FOUR AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES RACES IN SIX WEEKS LIKELY TO DETERMINE 2008 CHAMPIONSHIPS; PORSCHE-ACURA IN LMP2 AND PORSCHE-FERRARI IN GT2 ARE CLOSE LIME ROCK, Conn. - July 9 -- After a long break on either side of the Le Mans 24 hour race, the ...
FOUR AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES RACES IN SIX WEEKS LIKELY TO DETERMINE 2008 CHAMPIONSHIPS; PORSCHE-ACURA IN LMP2 AND PORSCHE-FERRARI IN GT2 ARE CLOSE
LIME ROCK, Conn. - July 9 -- After a long break on either side of the Le Mans 24 hour race, the fifth round of the American Le Mans Series - the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, on Saturday, July 12 - starts a run of four races in six weeks which will go a long way towards determining the class championships.
The two hour, 45-minute race will get the green flag on Saturday at 2:00 PM EDT, and will be broadcast live on American Le Mans Radio on the web at www.americanlemans.com, which will also have live timing and scoring. The race will also be telecast in its entirety on a delayed basis on SPEED TV on Sunday, July 13, at noon EDT.
Track management has overseen a complete repaving of the circuit between its Memorial Day event and this weekend, including the building of two new corners which completely change the characteristics of this classic road-racing venue. Both drivers and crew have to throw out everything they have learned about Lime Rock in the past, and start over again on Friday morning when the first practice session starts.
"The exciting thing about this circuit this year is that we don't really know what is awaiting us," says Penske Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 driver Sascha Maassen (Germany). "Although the track is very old and narrow we always drive at very high speeds, so they have made the corners somewhat slower this year. The rest of the track has been resurfaced."
Right next to the track is a church. For this reason, racing on Sunday is strictly forbidden - and testing is generally not permitted because of the limited number of open-exhaust days allowed by the town. Maassen does not regard this as a handicap.
"Our RS Spyder is well prepared. In fact, it's fast on any track right from the word go."
On the short 1.51-mile circuit, Maassen shares driving duties with Patrick Long (USA) in the #6 RS Spyder. Penske Racing runs not only this Weissach-developed and built sports prototype but also the #7 vehicle manned by reigning champions Timo Bernhard (Germany) and Romain Dumas (France). The pair won the season-opening Sebring 12 hour race and the previous round in Salt Lake City. With these results, Bernhard/Dumas lead the LMP2 championship by 28 points over Acura drivers Brabham/Sharp.
In the LMP2 Manufacturers points, Porsche leads Acura by 17 points.
With Porsche support, customer team Dyson Racing, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend at Lime Rock, fields two additional RS Spyders. The #16 vehicle, driven by Chris Dyson (USA) and Guy Smith (Great Britain), will abandon its usual blue and white paint scheme to take the orange and yellow livery of Dyson's original 1984 Porsche 962 in honor of the 25th anniversary. In fact, the 962 will be at the track on Saturday, and do a commemorative lap with the RS Spyder before the race. The number 20 car is piloted by Butch Leitzinger (USA) and Marino Franchitti (Great Britain), and will be in its regular blue and white livery.
The LMP2 Porsche factory pilots made good use of the June Le Mans break: Sascha Maassen contested the Le Mans 24 hour race for the Essex team, where he celebrated a second-place finish in LMP2 as the Porsche RS Spyders took the top two spots on the podium in their Le Mans debut. With a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas competed for the Manthey Racing team at the Nurburgring 24 Hours and, after a breathtaking chase through the field, brought home overall victory. Patrick Long drove with the French IMSA Racing Porsche team in GT2 at Le Mans, but an accident took the car out of competition early.
The circuit at Lime Rock Park has no straights and is made up almost entirely of corners. Sascha Maassen is convinced that this is an advantage for the RS Spyder: "This puts the emphasis on the agility of our car and means that its power handicap, as dictated by the regulations, isn't so noticeable compared to the LMP1 vehicles."
The entire field will be affected by only one problem. In heavy traffic on such a short circuit, similar to rush hour traffic, constant overtaking of slower GT vehicles is unavoidable.
"This can be decisive in the race," said Maassen.
In the GT2 class for production-based sports car, Joerg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler (both Germany) are keen on increasing their one-point lead in the championship over Ferrari drivers Farnbacher/Mueller. With their Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, they have won the races in Sebring and Salt Lake City so far this season, while the Ferrari has won the other two races.
In the manufacturer's GT2 points battle, Porsche leads Ferrari by six points.
Not far behind in the points are their Flying Lizard teammates Johannes van Overbeek (USA) and Patrick Pilet (France), who have two second-place finishes to their credit and would love to break into the win column at Lime Rock (Bergmeister/van Overbeek won the class last year for the Lizards). The third flying Lizard Porsche, driven by team owner Seth Neiman and veteran Porsche driver Darren Law, gained most of the their season points with a second-place finish at Sebring. It was Seth's car, numbered as the #80 Porsche last month at Le Mans, which was running in the lead pack in France when a devastating crash put them in the garage for more than 90 minutes, and led to a disappointing sixth-place finish Bergmeister/van Overbeek/Neiman.
The Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was very competitive at the last race in Salt Lake City, and Porsche factory driver Richard Westbrook (Great Britain) will join Dirk Werner (Germany) in pursuit of their first ALMS win. Werner is the defending Rolex Grand-Am GT champion, and Westbrook is the defending Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup champion - both in Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racers.
The other Porsche GT2 team, Miami-based VICI Racing, will skip the Lime Rock event and rejoin the ALMS chase at Mid-Ohio next week.