Porsche ALMS GT Teams Look to Get Back in the Points Hunt at Long Beach
GT Challenge Teams Ready for Traffic as 31 Cars will Share Southern California Street Course
After a forgettable weekend at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring last month, the four Porsche 911 GT3 RSR entries hope to out-hustle their rivals from BMW, Ferrari, Corvette, Jaguar, and Lamborghini to get back into the American Le Mans Series GT points race at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
For the seven Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars in the ALMS GTC class, it is a matter of regrouping the teams and licking mechanical and on-track incident wounds inflicted by the rough track that is Sebring International Raceway.
For the Porsches in both classes, the two-hour race at Long Beach on Saturday, April 16 at 7:30 PM Eastern time will be an exciting contest with a significant impact on the year-end championships.
All the action will be broadcast live in HD on ESPN3.com (www.espn3.com -- accessed through your local cable provider) with qualifying on Friday, April 15, 8:00 PM -- 9:25 p.m. (all times Eastern), and the race on Saturday, April 16, from 7:15 PM -- 9:40 PM. The race will be telecast on the ESPN2 TV network the next day, Sunday, April 17, from 5:00 PM -- 7:00 PM. Internationally, a growing list of ESPN affiliates (ESPN Player in Europe, ESPN 360, ESPN Play, ESPN Star Sports and others) will carry the race -- check with your local cable provider. The Radio Le Mans broadcast will be carried by www.americanlemans.com, which also has live scoring during all on-track sessions for the weekend.
Despite their disappointing fifth place finish at Sebring, the Patrick Long (USA)/Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR has won Long Beach the past two years, and used the race as a springboard to the championship. Jens Walther, president of Porsche Motorsports North America, headquartered just 25 miles from Long Beach in Santa Ana, California, hopes that the same happens this year.
"All four of our GT cars -- the two Lizard entries, the Falken Tire car, and the Paul Miller Racing entry -- have experienced drivers who can win this race, but we start the event behind BMW and Corvette in the points. With eight races to go, our teams have time to make up the points, but it won't be easy as this series has some of the best GT drivers in the world competing for the championship. Teams will have to have a combination of careful preparation and mistake-free driving to finish on the podium here," said Walther.
If you don't watch out you'll end up in the wall.
Bryan Sellers (USA) and Wolf Henzler (Germany) will drive the Team Falken Tire Porsche, which is prepared this year by former IndyCar driver and team owner Derrick Walker. In their first race with the new crew at Sebring, Sellers and Henzler were in the hunt for a podium finish before a mishap late in the race.
"I really enjoy street races. Last year at Long Beach we were leading but lost the race in the pits. Basically, you have to drive with extreme precision. There is no room for the slightest error and there are no run-off areas. If you don't watch out you'll end up in the wall. I like city circuits for practical reasons: The hotels are right next to the track and when you want to go out for dinner there are real restaurants and not just fast food places," said Henzler.
Fellow German Bergmeister agrees, adding that Long Beach is unlike any other race on the circuit.
"A street circuit like Long Beach has its very own set of rules. You have no time for a breather; you're constantly steering, shifting gears, braking. There are no long straights to relax. You're driving non-stop at the limit. In principle, Long Beach has always suited out car in the past. We enjoyed a certain grip advantage in the corners. But we'll just have to wait and see what this year brings," said Bergmeister, who won the championship with Henzler and the Lizards in 2008 before he started driving with Long.
Long, who was in a Penske Porsche RS Spyder at Long Beach in 2008 before joining the Flying Lizards, points out the street course with concrete barriers on either side doesn't allow much room for passing.
"One of the secrets to success in Long Beach is grabbing a decent position on the grid. It's extremely hard to overtake on this narrow circuit. In fact, there is just one place where it works, but even then you need luck. It's also very important not to lose too much time during the regular pit stops. In the pits, such races are won... and lost. All in all, Long Beach is a highly fascinating event," said Long, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley.
The Flying Lizards have entered a second Porsche for team owner Seth Neiman and regular co-driver Darren Law (both USA). Seth and Darren, with the help of Marco Holzer (Germany) finished right behind the Bergmeister/Long/Lieb team car at Sebring, and are currently sixth in the point standings. Paul Miller Racing, the New Jersey-based team which ran in GT Challenge last year, used the Sebring race to help sort out their car, but ran some strong laps during the middle of the race before retiring. Bryce Miller (USA) and Sascha Maassen (Germany) will pilot that entry. Team owner Paul Miller won IMSA races in the '80s, while Bryce Miller is a multi-time first-place finisher in both ALMS and Rolex Grand-Am, and Sascha Maassen has ALMS championships, Sebring and Le Mans wins on his resume.
In the GT Challenge class for matched Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, last year's championship team owner and driver co-champion Tim Pappas (USA) survived challenges from almost the entire GTC class at Sebring, and scored an opening-season win with guest drivers Sebastiaan Bleekemolen and Daimien Falkner as regular co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen has a prototype ride. Jeroen will be back in the saddle at Long Beach, but the team faces a stiff challenge from Porsche entries from TRG, Alex Job Racing, GMG Racing, and Magnus Racing. Duncan Ende and Spencer Pumpelly (both USA) finished second at Sebring in their TRG Porsche, and are closest in the points to Pappas.