IN THE ALMS, THERE IS A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING Braselton, Ga. - From the drop of the green flag to the stirring conclusion including multiple class battles, the recent Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta provided American Le Mans Series...
IN THE ALMS, THERE IS A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
Braselton, Ga. - From the drop of the green flag to the stirring conclusion including multiple class battles, the recent Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta provided American Le Mans Series (ALMS) drivers and fans with non-stop racing action and a race weekend full of notable first time wins, poles and podium finishes for several ALMS teams and one driver who achieved a career first 10 minutes from his home.
The Panoz Motor Sports Racing Team is no stranger to the champagne spray and hat dance synonymous to winning in the ALMS. In the early years of its existence, Panoz prototype cars made ALMS podium appearances 31 times while battling the world's best from 1999 to 2003. The last time a factory based Panoz prototype graced an ALMS circuit was at the 2003 Petit Le Mans.
Panoz Motor Sports got back in the game when its Esperante GTLM made its ALMS GT2 class debut at Mid-Ohio in 2004. From the get-go, the Panoz team had its work cut out for it, going up against the Porsche powerhouse that was dominating the ALMS GT2 class. With constant hard work and determination, Panoz Motor Sports battled through the issues associated with a new team and car to enter the 2005 season with two new Esperantes fully equipped to wage war against the other GT2 class entries.
At Road Atlanta the hard work paid off for Panoz Motor Sports as the driving duo of Bill Auberlen and Robin Liddell led the race for all but 43 minutes in the No. 50 Esperante GTLM. The last 10 minutes of the sprint to the checkered flag were perhaps the most nail biting for the leaders as Liddell fought to hold off the approaching No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche piloted by Timo Bernhard (2004 ALMS GT2 class champion). The final sequence came to a climax when the Porsche bumped the Esperante causing Liddell to spin coming out of Turn 7, losing the lead he had fought so hard to keep. However, all was not lost as IMSA imposed a stop-and-go penalty on the Porsche for illegal contact giving the lead back to the No. 50. The checkered flag dropped with the Panoz Esperante finishing 27.5 seconds ahead of its nearest competitor. After it was all over, Panoz had secured its first GT2 class pole with a class qualifying record set by Auberlen with a lap of 1:21.467 and its first ever ALMS GT2 class win.
"I've been involved in professional motorsports for over 30 years, but I cannot remember a more perfect race day than Sunday, April 17," said Team Manager Ed Triolo. "Our drivers, our crew, our sponsors and our technical support teams all pulled together to help us deliver the first GT2 pole and entrant's trophy to Don Panoz. I cannot recall a more satisfying way of rewarding his vision of supporting the Panoz Esperante sports car and providing the fans with a fun and exciting challenge to Porsche. The team is really looking forward to Mid-Ohio and Le Mans!"
One of the ALMS' most successful drivers won his first ever pole position at the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta. A fan favorite and hometown hero, Johnny O'Connell piloted his No. 3 Corvette to a record setting GT1 pole position during qualifying with a blistering 1:17.034 lap around the 2.54-mile circuit.
With the entrance of the new Corvette C6-R into ALMS competition, all eyes have been on the General Motors team watching the transition from the old to the new. After the second place performance at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Corvette Racing and its drivers were determined to retake the top spot on the podium at Road Atlanta. O'Connell came through for the team as he and co-driver Ron Fellows took their No. 3 C6-R through the gauntlet to take the checkered flag.
O'Connell is first on the list for most ALMS starts (55), shares the top position for most ALMS wins with Sascha Maassen, JJ Lehto and Ron Fellows (22) and sits third in the top three rankings with 38.
Key personnel of Sportsbook.com, the Official Online Gaming Partner of the ALMS, were on hand at their own race to watch the B-K Motorsports/Sportsbook.com Mazda powered Courage C65 compete in its first race in the ALMS. Drivers Guy Cosmo and Jamie Bach set out to take the podium, a daunting task considering the paint on the rotary powered beast was still drying. ALMS fans could see the Mazda before the start but none were prepared for the extreme sound that came from the loudest car on the track. The sound of the now familiar rotary assault on the ALMS was only quieted when the B-K Motorsports/Sportsbook.com Mazda entered victory circle for the first time in history and accomplished the supposed impossible task of earning a spot on the ALMS podium.
"Ultimately it was amazing that we were even there at the Sportbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta," said Manager of Motorsports Team Development for Mazda North America, John Doonan. "A group too long to name including the B-K family, Mazda, Courage, and Sportsbook.com came through to make the impossible happen. The motor ran flawlessly and Jamie and Guy did an incredible job for our first outing. No one could have scripted it like that."
One of the most talked about GT1 entries in the ALMS is undeniably the new Maserati MC12. Racing under strict guidelines and limitations, the Maserati has been the talk of 'racetown' not only because of the added competition to ALMS ranks but also because of its limited standing due to homologation purposes. The MC12 got off to a rocky start at Sebring but certainly rebounded with a vengeance at the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta. Driven by Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio DeSimone, the No. 35 MC12 managed to hold its ground in the GT1 class and finish the event with its first podium, an unprecedented third place finish in only the team's second ALMS appearance.