Tooele, Utah - After 2 hours and 45 minutes of tough racing at a very hot and dry Utah this afternoon, and having overcome a series of setbacks during the race, both VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs were classified in the top ten of the final ...
Tooele, Utah - After 2 hours and 45 minutes of tough racing at a very hot and dry Utah this afternoon, and having overcome a series of setbacks during the race, both VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs were classified in the top ten of the final results, a pleasing reward for the team as it expands to running two cars for the first time, and for the all-new driver line up in the new #18 car, Ruben Carrapatoso, Nicky and Francesco Pastorelli who hadn't raced the GT2 class Porsche or in the ALMS series before this week.
Equally pleasing was the performance from Nathan Swartzbaugh and Craig Stanton in the #5 car, the pair battling back well after setbacks. The ALMS challenge centres around tire program development on behalf of Kumho Tires and the team is satisfied that a strong step forward has been made this week.
Race day dawned warm and dry with a light breeze, and by the time the official ALMS Warm Up session got underway this morning at 8:00 AM, the temperatures at the Miller Motorsports Park were tipping into the 60s. The team was happy with the race set up planned the new #18 car, so just a handful of installation laps were scheduled to scrub in race tires during the 20 minute session. For the #5 car, which missed the qualifying session yesterday afternoon, the Warm Up would allow its set up to be finalised and to give Craig a chance to acclimatise to the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR on the Utah track as he only flew in last night after a racing commitment at Laguna Seca yesterday.
Ruben was entrusted with the #18 car during the Warm Up session, and he ran to schedule without any problems. Meanwhile, veteran Porsche racer Craig Stanton was out and lapping the 3.06 mile 'Perimeter' course, being used by the ALMS series for the first time, in the Tornos and Westway Development- supported #5 ca,r and the Californian resident would run for the full session as he dialled himself in on the track with the RSR.
While the drivers in the #18 car were all experiencing the Miller Motorsports Park for the first time, Craig and Nathan have both won here before. Already a winner on this new track, last year Craig finished second in the Koni Challenge round as well as slotting in a podium visit in the Rolex series. Team mate Nathan, who has been entrusted with the #5 car all week here in Craig's absence, is also a podium finisher on this two-year- old purpose built circuit, which features superb facilities for the teams, as he climbed onto the Utah rostrum on his way to winning the 2006 IMSA GT3 Cup title.
The American Le Mans Series brings a unique atmosphere to each venue it visits, and following two city street races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach it was to the hot, dry, dusty scenery of Salt Lake City; a flat valley plain with its sparse vegetation bookended by sharply rising, snow capped mountains. And the atmosphere built as the cars lined up on the grid, the fans descended, and the temperatures relentlessly continued to rise.
Ruben would start the #18 car while Nathan would run the first stint before handing over the #5 car to Craig; the former crew starting from 11th in class while the latter pair had been dropped to the back of the grid due to Craig's absence yesterday. At the green flag both cars got good starts, making up positions, with the #18 temporarily moving into the top ten, and Nathan squeezing past two GT2 class runners in front of him. Both cars were setting similar times as they settled into the planned race strategy with the VICI Racing cars running 1:54 laps in the opening minutes, but by lap 4 they were in the 1:52s (1:52.241 for the #18 and 1:52.166 for the #5), while a lap later the cars were into the 1:51s for the first time and running in line astern (1:51.964 for the #18 and 1:51.608 for the #5). After 16 minutes the action was interrupted for the first time as race went to a full course yellow after two prototypes went off the course.
Ten minutes later and the race went back to green conditions with both VICI Racing Porsches were well inside the top-ten, although the leaderboard was slightly distorted due to several teams electing to pit. The opening stint quickly settled back into a rhythm with the two cars consistently lapping in the 1:52 and 1:53 bracket before at 1:53PM (59 minutes) Nathan brought the #5 in for fuel, tires and driver change to Craig. Ruben completed his stint after 28 laps at 2:07PM (1 hr 1 min) diving in for fuel, tires and a change to Nicky, however pit infringements, including an inaccurate pit lane speed limiter, during the stops saw both cars incurring time penalties which would set the team back and end any chance of turning in a fighting result.
The cars though were running well and with the tires performing to expectations meaning that Nicky and Craig were able to run a consistent middle stint, turn in respectable lap times, and steer safely away from the string of on-track incidents that were befalling many other competitors. At 3.09PM (2 hr 3 mins) Craig brought the #5 in for fuel, tires and to hand back to Nathan, while 4 minutes later (3:13PM; 2 hr 7 mins) Nicky came in for fuel, tires and to hand over the #18 to his brother Francesco.
Both drivers performed admirably as the remaining time wound away, and they ran an excellent pace through the final stint, while for Francesco it was especially rewarding as this was his first race time in the RSR, a car he hadn't even sat in before Thursday. Minor issues affected both cars during the final laps: Francesco slowed with a gearbox issue with few a minutes remaining while Nathan had an off track excursion. However after 2 hours 48 minutes and 42 seconds of hard racing the chequered flag was waved to signal the end of the 2008 Utah Grand Prix and the team was rewarded with the #18 and #5 cars both being classified in the top ten (9th and 10th respectively). The fastest lap for the #18 car (1:51.446) came on lap 44 while the #5 car's best time (1:51.479) came on lap 62.
The next stop for VICI Racing on the American Le Mans Series circuit is round five in Lime Rock, Connecticut, for the New England Grand Prix on Saturday, July 12.
Roland Wall, Technical Director, VICI Racing "We had quite a difficult race with a number of set backs, but I'm pleased that both cars made it onto the final results and that we were able to step up to running two cars with just a few minor gliches. However what was most pleasing for me was the progress we made with the tire development program; Kumho have worked very hard and we are now starting to see the results. Now we all have to focus on the next race and move forward. It's going to be a long, tough season but I know we are perfectly positioned make the step up."
Jason Myers, Motorsport Development Director, Kumho Tires: "I'm satisfied with how things have gone, we brought a number of new 'second generation' development tires to try out this week, and they have shown themselves to be a big step in the right direction. They have been very consistent during the practice session runs, allowing the drivers to turn in steady lap times. We decided to race with our more established compounds, but I happy that we are making good progress and can now narrow the gap."
Nicky Pastorelli, Car #18: "It has been good to join the team here, I know the guys well and I'm glad to be back with them. I'm sure that we have all the ingredients in place to create a team that can build up to making the challenge at the front. We all know what we have to do and now we have to push forward and focus on Lime Rock. With a lot of hard work we can step forward with each race and develop the package."
Ruben Carrapatoso, Car #18: "I'm pleased to get behind the wheel of the RSR in a race at last and it felt good out there. The track was very busy, and the action was quite hectic. The tires are improving; they performed very well over the stints, so I'm now looking forward to moving forward with the team."
Nathan Swartzbaugh, Car #5: "We had a difficult race. We started well and I made good progress at the start. I was involved in a number of battles in the early stages, which was fun, and the car felt nice and balanced, we were certainly looking strong. The Kumho's were good and the race was setting up nicely. However the problems with the pitstop set us back and from then on we were consolidating and learning more from the tires."