PRECISION DRIVING, QUICK PIT WORK, AND PENSKE RACE STRATEGY LIFT PORSCHE RS SPYDERS TO ONE-TWO LMP2 FINISH AT ALMS RACE IN ST. PETERSBURG ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - March 31 - After starting the American Le Mans Series race through the streets of...
PRECISION DRIVING, QUICK PIT WORK, AND PENSKE RACE STRATEGY LIFT PORSCHE RS SPYDERS TO ONE-TWO LMP2 FINISH AT ALMS RACE IN ST. PETERSBURG
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - March 31 - After starting the American Le Mans Series race through the streets of St. Petersburg on the front row, the Porsche RS Spyders prepared by Penske Motorsports both found themselves in the pits early, laps down, and with the dismal prospect of finishing low in the standings, but the final standings showed the number six Porsche RS Spyder of Sascha Maassen (Belgium) and Ryan Briscoe (Australia) first in LMP2 and third overall, with teammates Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France) second in class and fourth overall.
Dumas/Bernhard started on the pole for the event, sharing the front row with Briscoe/Maassen, but the green flag to start the race dropped well before the cars reached the starting line, and one of the LMP1 prototypes rammed into the back of Dumas, causing body damage and a flat tire. Although the LMP1 driver was penalized for his action, it put the pole-sitting Porsche back in the pack, two laps down.
The Briscoe/Maassen car had similar bad luck in the early going, as it sucked up carbon fiber pieces from the start incident, clogging the air intake and causing the oil, coolant and brakes to run very hot. Then Briscoe came together with another LMP2 and the officials handed him a stop-and-go penalty. The car incurred yet another penalty when a crew member had goggles up during a pit stop. Sixty minutes into the two hour, 45-minute event, Briscoe/Maassen were sixth in class and Dumas/Bernhard were seventh.
The team then calculated their fuel stops, driver changes, and tire changes so they could maximize their on-track time and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the yellow flags to secure the one-two finish.
"That's the great thing about endurance racing," said team owner Roger Penske, who called the strategy on the radio for the class-winning car.
"You can make mistakes and survive racing incidents - your fault or not - and catch the leaders with good driving, smart driving, and quick pit work. I am very proud of our Penske Motorsports crew, especially after the disappointing results from Sebring," Penske added.
Porsche and Acura are now tied for the lead in the LMP2 class with 39 points each. Dumas and Bernhard lead the LMP2 driver standings with 35 points, three points ahead of the nearest competitors, while Briscoe and Maassen are close behind with 29 points. With the winners getting 20 points at each ALMS event, the championship chase should go down to the last event.
"To score my first American Le Mans Series win overcoming all the problems that faced us at the beginning of the race made this victory very special," said Briscoe.
"I thought everyone would be very cautious and have a clean start on this street course, but the early green flag caused many of the competitors to head for the same patch of concrete, and there was not enough room for everyone," he said.
After an eighth-place finish at Sebring, Maassen's focus was on the point standings, where he and Briscoe are now back in contention for the championship, and Porsche is now tied for the manufacturers lead.
"We will be fighting for every point right to the end of the season," said Maassen, the defending LMP2 champion who scored his 27th class win this weekend.
The Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyders were very competitive at St. Petersburg, with the number 16 Andy Wallace/Butch Leitzinger racer leading the LMP2 class with only 30 minutes to go when a suspension bolt broke, causing the car to mishandle. Late-race yellow flags enabled the car to maintain its top five position as it never returned to the circuit, finishing fifth in class. The team number 20 Chris Dyson/Guy Smith suffered multiple indignities, including several contact incidents, a spin, and finally, with ten minutes to go, it was pushed off the track by a GT2 car. Dyson/Smith finished sixth in LMP2
In GT2, it was the same Ferrari and same Porsche that finished in the same positions as they did at Sebring, but they arrived there in much different fashion. The number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister/Johannes van Overbeek finished second in class, a lap behind the winning number 61 Ferrari. The two cars had a last-lap battle at Sebring that ended in a photo-finish. The Panoz Esperante finished third.
The number 18 Rahal Letterman Racing Porsche ran a flawless event with Ralf Kelleners and Tom Milner, Jr. at the wheel, and was headed for a second-place finish in class when Milner lost control of the car with just nine minutes left in the event, putting the team back to eighth place. The Tafel Racing Porsche of Robin Liddell/Wolf Henzler grabbed an early lead in class, but problems with their fuel rig put the team out of contention, finishing fifth.