VICI RACING - 2008 AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES - SEASON REFLECTIONS Miami, Florida - A promising inaugural season in the world's most competitive sports car championship, one that offers a solid platform to build upon, and highlights that a strong...
VICI RACING - 2008 AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES - SEASON REFLECTIONS
Miami, Florida - A promising inaugural season in the world's most competitive sports car championship, one that offers a solid platform to build upon, and highlights that a strong future in ALMS can be foreseen, that's the verdict of Ron C. Meixner, President of VICI Racing, and the driving force behind the VICI Group's strategy to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in ALMS. "We've achieved our objectives for our first year and laid the groundwork for a long term future here," says Ron.
The opportunity to run a tire manufacturer development programme in the American Le Mans Series this year presented a perfect opening for the Miami, Florida-based team to put its development experience and knowhow to the test, and build up a presence in the ALMS series; with the overall plan being to test the waters this year in preparation for stepping up a gear in 2009.
But VICI Racing would not just be competing in the ALMS series in 2008: the ALMS GT2 class is arguably the most hotly-contested and hard-fought category in the world of sports car racing, and it sees a swage of the most prestigious of automotive brands throwing bucket loads of cash at winning the title. Choosing to run the superb 2008-specification Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in this arena was an easy decision to take. With the team's 'brain trust' led by highly respected Technical Director Roland Wall, and an experienced team of engineers drawn from the most professional of series, including as ALMS, ChampCar and IndyCar, all the ingredients were slotted into place to grasp the mettle of this challenge.
It's turned out to be a fast-moving and exciting inaugural season in ALMS, for a project which was carried out in the full glare of the racing spotlight. With the program only finalised in January, everything was fresh out of the box. So as the VICI Racing made the short jaunt to Sebring when the season got underway back in March it was to be a superb start: the team easily exceeded its own expectations during the famous 12-hour marathon, with the new #5 car running in a podium position for over four hours, and eventually clinching a useful sixth place finish after overcoming a catalogue of late race dramas that were outside the team's control. It was a highly promising start to a new challenge, and for the senior staff members at VICI Racing it evoked memories of the team's first ever race in North America, the 1993 Daytona 24 Hours, which brought a stunning GT class victory.
Sebring was soon followed by a second race in the team's home state, Florida, this time a shorter 'sprint' around the harbour front streets of St. Petersburg (round 2), before it was off to the other side of the country to race on another set of concrete-barrier lined streets, this time the famous temporary circuit at Long Beach (round 3) a fortnight later, and where more points were garnered. Round four, battled out around the dry-and- dusty turns of the Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah, saw the line up of VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR entries double up as the new #18 car joined the #5 in the paddock. New drivers were on board for the race too, including former European F3000 Champion and Official F1 Test Driver for Jordan and Midland, Nicky Pastorelli, who impressed our staff greatly when he drove for us in the Daytona 24 Hours last year; and getting both cars to the finish in the points in Utah's dry heat sent the team into the early summer break continuing to make steady progress.
The team skipped round 5 at the short and twisty Lime Rock circuit in Connecticut to concentrate on technical developments, before another points finish at green-and-rural Mid-Ohio (round 6) beckoned, and again more points were added at Road America (round 7), where the team was pleased to add the experienced - and win proven - Marc Basseng to the driving mix, just as a hectic August got into gear.
Following a brief week-and-a-half long break, and with the team temporarily located at a forward hub in Chicago for the August programme, the ALMS series moved on to another of the classic North American race tracks, Mosport (Canada), before just one week later it took to the twisty streets of picturesque Belle Isle, Detroit. The ALMS season then wrapped up with the classic 10 Hour/1,000 mile Petit Le Mans, racing into the darkness on the demanding Road Atlanta circuit (Georgia), and finally to the dusty undulations of Laguna Seca in Monterey (California). At the season-closer, in the autumn warmth, we ran with a new tire supplier and the improvement in pace demonstrated to all outside the team our ability to run competitively in this class. The team was satisfied with the pace we achieved and it gave everyone a big fillip as we headed into the close season break.
"I have to be pleased with how the season went, although I always want more," says Technical Director Roland Wall, who has an unrivalled engineering CV in just about everything, from MotoGP to the Paris-Dakar, and who has directed the fortunes of the team from the pitwall in ALMS this year fresh from having masterminded the development work that VICI Racing carried out in the GrandAm series last season. "The team worked very well and rose to the challenge, always swift, but also precise, methodical, and professional. We have assembled excellent staff here; they're up to the challenge, and I'm very proud of what the boys accomplished this year."
"We have to analyse the season realistically," notes Ron, who has smoothly transferred all the ruthless drive and determination to succeed that he demonstrated when racing for the factory-supported Joest Porsche team in the world's most important endurance races, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. "We were running a tire development programme so we weren't in the series to benchmark against the other runners, we were benchmarking against our own data. The fact that we were able to run so close to the pace, and make consistent steps at each race, I think speaks volumes for the technical and development ability of this team, and the strength we have in every aspect of race engineering. We looked to engineer the car to get the optimum performance from the tire and that was amply demonstrated."