The ALMS returned to its regular format of 2 hour 45 minute races for the first time in the 2009 season here today at the Miller Motorsports Park facility located in Tooele, just about half an hours drive outside Salt Lake City. The longest...
The ALMS returned to its regular format of 2 hour 45 minute races for the first time in the 2009 season here today at the Miller Motorsports Park facility located in Tooele, just about half an hours drive outside Salt Lake City. The longest circuit on the ALMS calendar, 3.048 miles, set at an altitude of 4,450 feet above sea level, this state-of-the-art race facility threw up one of the most exciting race finishes in the LMP2 category.
The start of the race weekend had not been kind to the #20 BP Dyson Lola Mazda. In the test session here on Friday, Butch Leitzinger only managed a total of three laps before gremlins struck and he had to bring the car back to the pits. The first practice session yesterday morning did not fare much better when a total of only seven laps were covered. The second practice session yesterday afternoon gave Marino his first few laps behind the wheel after a run of sensor gremlins had caused problems on the #20 car. By contrast the #16 sister Dyson Mazda had a good start to the weekend setting the quickest time in both Friday's test session and yesterday's first practice. It was Butch Leitzinger who qualified the #20 car having only a handful of laps to his credit, but still managing to set a 1:33.513 to take a grid position of 4th overall and 2nd in LMP2, just under eight tenths of a second behind the Lowes LMP2 Acura. As Marino had been selected to start the race, he ran the whole of this morning's warm-up session completing just 12 laps behind the wheel of the #20 Dyson Mazda.
At the race start it was the LMP1 car with John Field at the wheel that stormed its way through from 7th to take up 3rd place overall, but in doing so put the rest of the field in complete disarray as the other front running cars did their best not to get caught up in any incident that would put them out of the race. By the sixth lap Marino had dropped to 6th overall, and was now setting about getting himself back up to the front of the pack. Two laps later he moved to 5th and by lap 10 he was back to his original starting place of 4th overall. However, not happy to settle with that, by lap 18 he had moved to 3rd overall and 1st in LMP2. There he remained until his first pit stop on lap 29, when taking fuel only, no tires, he remained behind the wheel for a 2nd stint. By now the #16 sister car with Chris Dyson having started the race, had pitted, but developed electrical problems shortly after Guy Smith took over the car. Consequently it was left to Marino and Butch to take up the running. By lap 35 when the Lowes Acura made it's pitstop, Marino was back up to 3rd overall and was leading the LMP2 category, a position he retained right up until his 2nd pitstop when he handed the car over to Butch.
At the stop the lead went back to the Lowes Acura, but 10 laps later as the Acura pitted, it was Butch who regained the LMP2 lead, but with a question mark over whether the #20 car could get to the end without having to refuel. That question was answered nearly 20 laps later, when on lap 87 with just 19 minutes of the race remaining, Butch had to come in for a splash and dash. The Acura passed Butch as he was being released from his pit, and the chase was on, but try as hard as he could, and closing to within 0.585 seconds behind the Acura, that was how the gap remained as Butch took the chequered flag.
"We were so close to the victory today and this is testament to the hard work of the BP Mazda Dyson Racing team" said Marino. "It was a really hard weekend for us at the start, but the perseverance of all the engineering staff and the entire crew showed in the end performance. I want to congratulate Butch who did a fantastic job in his stint. It was obviously great to have had the lead for so long, especially having come so close to the win with the programme still in its infancy. We still have a lot of work to do in the break, but I am sure we will come back even stronger in the second half of `09".
There is now a break in the run-up to Le Mans 24 hours event in mid June. The ALMS Championship will continue its schedule on Saturday, 18th July, when the fifth round is run at the Dyson team's "home" track of Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.