Paddock chatter from Sebring

Paddock chatter from Sebring

Testing continued Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway as American Le Mans Series teams prepare for Saturday's 56th annual Twelve Hours of Sebring. And for the second day running, the No. 07 Peugeot Sport Total 908 HDI FAP was quickest,...

Testing continued Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway as American Le Mans Series teams prepare for Saturday's 56th annual Twelve Hours of Sebring. And for the second day running, the No. 07 Peugeot Sport Total 908 HDI FAP was quickest, setting a 1:43.710 lap time. Marco Andretti powered the No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Acura ARX-01b to second fastest overall, first in LM P2. The No. 3 Corvette and No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari led the production-based Grand Touring categories.

#07 Peugeot Total Peugeot 908 HDI FAP: Pedro Lamy, St?phane Sarrazin, Nicolas Minassian.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

One of the big stories that came out Monday was that Gerardo Bonilla has replaced Jamie Bach in the No. 8 B-K Motorsports Lola Mazda. The IMSA Lites and Star Mazda Series graduate will team with Ben Devlin for the entire season in the E85 ethanol-fueled P2 car, with Raphael Matos joining them for this weekend. Bach has stepped aside to concentrate on his studies.

Other news included the driver line-up of the No. 5 VICI Racing Porsche 997 GT3 RSR. Uwe Alzen, Craig Stanton and Nathan Swartzbaugh will share the car at Sebring, with all three splitting driving duties throughout the season. Farnbacher Loles, another Porsche team, has named Bryce Miller, Dirk Werner and Marc Basseng as its drivers for the weekend. Werner and Basseng are expected to share the car for the entire season, with Miller joining in for the longer events.

Jean-Christophe Ravier has been a late addition to the Barazi-Epsilon Zytek P2 car, joining team regulars Juan Barazi and Michael Vergers. And late news came in Tuesday that the Autoracing Club Bratislva Porsche has arrived and will be on track Wednesday.

Before official practice gets underway, we caught up with some teams throughout the paddock to get their thoughts prior to this weekend's season-opener.

Autocon Motorsports unloaded with its Creation CA-06H Judd, instead of the updated CA07 that it had planned to run. Team owner Mike Lewis explained that the British manufacturer didn't have enough time to build the new CA-07 tub to the team's existing car. This delay forced Autocon to ship the car back stateside and quickly reassemble it for this weekend.

"The whole timeframe has moved," Lewis said. "The budget has been approved, it's all done. We just don't know where it's going to fit in. We might get it updated after Le Mans, but it all depends on the races we do and how quickly we get back. Now that we're almost certainly going to have to go a different route, we may now wait until the near end of the season or maybe the off season to update it."

Lewis said there's a strong chance of the team running one of Creation Autosportif's current chassis at Le Mans in June. Autocon's Hybrid is no longer eligible to compete in the twice-around-the-clock French classic. Lewis said Autocon hopes to enter seven or eight ALMS races this season, with Long Beach next on the schedule then possibly Miller Motorsports Park.

But first, Autocon is aiming to record a solid finish at Sebring. Lewis has stepped aside as driver for this weekend, instead focusing on a managerial role. Tony Burgess, Chris McMurry and Bryan Willman will pilot the team's No. 12 LM P1 car in the race. On Monday, Lewis was eyeing the pace of the diesel-powered Peugeot 908 HDI FAP, which has been the pacesetter in P1 so far.

"That car is amazing. I was just telling the guys yesterday," Lewis recalled. "I sat on pit-lane and watched it go into Turn 1. I sat here [in the paddock], going down into [Turn] 17. I still don't know if it has brake lights because I've never seen it! I mean it just lifts. It's going in deeper than many of the P2 cars. Amazing, that Peugeot."

#16 Dyson Racing Team Porsche RS Spyder: Chris Dyson, Guy Smith.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Over at Dyson Racing, Chris Dyson is upbeat for the coming season: "So far, so good. We rolled the car off the truck and it was pretty good throughout the tire runs. We did some chassis work yesterday. Over the winter we had a few tests down here and we were able to refine our priorities. I think 'what a difference a year makes.'"

During the off-season, Dyson said the team primarily worked on damper developments, as well as get a better understanding of the Porsche RS Spyder's aerodynamics. The team also brought in Marino Franchitti to partner Butch Leitzinger in the No. 20 car. Dyson and Guy Smith remain co-drivers in the sister entry.

