American Le Mans weekly notes

** A new entrant for the American Le Mans Series Prototype class was announced Tuesday when Champion Audi revealed plans to field an Audi R8 in the 2001 season. The Champion team, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., and headed by Dave Maraj, has a...

** A new entrant for the American Le Mans Series Prototype class was announced Tuesday when Champion Audi revealed plans to field an Audi R8 in the 2001 season.

The Champion team, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., and headed by Dave Maraj, has a long history in sports car endurance racing. Last year, the team prepared the Audi S4 cars driven in the Speedvision GT Series by Michael Galati and Derek Bell.

Champion will be the first team to use the successful Audi R8 in competition other than the factory Audi effort. The team competed in the inaugural season of the ALMS in 1999 and finished seventh in the Prototype Team standings.

"We wanted to expand the Audi racing presence by offering the R8 to qualified privateers," said Len Hunt, head of Audi of America. "Champion has been a good racing partner with the S4s this last year and we are very excited that they will be running one of the R8s in 2001."

"We wanted to get back to the ALMS with a fulltime effort," said Maraj, who is also president of Champion Motors. "The Audi R8 proved to be the car to beat last year, so we are excited for the 2001 season."

The team has not announced its drivers.

** Two teams that competed on the American Le Mans Series in 2000 have combined their efforts and will race for the new LMP 675 class title on the series in 2001.

Roock Motorsport North America has joined forces with KnightHawk Racing and will field a Lola B2K/40 in the new class for smaller Prototype cars. The LMP 675 class will become the fourth championship class in ALMS events in 2001, joining Prototype, GTS and GT.

Roock fielded a Porsche 911 Turbo in the GTS class in the 2000 season, finishing second in the team championship standings. KnightHawk Racing joined the series late in the 2000 season and competed in the Prototype class with a car that met the LMP 675 specs.

Together with KnightHawk's drivers, Steve Knight and Mel Hawkins, Fabian Roock said that the Lola will be configured with a new Judd KV 675 engine package to comply with the ALMS' new rules for a 3.4 litre V8. Testing will begin in February at Road Atlanta.

"I believe the combination of Roock Motorsports' endurance racing experience with our determination and driving expertise puts us in the top spot to win the LMP 675 class honors in 2001," said Knight.

"We can't wait to get started," said Hawkins.

** The Star Mazda Series, which has raced as a support series for many American Le Mans Series races the past two years, has expanded its relationship with the series to include ALMS driver tests for its champions. In addition, Mazda has become a sponsor of ALMS telecasts.

Joey Hand, the 1999 Star Mazda champion, has already had a test with Tom Milner's BMW Team PTG. Bernardo Martinez, the 2000 champion, is also scheduled to test with Milner's team in hopes of joining the ALMS.

The Star Mazda Series is a proving ground for future road racing drivers. The rotary-powered cars provide tight competition and offer an affordable steppingstone series for young, aspiring drivers to showcase their ability.

In 2001, all the televised Star Mazda races will be held in conjunction with ALMS events.

** Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., has announced that tickets for all of its 2001 season racing events will go on sale Monday, Jan. 15.

The raceway, which is currently undergoing a $35 million modernization, will host the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma July 20-22. ALMS events have been held at the circuit since the beginning of the series in 1999.

** Westward Racing Group LLC, a new team that will compete in races on the European and American Le Mans Series, was announced Monday. The team will run in the Prototype class with Panoz LMP-1 Roadsters.

Announced drivers for the team are sports car racer Jay Cochran and Barber Dodge Pro Series veteran Peter Boss. Other drivers are also being considered. Former CART team owner Peter Kuhn will serve as managing director, and Dave Simms will be motorsports director.

The team is based in Norfolk, England, with administrative offices in New York. It expects to debut in the 12 Hours at Sebring on March 17. In addition to the full ELMS schedule, the team will also compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

** Spencer Pumpelly Racing of Richmond, Va., has announced plans to compete in selected American Le Mans Series races in the 2001 season. The team will field a Porsche 911 GT3 R in the GT class.

The team recently purchased the car that was driven in last year's 12 Hours at Sebring by veterans Hurley Haywood and Craig Stanton. The car finished third in the GT class in the prestigious event.

Currently, the team plans to compete at Sebring on Mar. 17 and then in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 6, with sponsorship from North Atlantic Marine Group.

Spencer Pumpelly, 25, is the lead driver for the team. His father, Tom, formerly drove a Ford GTP car fielded by current ALMS team owner Tom Milner.

** Former Women's Global GT Series drivers Audrey Zavodsky, Belinda Endress and Terri (Hundertmark) Popielarz were class winners in a 24-hour endurance race run at Florida's Moroso Motorsports Park Dec. 29-30. Zavodsky took co-driving honors with a first place in the ITA class, while Endress and Popielarz took co-driving honors with a first place in the Miata class.

Two other former WGGTS drivers, Divina Galica and Nikki LaRue, also competed in the race in Spec Racer Fords. LaRue had a second-place finish in class.

** The 2001 American Le Mans Series season will open with the Grand Prix of Texas at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on Sunday, Mar. 4. Tickets for the event are on sale now at www.texasmotorspeedway.com, or by phone at (817) 215-8500.

The event will be televised live on the Speedvision Network. Live coverage of qualifying and the race can be heard from the ALMS Radio Web online at www.americanlemans.com.

QUICK NOTES: Veteran sports car racer Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., has been added to the Corvette team driver lineup for the 2001 season. O'Connell will drive for the GTS team in long-distance events, including the 12 Hours at Sebring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta .... Andy Wallace, James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger have been named as the drivers for Bentley's effort in the 24 Hours of Le Mans .... Panoz Motor Sports car #2 was excluded from the results of the recent Adelaide, Australia event, per direction of the race stewards. The team violated the Sporting Regulations and used a driver (Klaus Graf) who was not nominated for that car .... Cadillac plans an announcement soon about its ALMS racing plans for 2001 ....

-Andy Hall

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Peter Boss , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Klaus Graf , Johnny O'Connell , Joey Hand , Hurley Haywood , Michael Galati , Derek Bell , Steve Knight , Spencer Pumpelly , Craig Stanton , Audrey Zavodsky , Divina Galica , Jay Cochran