Laguna Seca: Porsche Motorsport preview

PORSCHE TEAMS IN TIGHT POINTS RACE - ROLEX GRAND-AM HEADS WEST TO MONTEREY ATLANTA - May 13 - Porsche customer teams in both the Daytona Prototype and GT classes find themselves in the thick of the best points battle since the Rolex Grand-Am...

PORSCHE TEAMS IN TIGHT POINTS RACE - ROLEX GRAND-AM HEADS WEST TO MONTEREY

ATLANTA - May 13 - Porsche customer teams in both the Daytona Prototype and GT classes find themselves in the thick of the best points battle since the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car series started (in 2000) as the NASCAR-owned tour settles in at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for this weekend's Verizon Festival of Speed in Monterey, California.

SPEED TV will cover the two-hour, 45-minute race live on Sunday, May 17, at 4:00 p.m. EDT. Practice for the Verizon Festival of Speed begins Friday at 12:45 p.m. EDT, with qualifying Saturday at 4:45 p.m. The weekend also includes a KONI Sports Car Challenge race on Saturday, where modified production Porsche 911s battle BMWs and Mustang GTs for the top spot . Live timing and scoring, notes and results will be available on www.grand-am.com, with regular weekend updates also posted on www.twitter.com/RolexSeries.

While Penske Racing and factory drivers Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France) are no strangers to sports car racing in the United States, they are rookies in the Rolex Grand-Am series and have been first-timers at both Virigina International Raceway and New Jersey Motorsports Park - the last two events.

"At last, a race track we know well," said Bernhard, who, along with Dumas, clinched his 2008 American Le Mans Series championship here last October. With its legendary corkscrew corner, the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course is regarded as one of the most interesting and challenging tracks in America. Bernhard/Dumas will drive the Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley fielded by Penske Racing. At the wheel of the 510 hp Daytona Prototype, they took off from pole position and managed to secure a podium result in third at the rain race at New Jersey Motorsports Park two weeks ago after a flat tire put them down in the field late in the race.

Changes in the technical regulations that were handed down to the Porsche Riley after its triumph at the 24 Hours at Daytona have partly been rescinded by the Grand-Am decision-makers for this weekend. The Porsche-powered Daytona Prototypes may race at Laguna Seca again with a six-speed gearbox. However in return, the maximum engine speed has again been reduced - this time from 9000 to 8900 rpm.

"This doesn't mean things are immediately easier for us," said Timo Bernhard. "It helps, of course, to have the sixth gear back. But still the lower engine revs hurt. It's not a real improvement for us, but now that we know where winner's circle is (New Jersey was Penske Racing's first Grand-Am podium finish), it will be easier to find our way back to the winners circle at Laguna Seca - maybe this time, we could be on the first step."

Rolex 24 winners Darren Law and David Donohue (both USA), co-drivers of the No. 58 Brumos Porsche Riley, enter the race with a four-point lead (88-84) over Pontiac Riley drivers Alex Gurney/Jon Fogarty, with Bernhard/Dumas third at 79 points after their N.J. finish. Fifth in the point standing are Joao Barbosa (Portugal) and J.C. France (USA), who are entered in the #59 Brumos Racing Porsche Riley race car.

When asked about the Rolex Grand-Am prototypes versus other cars he has driven in his career, Donohue, who along with Law, Buddy Rice, and Antonio Carcia, won this years Rolex 24 at Daytona, had this to say about racing in Grand-Am's top class.

"This (DP Porsche Riley) is a ton of fun to drive. For one thing our races are really races - we are trying hard all the time. Your entry into pit lane, your out laps, driver change, everything you do is important because the competition is so close. When I drove for Oreca, Viper and the Dodges, you're really kind of running your own race. It's like the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Every pit stop is important for position on the track, so the crews play a bigger role in Grand-Am than they traditionally have in sports car racing. You need every second you can get," said Donohue.

Three teams are within three points of the lead in the hotly-contested Acxiom GT championship chase.

Leh Keen (USA) and Dirk Werner (Germany) won at New Jersey Motorsports Park to pull into a tie for second. Both drivers return this weekend in the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. At last year's Laguna Seca round, driving separate Farnbacher Loles entries, Werner started from the front row, while Keen finished fifth in the race with Eric Lux (USA). This year, Lux will be driving with Kevin Roush (USA) in the #86 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Eric's third place finish at New Jersey leaves him only one point behind his teammates in the GT Class Championship.

While he has yet to win this season, Spencer Pumpelly finished second twice in TRG's No. 66 AXA/Mitchell Rubber Porsche 911 GT3 Cup to hold the GT points lead with 89 points, and he will drive the car again their weekend with Ted Ballou (USA). Other TRG entries, taking car numbers 63 - 68 on the entry list, include Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racers for Henri Richard/Rene Villeneuve, John Potter/Criag Stanton, Andy Lally/Justin Marks, and Josemanuel Gutierrez/Scott Schroeder.

Following the New Jersey race , Grand-Am officials also made weight adjustments in GT in an attempt to equalize performance among the leading three manufacturers in the series: Porsche, Mazda and Pontiac. While the Porsches swept the top spots in the rain two weeks ago, the Pontiacs and Mazdas have been considerably quicker in the dry conditions.

"The series feels the weight reduction will put us on a more equal footing," said Farnbacher Loles team principal Gregory Loles.

"I truly hope they are right. This race should be a good indicator of the effectiveness of the changes," said Loles.

-credit: porsche

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Alex Gurney , Jon Fogarty , Andy Lally , Darren Law , David Donohue , Timo Bernhard , Joao Barbosa , Buddy Rice , Spencer Pumpelly , Romain Dumas , J.C. Fra , Lehman Keen , Eric Lux , Kevin Roush , Dirk Werner , Ted Ballou , Scott Schroeder , John Potter , Rene Villeneuve
Teams Team Penske