"The series isn't standing still," Dyson said. "It's really going places. All the teams are here and the series is growing. Honda's commitment to the Acura program is very substantial. Mazda is stepping up and obviously Porsche and Penske are right up thereI If we can keep the curve we had last year, we can be competitive this year."

The team is banking on data learned last year to close the gap to the Penske RS Spyders. This season marks the first year since 2004 that Dyson has kept its same chassis/engine/tire package for two consecutive seasons.

"It's a great advantage for us to have the same car and same partners involved. I think that's paying dividends. We have a greater understanding of the car. The engineering staff has a much better idea of how it works. I think we're going to be in the ballpark more consistently this year."

There's an influx of new manufacturers in LM GT2, with Aston Martin, Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge joining Porsche, Ferrari and Panoz in the production-based category. More to come on this in a future story.

#28 LG Motorsports Chevrolet Riley Corvette C6: Lou Gigliotti, Doug Peterson, Marc Goossens.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Lou Gigliotti was bubbling with pride over his new toy, the Riley Technologies-built Corvette C6. The former SCCA and Trans-Am owner/driver will team with Doug Petersen for the full-season and is joined by Marc Goossens for this weekend.

Gigliotti showed off some of the car's unique features, including adjustable pedals that can be moved with a flip of a switch. LG Motorsports' program is completely independent, with no support coming from neither GM nor Pratt & Miller.

Another new car to the grid is the Doran-built Ford GT Mk. VII. The first example is being run in the hands of Robertson Racing, for husband and wife pairing David and Andrea Robertson and road racing ace David Murry.

The car was only completed on Saturday, with all three drivers receiving limited track time. Murry, however, has been spending the most time in the car, working on initial development.

"The weak link is probably going to be downforce, so we've got some thoughts there," Robertson said. "We've got some development to do, but I think it's going to be a contender at some point."

David Robertson sits in the Robertson Racing Doran Ford GT-R.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

While there's still much development to come, Robertson feels that the Ford GT is already an improvement over their old car, the Panoz Esperante.

"[The mid-engine design] is a huge difference," Robertson said. "And the suspension is probably better design. The geometry is probably bettered designed. But it's enormously more stable under braking. In the Panoz, there were times where we had to lift to get around a corner where everybody else was flat out."

The Ford GT is running on European Dunlops, which is apparently a more aggressive program, with a wider range of tire compounds. Robertson also noted the car is 99 percent homologated, with a very few dimension issues that have to be worked out. He said it will be fully compliant by the end of the day.

Robertson said that five cars are likely to be built, with the second chassis going to Tim Pappas, possibly in time for the next round at St. Petersburg.

"The real test will be when one gets in the hands of a team that can afford to put a Mika Salo or a Jorg Bergmeister in the car and really see what it can do," Robertson said. "But Robertson Racing is about Andrea and I having fun, doing the stuff we wanted to do when we were 25."

PTG Team Panoz, campaigning the only Esperante in the series this season, hopes to start the year off on the right foot. Off-season developments shaved 100lbs off the V8-engined beast, with a revised suspension package also being used on the modified chassis. Team owner Tom Milner is hoping these changes will help close the gap to the class-leading machines.

Joey Hand, who is teaming with full-season drivers Tommy Milner and Tom Sutherland in a one-off drive, feels the pressure coming from the two dominant cars in the category.

#21 Panoz Team PTG Panoz Esperante GTLM: Joey Hand, Tom Sutherland, Tom Milner.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

"The problem is that you're chasing the Ferraris and Porsches," Hand said. "They've also made improvements. I think when we hit the setup and get in the window, our improvements will be bigger, and so we'll get closer. But still, those cars are awfully fast. If we can get close to them and then go race them for the long run, then I think we have something. We're still looking."

Practice gets underway tomorrow, with a combined 55-minute session at 10:00 a.m. ET.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Guy Smith , Butch Leitzinger , Nicolas Minassian , Mika Salo , Marc Goossens , David Murry , Pedro Lamy , Michael Vergers , Joey Hand , Ben Devlin , Tony Burgess , Uwe Alzen , Jörg Bergmeister , Lou Gigliotti , Marino Franchitti , Tim Pappas , Chris McMurry , Bryan Willman , Marco Andretti , Craig Stanton , Eric Gilbert , Jean-Christophe Ravier , Tommy Milner , Juan Barazi , Tom Sutherland , Marc Basseng , Dirk Werner , Gerardo Bonilla , Nathan Swartzbaugh , Andrea Robertson , David Robertson , Chris Dyson , Bryce Miller , Doug Peterson
Teams LG Motorsports , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing