Houston: Porsche preview

PORSCHE RS SPYDER ENCOUNTERS THIRD DIFFERENT CIRCUIT TYPE IN THREE STARTS; ALMS GT2 FIELD WIDE OPEN AS PORSCHE 911 GT3 RSR TEAMS BATTLE ATLANTA - May 8 -- After a strong performance at the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the...


ATLANTA - May 8 -- After a strong performance at the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Penske Porsche RS Spyder will race on a street circuit for the first time in Houston's Reliant Park on the Friday evening , May 12, in the American Le Mans Series Houston Grand Prix.

"A city circuit race is always a challenge, especially if it runs into the night", said head of Porsche Motorsport Hartmut Kristen. "But we are well-prepared and we are optimistic to be among the front-runners again."

The brand-new Porsche RS Spyder had shown its potential by claiming the LMP 2 class victory at its inaugural outing in Laguna Seca in October of 2005. At the long distance classic in Sebring in March, the #6 car not only led its class but ran second overall, only to be sidelined with only 49 minutes to go by a broken gearbox input shaft. A material defect cost the team the success for which they had all worked so hard over the winter. One small consolation was that Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr, and Emmanuel Collard were classified second in the class due to the distance they had covered. The #7 Porsche RS Spyder, with Timo Bernhard/Romain Dumas/Patrick Long aboard, did not finish the Sebring event with an identical material failure.

"Our car performs very well. You can see this from the fact we passed the class leader after earlier losing seven laps in the pits making repairs," said Kristen, looking back at the Sebring race.

While still in the Sebring paddock, the disappointment about the unfortunate retirement after a tough fight turned into new motivation, initiated by Roger Penske, whose team prepares the Porsche RS Spyder.

"We will win races soon," said the icon of US motorsport reaffirming their mutual goal. "This will be achieved through even better reliability, an even better strategy - and a little more luck."

Street Circuit and LMP2

On the 2.735 kilometre circuit through Reliant Park, Porsche is keen to make up for Sebring. The track seems to suit a comparatively light car like the RS Spyder with good acceleration being crucial out of its nine slow corners - undoubtedly one of the strengths of the Weissach-developed 480 hp eight-cylinder engine.

For the drivers, the track - which is characteristically lined by concrete walls rather than run-off areas - is relatively tricky. The pit crew is under enormous pressure: one wrong strategic decision, one pit stop mistake during the two hour, 45-min. race - and the race is lost.

Despite the strong performance by the Porsche RS Spyder at Sebring until shortly before the checkered flag, the Houston race will not be an easy task. On the contrary, in order to keep the competitiveness in balance, ALMS officials granted Porsche's competitors permission to use air restrictors with larger diameters which increases the engine performance. This, in turn, will likely result in a closer field. After all, this is part of the attraction of the racing series' philosophy - in order to offer the spectators exciting races the regulations don't rein-in the front-runners, but instead help improve the slightly less competitive contenders.

LMP2 customer program

In the light of the worldwide upward trend of sport prototype racing, Porsche has now confirmed some of the launch details for its RS Spyder customer sport program. In 2007, selected private teams will race the car in the LMP 2 class not only in the USA, but also in Europe's Le Mans Series (LMS). Porsche is in contact with several teams, predominantly those who are engaged in GT1 and GT2 categories and are interested in moving into a higher racing class with the RS Spyder. By mid-year all the program's facts should be formalized for interested teams.

The ever increasing popularity of the ALMS was just underlined by the announcement by Honda Acura to join the series. Aside from Porsche, well-known makes such as Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Lexus and Mazda are represented in the ALMS. With this in mind, Porsche will use the Houston race to promote the project. Penske Motorsports has again entered two Porsche RS Spyders, with a class victory as the target. Sascha Maassen (Belgium) and Lucas Luhr (Monaco) will tackle the race in the #6 car. Germany's Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas (France) will drive the Porsche with car #7. In preparation for the Houston race, Sascha Maassen and Timo Bernhard tested the RS Spyder last week on the Mid Ohio circuit.

Porsche LMP2 driver on Houston

Sascha Maassen: "A race through a city is always a very special challenge. The Houston track is new for all of us, and there's not a lot of time to find a good set-up. So the one who finds speed first has the best chances. Our test last week went very well. We had no problems with the car and tried out a lot of things for Mid Ohio, but we also learned a great deal for Houston."

Lucas Luhr: "Compared to Sebring, Houston is more of a sprint. We put in qualifying laps almost over the entire distance, totally at the limit. I hope we can win the LM P2 category and clinch a good result overall. City circuits are always exciting. You've got to be fast, but there is no room at all for error because there are practically no run-off areas. If you make a mistake you'll find yourself in the concrete wall. Still, I won on every city circuit where I competed. I hope that's a good omen."

