Racing never stops for 24-hour warriors

Racing never stops for 24-hour warriors
On the surface, it appeared a joke when Patrick Long suggested at the American Le Mans Series event at Salt Lake City, Utah two weeks ago that he needed to pry Jorg Bergmeister out of the car in order to get his own stint in. ...

On the surface, it appeared a joke when Patrick Long suggested at the American Le Mans Series event at Salt Lake City, Utah two weeks ago that he needed to pry Jorg Bergmeister out of the car in order to get his own stint in.

#45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR: Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

He wasn't kidding. A week ago the duo won its third consecutive round in the GT2 class of ALMS driving for Flying Lizard Motorsports. This week, Bergmeister was already headed back to his homeland to race this past weekend at the ADAC 24 Hours of the Nurburgring, making friends with the latest Porsche he'd be driving.

Both are among the 55 teams and 165 drivers preparing to go to France for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 77th edition of the famed event around the Circuit de la Sarthe.

This weekend's event at the Nurburgring was largely overlooked in America given the focus on the Indianapolis 500, Coca-Cola 600, and Monaco Grand Prix (not in America, of course, but very much important to American Formula One fans), all Memorial Day weekend traditions.

Fittingly there were ten drivers who finished in the top ten at the "Green Hell" who will be competing in two weeks' time at Le Mans. Porsche and Audi were the two protagonists amongst the GT cars that battled for overall victory, with their 911 GT3 RSR and R8 LMS the respective chariots.

Porsche, then, had to uphold winning overall hours in a 24-hour enduro at the Nurburgring since it doesn't have a car in the fight for overall victory at Le Mans. Expected overall contenders Audi, Peugeot and Aston Martin do.

Porsche's best odds for class victory at Le Mans come with five 911s in the GT2 class and a pair of RS Spyders in P2.

The Manthey Porsche squad that won its fifth consecutive Nurburgring will not be fielding a car, but three of its drivers will race at Le Mans. The fourth, Marcel Tiemann, a five-time winner at the 'Ring, will watch from the sidelines.

Oddly it is the longtime pairing of Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, who in recent years have starred in both ALMS and now Rolex Series competition in a Penske Racing-run Porsche, who will be switching to Audi for Le Mans.

#1 Manthey Racing GmbH Porsche 911 GT3 RSR: Timo Bernhard, Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas, Marcel Tiemann.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

"Without a doubt, Timo and Romain rank among the world's best sports car drivers," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, at an April 2 announcement. "We've come to know them in the American Le Mans Series as tough but fair rivals and are pleased that within the Group the opportunity now presents itself to have them race for us at Le Mans."

Bernhard and Dumas have familiarized themselves with the new turbo diesel R15 TDI in test runs and will be looking for overall victory in one of the Joest-prepared entries. Their third teammate is Alexandre Premat.

"Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans is any sports car driver's dream, that's why we are extremely happy about the opportunity to contest Le Mans for Audi", they said at the announcement, in unison. "Both of us are really excited and looking forward to the Audi R15 TDI."

Marc Lieb, also part of the Manthey squad, will stay with Porsche for the 24H. Lieb is part of a likely contending team in GT2, the No. 77 911 GT3 RSR fielded by Team Felbermayr-Proton, also wheeled by Richard Lietz and Wolf Henzler.

Both Lietz and Henzler were teammates in a second Manthey entry in Germany. Lieb and Lietz regularly race for Proton in the Le Mans Series this season.

All listed drivers above bar Premat and Tiemann are among Porsche's 10 factory drivers this season and have applied their trade in several different sports car divisions. All figure to be in the mix with shots at both class and overall victories at Le Mans.

Those also in contention are the four remaining non-Porsche factory pilots who finished top ten at the 'Ring. Lucas Luhr and Pierre Kaffer co-drove a works-supported Abt Sportsline Audi R8 LMS to second overall. Luhr stays with the four rings for Le Mans, teammate to the Bernhard/Dumas/Premat entry, while Kaffer goes with his normal ALMS team, the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT this time around.

#97 Team Abt Sportsline Audi R8 LMS: Christian Abt, Jean-Fran?ois Hemroulle, Pierre Kaffer, Lucas Luhr.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Luhr admitted surprise at taking an all-new car to such great heights at the Nurburgring. "Putting a new car on the podium in its first run at a 24-hour race is an achievement you've got to simply take your hat off to," he said post-race.

The others not already mentioned who will be doing their second 24-hour race in four weeks are Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler. "Rocky" will team with Luhr and former overall Le Mans winner Marco Werner in the No. 2 Audi R15 TDI in P1; Fassler will be the third driver in the second Corvette C6.R with Olivers Gavin and Beretta for the swansong of the venerable low-rumbling bruiser in GT1.

The anticipation is building with the green flag just two weeks from now at La Sarthe.

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Series ENDURANCE , LEMANS

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