Porsche teams in American Le Mans Series gear up for five races in eight weeks as championship chase hits stride. ATLANTA, Georgia - June 28 - The American Le Mans Series GT class Porsches - the top combatants having returned from their stints...
Porsche teams in American Le Mans Series gear up for five races in eight weeks as championship chase hits stride.
ATLANTA, Georgia - June 28 - The American Le Mans Series GT class Porsches - the top combatants having returned from their stints at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - head to America's heartland and two classic sports car tracks, including this weekend's ALMS event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Circuit.
Among the nine GT3 RS Porsches entered in the GT Class this weekend is the Le Mans GT winner from two weeks ago, the drivers who finished second, and the team leading the ALMS series so far this year.
Although free agency is relatively new to the major U.S. sports, it's not a new concept in motorsports, as fierce competitors at the recent Le Mans event are now back on the same team, and teammates at Le Mans will be fighting for position at Mid-Ohio.
"In racing, different driver/team alliances form depending on sponsor and manufacturer arrangements," said Alwin Springer, president of Porsche Motorsport North America.
For instance, the Alex Job Racing McKenna Xybernaut Porsche 911 GT3 RS race cars will be piloted by Sascha Masseen/Lucas Luhr (#23) and Jorg Bergmeister/Timo Bernhard (#22) - the Alex Job regulars, but, as members of other teams, these drivers have has suc cess at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year.
Two weeks ago, as members of The Racers Group, Luhr and Bernhard helped Kevin Buckler pilot his Porsche GT3 RS to the GT Class win at Le Mans, while Maassen and Bergmeister were in the Freisinger Porsche, which finished second after holding the lead for ne arly 16 hours. In February, it was Bernhard and Bergmeister who teamed with Buckler to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona. But for the rest of the ALMS series, the four will be trying to help Alex Job win the ALMS title.
Although the Alex Job Porsches have won both ALMS races this year - Sebring and Sears Point, the most successful U.S. Porsche team in 2002 is The Racers Group, led by owner/driver Kevin Buckler, a veteran Porsche competitor from Sonoma, California, and co- sponsored by Florida's Suncoast Porsche. Buckler comes to Mid-Ohio with his name on the 2002 Daytona 24 Hour GT Championship trophy, the 2002 Le Mans GT victory, and a Grand-Am series win in California as well.
For Mid-Ohio, Buckler has teamed with local Cincinnati star B.J. Zacharias, a former SCCA national champion at Mid-Ohio in Formula Atlantic and Mark Donohue Driver Award winner that year presented by the Road Racing Driver's Club.
Alex Job Racing, located in Tavaras, Florida (near Orlando) has entered the two Porsche 911 GT3 RS race cars mentioned for the entire American Le Mans Series. The team got off to a good start by winning the 2002 12 Hours of Sebring with Lucas Luhr and Sasc ha Maassen at the helm, and followed that up with a win by the same drivers at Sears Point.
The two cars, the same #22 and #23 McKenna Porsches that ran at Mid-Ohio last year, will be piloted by four veteran German GT drivers mentioned above. #22 will be driven all season by 2001 German Carrera Cup Champion Timo Bernhard - who drove in ALMS for t he White Lightning Porsche team in the second half of 2001 - and Joerg Bergmeister, the 2001 Porsche Pirelli Supercup Champion.
As mentioned, Bernhard and Bergmeister teamed with The Racers Group owner/driver Kevin Buckler and Michael Schrom to win the GT Class at the recent 24 Hours of Daytona and then with Buckler and Luhr to win at Le Mans.
The #23 car has the same driver combination it did last year - Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen. Luhr and Maassen have both won ALMS races the past two years, and both have finished in the top five in the final GT point standing, with Sascha contending for t he championship both in 2000 and 2001 right down to the last event. Luhr has won Sebring three years in a row in the GT Class - with Alex Job in 2001 and 2002, and with Dick Barbour Racing in 2000. At the 2002 Daytona 24 Hour event, the two drivers joined Hurley Haywood and Andy Wallace in the Champion Lola Porsche to finish fourth overall after spending the first 11 laps in the pits.
