DC's Sebring review: The dark side

Sebring Review - The Dark Side OOPS Originally credited with a second-place-overall podium finish, the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing LMP2 was "excluded" from "Revised" Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race results after ALMS/IMSA officials ...


Sebring Review - The Dark Side


OOPS

Originally credited with a second-place-overall podium finish, the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Racing LMP2 was "excluded" from "Revised" Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race results after ALMS/IMSA officials determined its 3.4-liter, V-8 Acura engine had more air-intake sources than sanctioning-body rules allow.

(The attending IMSA officials get two thumbs up for having the chutzpah to do what was required in what always is a delicate situation.)

Drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz started third-in-class and sixth overall on the grid in their Acura-powered ARX-01b chassis, which made its official race debut at Sebring for Lowe's Fernandez Racing

(Couldn't "ARX" be attributed with an interesting phonetic sound, possibly reminding one of an animal-saving Noah's Ark? With Porsche just flat-out kicking, continuing what it did last year, would it be Lowe's Fernandez Racing or Acura in need of rescue at this point?)

Well, back to the rescue, um, er, show.

Given that many sanctioning bodies seek to limit "unfair" race car performance by restricting an engine's capability to "make fire," a post-race "stall test" seeks to establish that all incoming, engine-bound air is kept an honest affair and that such air is directed to an internal-combustion engine through only one means, a restricted air intake. A "restricted" intake often looks like a large, shiny metallic-like doughnut located in an exterior, pillar-like structure (air scoop) or in some cars, the intake is a roll-hoop integrated device to the left- or right-rear of the car's driver position.

Different race series test differently, but all generally place a tight-fitting plug (usually made of a rubber-like material) into the air-intake's mouth while either the engine is running - therefore cutting off the air needed for combustion and inducing an engine shutdown (stall) - or when the engine is at rest before an attempt to start it. In either case, should an engine produce power as designed but after the plug is in place, the car has failed the test.

"The Acura engine in the No. 15 Lowe's ARX passed the plug test performed by HPD (Honda Performance Development) prior to the start of the race," Lowe's Fernandez Racing's Tom Anderson said in a prepared statement distributed to media.

"It has been found that the carbon fiber air intake system which holds the restrictor had broken sometime during the 12-hour rough ride around the Sebring circuit, resulting in a leak which allowed the engine to continue to run when the plug was installed."

"Proper measures will be taken to ensure this problem will not occur again and we will be back stronger than ever at the next race in St. Petersburg. The Lowe's Fernandez Racing team showed its strength today, and it was an exciting and productive race week here at Sebring."

The ironic thing for Lowe's Fernandez Racing is that its third-place 2007 Sebring finish was the team's high-water mark for the season. It's doubtful things can get much worse than being "excluded" at the start of 2008.

CORVETTE DOMINATES GT1

Now that's some news you can use; who would've thunk it?

"We hope we can make things interesting this year for the Corvettes and especially the fans," Jim Bell said during a Jan. 28 announcement that his Bell Motorsports, along with partner Michael Lux, were fielding an Aston Martin DBR9 in ALMS' GT1 class for the 2008 season.

"The combination of Jim's experience and the potent Aston Martin DBR9 will no doubt keep Corvette Racing on its toes all season," ALMS president and CEO Scott Atherton effused during the announcement.

Uh-huh.

By the end of the race's first hour, Team Corvette's two cars had lapped the Bell Motorsports' No. 008 Aston Martin DBR9.

By the race's halfway mark the No. 3 CorvetteC6.R of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen had racked up a 23-lap margin over the Bell Motorsports' Aston Martin, which grew to a 29-lap margin of victory at race end.

Meanwhile, the No. 4 Team Corvette sister-car of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Max Papis was 14-laps to-the-better of the Aston Martin at the race's six-hour mark - even though the C6.R took a nine-minute, off-track hiatus to replace a failed half shaft at about the race's two-hour mark. The second-place Corvette's end-of-race lap margin over the third-place Aston Martin was 21 laps.

There was no fourth-place in GT1. Uh, let me rephrase that: There would've been a fourth-place had another GT1-class car actually entered the race, gridded and then immediately parked it after the "Start Your Engines!" part.

To be sure, the Bell Motorsports effort had its own problems. Equally so, though, the Bell Motorsports entry is not the Prodrive team of the 2006 season.

Continuing the pre-Sebring buildup of "Aston Martin" keeping Team Corvette "on its toes," a mid-week press release out of Sebring read, "Bell Motorsports' Aston Martin DBR9 of Antonio Garcia was quickest in GT1 at 2:01.317 for a two-second gap over Corvette Racing's lead Corvette C6.R of Johnny O'Connell."

Excuse me? Under what circumstances was this notable difference clocked: warm-up or cool-down laps vs. hot laps?

A reasonable question to pose when, during qualifying, the No. 3 Corvette turned a four-second faster lap than that of the Aston Martin's.

Oh! The Aston Martin evidently had some sort of bad qualifying day, given that blazingly fast press-release time, right?

The No. 008 turned a 2:00.730 in qualifying.

Are we talking pure "PT Barnum" here or what?

And, speaking of good ol' "PT," whatever became of ALMS' 2005 Maserati MC12 "guest" racer?

You remember, don't you, that was the season during which the MC12 competed but didn't really race. Or, was it the other way around? Whatever, it was on the track.

Team Corvette's O'Connell, Fellows and Magnussen, backed by crew chief Dan Binks, are a talented lot. At the very least, the type of money available to Team Corvette would ensure such talent is on staff.

Bell, Terry Borcheller and Antonio Garcia (who otherwise races out of the Eddie Cheever stable) are excellent racers, too. Indeed, they are proven race and championship winners. To this columnist's eye, Jim Bell is one of the sports' best-ever tacticians, having few peers.

Give Bell or Borcheller the same resources as his opponent and they'll flat-out go toe-to-toe as good as anyone can.

For all its smarts and ability, Bell Motorsports and its drivers at present don't have the monetary advantage of a car manufacturer or the physical-plant resources of Prodrive.

Thus, in what context might the above be considered as beneficial to those having an expectation of seeing true door-banging competitiveness?

Team Corvette is a very talented organization under the direction of an educated and savvy GM Racing brain trust which at this time surely must be cringing, if not stinging - especially given Team Corvette's near exit from ALMS at the end of 2007.

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." - Abraham Lincoln

ALMS "U.S. CLASS"

The American Le Mans Series makes broad use of its "World Class" claim, but its rules are different here.

Note some differences between the Le Mans, France-based Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) rulebook and that of IMSA's "Prototype Regulations, American Le Mans Series," as issued under "IMSA Bulletin # ALMS 08-01."

In Europe, the LMP1 cars (like the Audi R10 and Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, which competed at the just-concluded Sebring 12-Hours) must weigh only 900-kilograms. In the ALMS, those cars must weigh more; a minimum 925-kilograms.

In Europe, LMP2 cars (like the Porsche RS Spyder and Acura ARX-01b at Sebring) must weigh 825-kg. In the ALMS, those cars weigh less; a minimum 800-kg.

In Europe, LMP2 fuel tank capacities are maxed-out at 80-liters. In the ALMS: 90-liters.

"IMSA reserves the right to make a modification to the balance of performance between prototype classes in order to maintain the desired relative performance and competition."

Okey-dokey, that's cool. It is a free country here in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Later.
    DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Antonio Garcia , Jan Magnussen , Eddie Cheever , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Luis Diaz , Terry Borcheller , Tom Anderson , Olivier Beretta
Teams Williams , Corvette Racing