BY THE NUMBERS: NEW ENGLAND GRAND PRIX Braselton, Ga. - The 2005 American Le Mans Series is shaping up to be one of the fastest in the ALMS' seven-year history. For the second straight race, all four class qualifying records fell as the ALMS' ...
BY THE NUMBERS: NEW ENGLAND GRAND PRIX
Braselton, Ga. - The 2005 American Le Mans Series is shaping up to be one of the fastest in the ALMS' seven-year history. For the second straight race, all four class qualifying records fell as the ALMS' powerful sports cars turned up the Fourth of July heat on Lime Rock Park and the New England Grand Prix.
Marco Werner in the No. 1 Champion Racing Audi R8, Jeff Bucknum in the No. 10 Miracle Motorsports Courage, Olivier Beretta in the No. 4 Corvette Racing C6-R and Romain Dumas in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche all bettered qualifying marks set the previous year at Lime Rock.
It was the same in Round 3, the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio. Hayanari Shimoda (Zytek), Jon Field (Intersport Lola B05/40), Oliver Gavin (Corvette Racing C6-R) and Timo Bernhard (Alex Job Racing Porsche) all shattered the track's speed marks. And at Road Atlanta, two of the four class marks went down during the Grand Prix of Atlanta. There was no qualifying at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring as rain forced its cancellation.
So what's the deal with all the speed? The answers vary from teams having better equipment, drivers getting more comfortable with the circuits or just not knowing at all.
"I was thinking about that a little bit," said Bucknum, who also won the P2 pole at Lime Rock in 2004 in a Pilbeam. "The (Courage) is better than the car we had here last year. So that may have something to do with it. But I don't think Audi has a better car."
Patrick Long, who recorded his first ALMS pole in GT2, says the recent qualifying speeds can be attributed to many things. One is that new cars have not only gotten faster, but they also are reliable.
"The development of the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR is getting better," Long said. "For myself, I'm seeing these tracks for a second time, and that helps."
TIE AT THE TOP: When JJ Lehto crossed the finish line in his No. 1 Champion Racing Audi R8, he moved back into a tie with Johnny O'Connell and Ron Fellows for the most career ALMS victories (23). Lehto and Werner now have three victories in four events this year, plus their overall win at Le Mans.
MARCO THE MAGNIFICENT: Werner apparently baffled even the computers in the Champion Racing paddock when he put the No. 1 Audi R8 on the pole at Lime Rock. According to team dada, the car's best theoretical lap was in the low 47-second range. A theoretical lap comes from computer data from a car, track, tire and temperature.
Apparently, Werner is either a little smarter or better than a computer, perhaps both. His record qualifying time of 46,.753 destroyed James Weaver's 2004 effort by nearly a second. Perhaps it was a slight case of self-inflicted road rage that spurred last year's LMP1 driver's co-champion beyond the limit.
"We check all our data and try to learn more push a little bit more every time on the track," Werner said. "I learned from JJ, and I gave it everything I had. I also was a little mad because I went off the track during the earlier practice session. I didn't think it was possible for us to do in the low 47s in practice, and I certainly didn't think it was possible to go below 47 seconds."
MORE FROM MARCO: Werner said he was delighted to get back to racing in North America and the ALMS, despite his utter thrill at winning the overall title at Le Mans. Part of the reason is that his No.1 Champion Racing Audi R8 he shares with Werner is rid of 50 kilograms of ballast and a larger restrictor that reduced horsepower at Le Mans, moves that were mandated by the ACO for all R8s entered in the race.
"It was a big challenge to win at Le Mans," Werner said. "It's a difficult road. You had to be smooth there. But we're happy we can come back to America with the lighter weight and more horsepower."
A LONG, STRANGE TRIP: With three races in the span of five weekends, and four events in seven weeks if you count the ALMS teams that competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, July is shaping up to the busiest month of the 2005 ALMS. From Lime Rock, teams are headed west to Infineon Raceway for the Infineon Technologies Grand Prix of Sonoma presented by Ravenswood Winery, set for July 15-17. After that, it's time to head north to Portland International Raceway and the Portland Grand Prix two weeks later.
It's enough to make even the most seasoned traveler a little weary. But such is a life in motorsports.
"I haven't had a schedule quite like this before," said Jamie Bach, one of the drivers of the Mazda-powered No. 8 B-K Motorsports Courage C65. Bach has competed in the Star Mazda Championship, so being on the road is nothing new. "We didn't have the East Coast to West Coast trips that we have now. But we should be all right. Our goal is the same at every race, no matter how far we travel, and that's to win races."
AROUND THE PADDOCK: Gavin and Beretta's third-place overall finish at Lime Rock was the highest finish for any non-prototype in the series history. They also pulled off the feat at Road America last year. . Fellows and O'Connell finished third overall at Mid-Ohio and Portland last year in their No. 3 Corvette Racing C5-R. With a GT2 victory Monday, Alex Job Racing now has won at every track on the 2005 ALMS schedule. Entering the season, the team hadn't won at Mid-Ohio or Lime Rock until Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas claimed class victories in their No. 23 AJR Porsche.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the Infineon Technologies Grand Prix of Sonoma presented by Ravenswood Winery, set for 11 a.m. PDT on July 17 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. CBS Sports will have television coverage from 3 to 5 p.m. EDT. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing and Scoring can be found at www.americanlemans.com.