PORSCHE DRIVERS AND TEAMS SETTLE IN FOR LONG SEASON SCRAP FOR ALMS LMP1 AND GT2 TITLES; SECOND STRAIGHT STREET CIRCUIT PROVIDES EXTRA CHALLENGES, INCENTIVES LONG BEACH, Calif. -- April 16 -- Southern California has long been the unofficial U.S.
PORSCHE DRIVERS AND TEAMS SETTLE IN FOR LONG SEASON SCRAP FOR ALMS LMP1 AND GT2 TITLES; SECOND STRAIGHT STREET CIRCUIT PROVIDES EXTRA CHALLENGES, INCENTIVES
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- April 16 -- Southern California has long been the unofficial U.S. headquarters for Porsche sports cars, since the company started importing cars to the United States in 1948. Names like Vasek Polak, James Dean, Johnny von Neumann, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, and Merlin Olsen (yes, the football player who was also the FTD spokesperson had a Porsche dealership for years) are all names linked to Porsche and Southern California as the brand gained recognition in the '50s and '60s.
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, since the inaugural Formula 5000 pilot race in 1975 won by Brian Redman, has also been a race that has shaped the automotive legacy of Southern California. When the street circuit was turned over to Formula one in 1976, the likes of Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet, Alan Jones, Niki Lauda, and John Watson scored victories here. CART/Champ Car winners over the last decade have included Mario and Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Danny Sullivan, Alex Zanardi, Jimmy Vasser and, for the last three years, Sebastien Bourdais.
Now, for the second year in a row, the sports cars of the American Le Mans Series are back to give the fans the classic battles they want from the brands they drive on the street: Porsche versus Acura in LMP2; Porsche versus Audi overall; and Porsche versus Ferrari in GT2 -- all in this Saturday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach's Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series Race to be telecast Sunday at 3:30 PM (Eastern time -- tape delayed) on ABC-TV.
"On top of all that heritage, Southern California is the home of Porsche Motorsport North America (PMNA), and it is with great pride that we are able to bring our staff to the event to watch Porsche race cars we helped develop and prepare race for the checkered flag," said Paul Ritchie, president of the Santa Ana-based organization which is a subsidiary of the Porsche factory in Germany.
"After a thrilling one-two-three finish for the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 prototypes at Long Beach a year ago, and two straight class wins so far in 2008, we have been buoyed by the success of the V-8 racers, but the Acuras had the pole a year ago, and they have been even stronger so far this season, so that should be quite a contest," said Ritchie.
"We are also pleased with the progress our Porsche 911 GT3 RSR production-based race cars have made with our customer teams against the Ferraris which won the GT2 class championship a year ago. So far we have each won a race, so nothing has been proven yet, but our teams are braced for a championship fight," he added.
After an excellent start into the season with two wins from two races, the Porsche RS Spyder returns to the place of their greatest success last season On the famed city circuit in Long Beach, where the third round of the American Le Mans Series is contested on Saturday, the sports prototypes from Weissach celebrated a historic triumph last year with their phenomenal sweep of the podium.
"This race is the highlight of the year, it's a fascinating mix of sport and show," says Timo Bernhard (Germany), who won here in his first attempt last year with his team mate Romain Dumas (France), not only winning overall, but defeating the more powerful LMP1 Audi R10s. "The demanding track and the whole atmosphere with its many attractions for the fans make it a one-of-a-kind experience."
Traditionally, the Grand Prix weekend in Long Beach is packed full with thrilling racing. Running alongside the American Le Mans Series is the USA's equally as popular IndyCars as the main attraction on the 1.968-mile city circuit, on which four 476 hp RS Spyder will compete again.
Penske Racing, winner of the LMP2 class team championship in 2006 and 2007, fields two of the successful sports prototypes: the #6 vehicle with Sascha Maassen (Germany) and Patrick Long (USA) as well as the #7 car with reigning champions Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. The American customer team Dyson Racing brings two RS Spyders with Chris Dyson (USA) and Guy Smith (Great Britain) in the #16 racer, as well as Butch Leitzinger (USA) and Marino Franchitti (Great Britain) in the #20 car.
Bernhard and Dumas currently hold a 14-point lead in LMP2 over the nearest Acura competitors.
Only 100 minutes from start to finish makes Long Beach the shortest race of the year, a sprint race where every second counts. An unplanned pit stop or one that doesn't run smoothly has an exaggerated negative effect. The drivers also know that the smallest mistake in their full speed ride between the walls and fences can relegate them far back into the field and rob them of the rewards of their hard work.
"The reasons for our success last year was Penske Racing's perfect pit stop strategies plus we managed to find an optimal set-up for the RS Spyder in the short practice time. These have to be our main focus this year too," said Hartmut Kristen, head of Porsche Motorsport worldwide.
Sascha Maassen, a street circuit veteran, describes he greatest challenge for the drivers on this narrow circuit, where there is little chance to overtake.
"It is crucial to use every minute of the free practice and secure a good starting position in qualifying. Only when we can do this do we have a chance of winning our class against the strong competition," said Maassen, who has won ALMS titles both in LMP2 and GT2 Porsches.
After their convincing season-opening victory at the Sebring 12 hour race, Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) and Wolf Henzler (Germany) spearhead the Porsche teams in the GT2 class for production-based sports cars. They drive a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR fielded by the Flying Lizard Motorsports team, with Johannes van Overbeek (USA) and Patrick Pilet (France), who secured second in St. Petersburg recently in the second Lizard team 911 GT3 RSR racer.
Bergmeister and Henzler, who were headed for victory at St. Pete before a crash with ten minutes to go relegated them to a ninth-place finish, current trail the leading Ferrari drivers by a scant two points.
Finishing third in St. Pete were Dirk Werner (Germany) and Marc Basseng (Germany), who shared the 911 GT3 RSR run by Farnbacher Loles Racing. Werner will be running a Porsche GT race in Mexico City this weekend, so Alex Davison, who has a second-place finish at Sebring this year to his credit, will run with Basseng. Davison, defending Australian Porsche Supercup Champion, is also running the German Carrera Cup series and other international GT races this season in Europe.
Other Porsche GT entries -- all in Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs -- include the third Flying Lizard driver pairing of Seth Neiman (USA) and Lonnie Pechnik (USA); and with the VICI Racing Porsche has entered a line up of Craig Stanton (USA), Nathan Swartzbaugh (USA) and Ruben Carrapatoso (Brazil) -- only two of these three drivers will race the car.