ATLANTA, Georgia - May 13, 2002 - The American Le Mans Series GT class field at the May 19 Sears Point Raceway's ALMS Grand Prix of Sonoma sponsored by Foster's Lager will be full of competitive drivers, close racing action, and a strong...
ATLANTA, Georgia - May 13, 2002 - The American Le Mans Series GT class field at the May 19 Sears Point Raceway's ALMS Grand Prix of Sonoma sponsored by Foster's Lager will be full of competitive drivers, close racing action, and a strong contingent of Porsche 911 GT3 RS race cars.
Because of rule changes (BMW) and schedule of 24 Hours of Le Mans practice (Ferrari and Spyker) last weekend, several of the manufacturers that compete against Porsche in the series will not be at Sears Point this year. All 12 GT entries are Porsche 911 GT3 RS racers.
While Porsche Motorsport North America President Alwin Springer would rather have the challenge of other makes, he pointed out there is a year-long championship at stake, and none of the Porsche teams will be giving any ground to the others. Springer also noted that the all three American Le Mans Series teams competing at Le Mans this year have made sure they could do both the French event and Sears Point.
"We are fortunate that our three American representatives at Le Mans this year - Kevin Buckler's The Racers Group, from right here in Sonoma, Rodger Hawley's Orbit Racing, and Seikel Motorsport - have the team structure and planning capabilities to practice in France last week and race in Northern California only two weeks later," said Springer.
"Porsche is pleased to have such a dedicated group of customer teams that are committed to putting on a show for the American Le Mans Series fans," Springer added.
All three teams are using separate cars for Le Mans and Sears Point to avoid multiple, expensive airfreight expenses moving the cars back and forth from North America and Europe.
The most successful Porsche team so far in 2002 is The Racers Group, led by owner/driver Kevin Buckler, veteran Porsche competitor from Sonoma, California, and is co-sponsored by Florida's Suncoast Porsche. Buckler comes home to Sears Point with his name on the 2002 Daytona 24 Hour GT Championship trophy, the points lead in the rival Rolex Grand-Am series, and the fastest time in LM GT practice last week at Le Mans. Buckler will drive the #66 Daytona-winning Racers Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS with Scotland's Marino Franchitti. The #67 Racers Group Porsche will be piloted by San Rafael's Vic Rice, another local driver, and a co-driver to-be-determined. The Racers Group is the only team attempting to run both the entire 2002 Rolex Grand-Am series and the American Le Mans Series.
Buckler, along with Michael Schrom, and German drivers Joerg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard, finished seventh overall and four laps ahead of their nearest GT competitors while leading the class for the majority of the 24 Hours at Daytona. In March, at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Larry Schumacher/Bob Nagel/Jim Pace took the #67 car to a fourth place finish in the GT class, while Buckler's #66 mount left the race early after a crash.
Alex Job Racing, located in Tavaras, Florida (near Orlando) has also entered two Porsche 911 GT3 RS racecars 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 Sascha Maassen at the helm.
The two cars, the same #22 and #23 McKenna Porsches that ran at Sears Point last year, will be piloted by four veteran German GT drivers. #22 will be driven all season by 2001 German Carrera Cup Champion Timo Bernhard - who drove in ALMS for the White Lightning Porsche team in the second half of the year - 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.
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 the 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 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.
With the new ALMS points system, Sascha has a two-point lead over Lucas in the 2002 driver point standings as he earned the pole and spent the most time in the car at Sebring - both worth a point this year.
McKenna Porsche, a large Porsche dealer in Norwalk, California, is back for its second year of involvement with Alex Job Racing. Although it is one of the team's favorite tracks, Alex Job Racing has never won a race at Sears Point.
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 2001 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 starting with Sebring. 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).
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.
Seikel Motorsport, a Porsche team with headquarters both in the U.S. and Germany, has entered the #52 Porsche 911 GT3 RS which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year with Fabio Babini, Gabrio Rosa and former Formula I star Alex Caffi driving. This year, Italian veteran Luca Riccitelli, Fabio Rosa and Luca Drudi will run the team's Porsche at Le Mans, while the Sears Point entry will feature Hugh Plumb, from Chadds Ford, Penn., along with Philip Collin from Chicago and Tony Burgess from Toronto at the helm.
Larry Schumacher Racing will enter its first ALMS GT class event with a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for himself and veteran David Murry from Atlanta.
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 drivetrain 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.