Porsche Drivers Seek Long Beach Glory at Historic Street Course; Lizards Hope to Repeat Last Year's Win and Muscle Milk Looking for Penske Magic LONG BEACH - April 13 -- Ever since Formula 5000 race cars proved that the Long Beach Grand Prix ...
Porsche Drivers Seek Long Beach Glory at Historic Street Course; Lizards Hope to Repeat Last Year's Win and Muscle Milk Looking for Penske Magic
LONG BEACH - April 13 -- Ever since Formula 5000 race cars proved that the Long Beach Grand Prix street circuit could handle world-class road racing in the fall of 1975, the history of Formula 1 and IndyCar racing in the U.S. has been impacted by this Southern California venue - and now sports car racing is part of the tradition as well.
The Indy cars, which have been running as the feature race since 1984, were joined by the sports cars in the American Le Mans Series four years ago, and the results have been spectacular, including the 2007 race where the LMP2 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyders took the top three overall positions, even though they were down 200 horsepower to the LMP1 prototypes.
The list of Formula 1 and Indy car drivers that have won at Long Beach is a who's who of racing, starting with Mario Andretti - the only driver to win in both a Formula 1 and an IndyCar race at this 11-turn, 1.968-mile street course - and include Brian Redman - who won that 1975 Formula 5000 event - Carlos Reutemann, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Michael Andretti, Al Under, Jr., Danny Sullivan, Sebastain Bourdais, and Helio Castroneves.
The American Le Mans Series at Long Beach race, which takes the green flag at 4:40 PM PDT (local) on Saturday, will be telecast at 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Pacific Daylight (prime time 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM Eastern), and will last 100 minutes - a special length for TV. Live scoring and American Le Mans Radio commentary are available at www.americanlemans.com for both qualifying (streaming video for qualifying) on Friday, April 17, at 8:40 PM Eastern, and for the entire race.
With Long Beach being the first race where the two Le Mans prototype classes are combined into a single class, Greg Pickett (USA) and Klaus Graf (Germany) hope to revive the Penske Porsche RS Spyder magic from several years ago and put their Muscle Milk Porsche RS Spyder at the head of the field for the event. Pickett, who finished second on the course as a Trans-Am competitor in 2005, is optimistic about the new LMP setup, which added weight and intake restriction, along with fuel tank size changes for the faster LMP1 cars, but left LMP2 untouched.
"All the rule changes have been made to LMP1 - we don't have to change our car at all, so I'm hoping that gives us a little advantage. Plus the RS Spyder has both overall and class wins here in the past, so the Porsche engineers can help us with the drivetrain and chassis setup," said Pickett, who, with Graf is off to a quick points lead after his class win at Sebring last month.
In the GT2 class, the best of European and American sports cars - Porsche, Jaguar, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari and Ford - will lock horns again after a wild Sebring 12 Hour finish. Porsche factory drivers Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) and Patrick Long (USA) started their five-race winning streak here last year after an unlucky Sebring, and they hope to do the same in 2010. This year at Sebring, the team was running a strong race until their Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was hit by a wheel which broke off from the Team Falken Tire Porsche. The car limped into the pits, but the long pit stop relegated them to a fourth-in class finish.
"This circuit suits our car. We have a traction advantage in the tight corners," says Joerg Bergmeister, "but the main problem will be traffic. With the new classes LMPC and GTC, even more cars than last year will be on the track at the same time, and passing was already close to impossible."
"Actually, there is only one place on the entire track where you can overtake," says Patrick Long, "and even there you need luck."
Because the race is so short, and the course is lined with concrete walls on both sides, the winner has to combine a perfect race with a perfect put stop.
"If you make one bad mistake you can forget about a top result," says Joerg Bergmeister, who hope to repeat his Sebring pole performance.
"One advantage you have with a quick qualifying time is that you don't have to take huge risks during the race. Precious seconds cannot be lost in the pits. Because the race length, teams only schedule one pit stop with a driver change. During this stop, the crew will change tires and put in a few gallons of fuel. Last year, the pit stop for the # 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR took just 14 seconds," said Patrick Long, who grew up in the nearby San Fernando Valley.
The two-time GT2 champion Flying Lizard Motorsports team has entered a second Porsche 911 GT3 RSR for Darren Law (USA) and team owner Seth Neiman (USA), winners of the Michelin Green X Challenge environmental award at Sebring.
Fellow Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler (Germany), a former Lizard champion with Bergmeister in 2008, is now driving for a new ALMS Porsche squad, Team Falken Tire. Henzler, who co-drives with former Panoz factory driver Bryan Sellers, got off to a great start when the green flag dropped at Sebring, grabbing the GT2 leading and holding on to first place for much of the first hour of the event. While the team fell victim to wheel and brake issues during the race in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, Henzler is optimistic about Long Beach.
"I was positively surprised by my team in Sebring," he says. "We took a huge step forward and learned a great deal in the race. I hope we can now utilize that knowledge in Long Beach."
In the GT Challenge class (GTC), the record ten Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entries are full of drivers who status belies the newness of the category. James Sofronas, last year's SPEED World Challenge winner at Long Beach; Butch Leitzinger, one of America's most successful sports car endurance racers and winner of the class at Sebring; Bryce Miller, race winner in both ALMS and Grand-Am; Luis Diaz, LMP2 and Grand-Am champion; and Jeroen Bleekemolen, defending Porsche Supercup champion are all entered in Porsches for the race.
Alex Job Racing's Porsches took one-two-three at Sebring, with the Mission Foods 911 GT3 Cup driven by Juan Gonzales (Mexico) and Butch Leitzinger (USA) striving for the top of the podium for the second race in a row at Long Beach. Notable new GTC entries at Long Beach include the Bryce Miller/John McMullen Porsche, and the Tim Pappas/Jeroen Bleekemolen entry. Besides Alex Job Racing, other notable Porsche race car preparers are participating in GTC this year, including TRG, Orbit Racing, WERKS II Racing, GMG Racing, Black Swan Racing, and Velox Motorsports.
-source: porsche motorsport