Timo Bernhard: "During the tests I was able to familiarise myself with the RS Spyder even better. Each kilometre I drive helps. We discovered a lot about the car. We already saw at Sebring that we are totally competitive. Unfortunately we didn't score points, but we don't give up. Houston is not going to be easy. We don't know the track, and there isn't much time to get our bearings there. To drive the RS Spyder through the city streets is for sure going to be exciting."

Romain Dumas: "On this narrow track it is crucial to be as far up the grid as possible. So the qualifying is going to be enormously important. Experience shows that there are going to be many caution phases, so it will be very hard to pass competitors. The track is new for everybody. If you

look at it this way, we all start from the same level. I think we'll have an advantage on this track with our light car." Houston GT2: Anyone can win

Since 2000, it was easy to spot the one or two teams that were favourites in the American Le Mans Series GT2 class. The Dick Barbour Racing Porsche squad dominated the class in 2000; the BMW factory team swept the 2001 series; Alex Job Racing Porsches won handily in 2002, 2003, and 2004; and Alex Job and the Petersen/White Lightning Porsche teams battled for the title in 2005, with Petersen taking the championship.

But, in 2006, each race could be won by any of the entries in the field. At the opening round in Sebring, three Porsche teams, one BMW team, the Ferrari 430 squad, and the winning Panoz entries all led the class during the 12-hour event. Defending champions Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister are again driving the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, which could not recover from a 20-minute pit stop to replace a broken control arm at Sebring. Similarly, Mike Rockenfeller/Klaus Graf had a control arm issue in their Alex Job Racing Porsche, and were further slowed by two flat tires.

The best Porsche team performance at Sebring was #45 Flying Lizard Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, with Johannes van Overbeek/Jon Fogarty/Marc Lieb at the helm, finishing second in class only five seconds behind the winning Panoz. With Fogarty departing from the team to pursue a prototype ride in Grand-Am, the team recently announced the hiring of Wolf Henzler, recent Porsche Supercup champion and winner of several Speed World Challenge and Grand-Am events, including the 2005 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona and last week's Grand-Am GT race at Laguna Seca. The other Flying Lizard team car, with Darren Law/Seth Neiman/Lonnie Pechnik driving, was the next best Porsche finisher, capturing a fourth place finish at Sebring. Neiman and Pechnik will drive in Houston.

The Porsche teams expect stiff competition again from the two Panoz entries, the two BMW entries, and the Ferrari entry. Also, starting in July, two Lexus race cars will join the already competitive GT2 field.


The Grand Prix of Houston, round two of the ten-race American Le Mans Series, will be held on the Reliant Park street circuit on Friday night, May 12, from 8:00 PM CDT to 10:45 PM. The race will be telecast by CBS Sports on a delayed basis on Saturday, May 13, at 1:00 PM EDT, and in Europe on Motors TV. Also, a live web radio broadcast can be heard on the American Le Mans Series web site - www.americanlemans.com. The ALMS site will also carry live scoring for qualifying as well as for the complete race.

The Penske Porsche RS Spyder is supported by Porsche's racing partners led by DHL Global Mail, Mobil 1, Hyatt Hotels, Michelin, adidas, and ZF Sachs AG.

Commissioned by Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (PCNA) and Porsche Motorsport North America, Inc. (PMNA) for racing customers who compete in the LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) class of the ALMS, the Porsche RS Spyder features a completely new Porsche engine, transmission, and chassis, all incorporating the latest in Porsche automotive technology and created to conform to new 2006 rules and regulations of international sanctioning body Automobil Club de l'Ouest.

Penske Motorsports, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Penske Racing, Inc., is fielding the two Porsche prototypes for the entire 2006 ALMS season.

Porsche Cars North America, Inc. (PCNA), based in Atlanta, Ga., and its subsidiary, Porsche Cars Canada, Ltd., are the exclusive importers of Porsche sports cars and Cayenne® sport utility vehicles for the United States and Canada. A wholly owned, indirect subsidiary of Dr. Ing. h.c.F. Porsche AG, PCNA employs approximately 300 people who provide Porsche vehicles, parts, service, marketing and training for its 209 U.S. and Canadian dealers. They, in turn, provide Porsche owners with best-in-class service.


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Klaus Graf , Jon Fogarty , Emmanuel Collard , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Darren Law , Dick Barbour , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Johannes van Overbeek , Marc Lieb , Romain Dumas , Seth Neiman , Lonnie Pechnik , Mike Rockenfeller , Wolf Henzler , Alex Job , Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske , Alex Job Racing