McKenna Porsche, a large Porsche dealer in Norwalk, California, is back for its second year of involvement with Alex Job Racing.
Another team fielding drivers who have won ALMS races in the past is the Petersen Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 contingent, with Englishman Johnny Mowlem and Floridian Randy Pobst sharing the driving duties with team owner Michael Petersen. Winners of the 2 001 24 Hours at Daytona (first in GT, second overall) with Lucas Luhr, Timo Berhnard, Mike Fitzgerald and Randy Pobst, Petersen Motorsports will be running a limited schedule for 2002 with Mowlem and Pobst.
A new team in the American Le Mans Series is the Jupiter, Florida - based Orbit Racing, which has moved from the rival Grand-Am series to run two Porsches in this year's ALMS events. Leo Hindery, from Hillsborough, Calif., and Peter Baron, from San Mateo, Calif., will pilot the #43 Orbit Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS (they were joined by Kyle Petty at Daytona earlier this year), while the team's #42 Porsche will be driven by Gary Schultheis from Boca Raton, Fla., and Tony Kester, from Michigan City, Mich. The team finished sixth at Sebring (Hindery/Baron/Borkowski), and second at Daytona (Schultheis/Baron/Tremblay). The team's entry at Le Mans did not finish due to transmission trouble.
Another new team for ALMS this season is Justin Jackson Racing, based in Atlanta. Jackson will be one of the drivers in the J3 Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS. He will be joined by veteran Mike Fitzgerald, the 2000 Porsche Cup winner, from Phoenix.
Larry Schumacher Racing will enter its second ALMS GT class event with a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for Schumacher and veteran David Murry from Atlanta. Murry/Schumacher were running third at Sears Point when they were punted off the track.
The other Porsche, the Porschehaus Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS entry of Adam Merzon and Robert Julien, was leading the Grand Am race late in the event last week at Watkins Glen when the windshield collapsed, leaving Merzon with cuts and bruises and a second- place finish in GTS.
David Murry put the Larry Schumacher Porsche at the front of the field at Friday's practice session for the GT class, while the Lucas Luhr in the Alex Job Porsche was second, and Mike Fitzgerald in the J3 Racing Porsche was third.
Since the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars was introduced in 1999, the car has been updated and improved, but race fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 1999 and 2000 GT3 R, and the 2001 and 2002 GT3 RS.
The latest version of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is almost identical to the 2001 model. The engine and drive train are the same, and the car still produces 420 horsepower, but improvements have been made in the suspension, including a blade adjustment for the front sway bar for easy pit lane adjustments, and new rear suspension uprights. The bodywork is slightly wider to accommodate the wider offset Michelin tires.
Built at the Porsche Motorsport in the Research and Development Department at Weissach, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS delivers 420 horsepower from its 3.6-liter normally-aspirated engine. In 1999, its first year of competition, the car finished 1-2 in class at Le
Mans, and has won its class in the both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series two years in a row. The car has also won its class three years in a row at the Daytona 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
More than 80 Porsche 911 GT3 RS have been sold so far worldwide, with almost half of those cars having raced in the U.S.
The American Le Mans Series Mid-Ohio event will be broadcast live on the Speed Channel network starting at 2:00 PM Eastern time on Sunday, June 30. The race will be broadcast in Europe on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, July 7, at 20:00 Central European Ti me on the Eurosport television network. The Mid-Ohio event, along with qualifying sessions starting Saturday, June 29, at 2:00 PM Eastern, will be broadcast live online on the American Le Mans Radio Network, which can be accessed on the Web at www.imsarac ing.net. That same American Le Mans Series/IMSA web site will also have live timing and scoring during qualifying and the race event.
The official Porsche web site - www.porsche.com - will have qualifying information on the Mid-Ohio event for all the Porsches entered, and will file stories and photos during and after the race. Porsche web site uses should click on "North America" from th e home page when prompted to select a country, choose "motorsports," then "news" to find the ALMS updates.