pitted again, allowing Joerg to take the lead, with the No. 71 close behind, and No. 46 in third.
Shortly after the green, the No. 46 and No. 28 Corvette (GT2), collided and spun on course. In the No. 46, Johannes was able to restart and continue without any further damage and retaining is P3 position.
At the 90-minute mark, the No. 71 Tafel Ferrari was able to pass Joerg, moving into the lead. With only 15 minutes left in the race, Joerg rounded a corner to find the No. 20 Dyson prototype was stopped blocking the track after spinning on course following a collision with the No. 6 Penske prototype. Unable to avoid the car, Joerg clipped the rear of the No. 20, damaging the No. 45's left radiator. With no time left for a radiator replacement, the No. 45 team had only one option - to try and finish the race, which was still yellow at that time to clear the No. 20 off the course. Meanwhile, the No. 71 Ferrari was still in the lead, and the No. 46 Porsche P3. Law in the No. 44 had moved to P8.
Unfortunately, with just five minutes left in the race, No. 45 could not run any longer with no water in the engine, and Joerg was forced to pit. The car was unable to continue, finishing the race in the pits and settling for ninth place. The No. 46 Porsche cruised to a second place finish, and Darren in the No. 44 finished in seventh.
van Overbeek: "Both Patrick and I knew we had to stay out of trouble here," said van Overbeek. "It was really tough to negotiate traffic -- we were constantly trying to avoid the faster prototypes and at the same time, still keep focused on our class. We started fifth on the grid, and Patrick did a great job staying with the lead pack during his stint. With the No. 62 falling out at the halfway point, and the No. 45 out after its accident, we were able to move to second behind the No. 71 Tafel Ferrari. There was just not enough time left after the last yellow to gain any ground and we finished second. Congratulations to the Tafel team for their first season victory."
Bergmeister: "There was nothing I could do to avoid the 20 car," said Joerg. "I came around the corner, I didn't see any yellow flag, and the car was right there, facing counter-race. I collected them and broke the left front radiator on the No. 45. I knew the radiator was broken, but other than that, the car felt OK. As there was just 15 minutes to go, we made the decision to keep running. But unfortunately, I finally had to pit and it was all over -- we were done. It was really disappointing. Wolf did such a great job in the first half of the race, and the crew gave us such a solid car. "
Neiman: "St. Pete was definitely tough on the Lizards," said team prinicipal and No. 44 driver Seth Neiman. "It was a bittersweet result: we were thrilled to see the No. 46 regain some ground after Sebring, at the same time it was extremely frustrating to see the No. 45, which had performed so well all week, end the race in the pits. But we have 9 races to go, and Long Beach will be another tough street circuit so we need to stay focused and move forward."