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ALMS Wrap Up Pt.1: Peugeot Plays Proud Protagonist, Audi Alarmed Antagonist

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On: Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 3:09PM | By: John Welch


ALMS Wrap Up Pt.1: Peugeot Plays Proud Protagonist, Audi Alarmed Antagonist

So many crazy things happened before, during, and after the 2010 Petit Le Mans that one post just won't cut it. In the name of clarity and full coverage, let’s start with the Prototype categories.

As we should know by now, the American Le Mans Series generally acknowledges two prototype classes, LMP and LMPC. For longer endurance and ILMC-sanctioned events the LMP class is split into LMP1 and LMP2; LMP2 cars are light and average 550 bhp, LMP1 vehicles are heavier and have more power on tap. It really should be classified "The Diesels and everyone else" as the Audi and Peugeot diesels are nearly unstoppable, under the current rules.

So, for last Saturday's 10 Hour Enduro (or 1,000 kilometers, whichever comes first) in Braselton, Georgia, we had a shoot-out between the dominate diesel entries, another race-within-a-race between the ALMS LMP regulars, and a third contest for LMPC honors. Because of the rule changes between the ALMS and the ACO's Le Mans rule book, the LMP2 class was rendered inert—the real races were between the Audis and Peugeots, the LMP1 Lola of Intersport Racing, the Patron-Highcroft ARX-01c, the Drayson Lola, and the Cyto-Sport Porsche RS Spyder.

LMPC, a new for 2010 category featuring identical (at the start of the season) Courage FLM-09 prototypes, has been hard fought by the Green Earth Team Gunnar and Level 5 Motorsports teams. Going at it tooth and nail all season, these two teams have helped elevate LMPC far beyond its original expectations as a boring spec-class that will only slow down serious competitors in the LMP and GT classes. That hasn't been the case; besides offering extremely economical racing for the teams (a few entries have run the same Chevrolet LS3 crate engine all year) the class went into Petit with a tie in the points lead. Pretty exciting for a "field filler" classification.

LMP1: Audi came into Saturday having already demonstrated their innate ability to handle extreme pressure all week. The front splitter on the Audi R15 Plus is a very precisely engineered piece of equipment. It is designed to tolerances as small as a thousandth of a inch, and doesn't work well if it isn't shaped perfectly. Unfortunately for Audi, their carbon molds were not cooperating with this biting reality, resulting in carbon fiber versions of the fascia that were not all identical. In some cases, the plane of the splitter was off kilter so badly that it was causing lift.

The quickest and most cost effective solution for Audi was a splitter hewn of aluminum, the same shape as the carbon piece but able to duplicated many times with incident. No, the incidents didn't start until the R15 Plus was actually let loose on a race track. Once subjected to the random extremes of the track, it was found that the aluminum version of the splitter liked to get hung up on various things during off-track excursions. Mud, ruts, gravel traps, curbs—all gave the front splitter hell. The aluminum fascia usually decided, upon hitting trackside detritus, to totally fold itself underneath the front tires, taking all of the bodywork with it. This happenstance usually leaves the R15 looking more like an Indy Car than a prototype, and needing a complete rebuild.

This same occurrence happened twice during Petit Le Mans practice, once to each R15 Plus. The No.09 was rebuilt, from the ground up Thursday night, the No.07 Friday. It is absolutely incredible that both cars were able to qualify and make the race, though the outcome was somewhat predictable given the circumstances. Peugeot, not without pre-race difficulties, was able to pull off a resounding victory, coming home in first and second position overall. Audi put up a fight but in the end the Peugeots were faster, more reliable (the aluminum spoiler struck again in the first hour, the No.09 R15 Plus needing a total rebuild in the middle of the race!) and finally captured a victory over Audi without the help of weather or the ACO.

LMP2: Patron-Highcroft won the ALMS championship in 2009 with a radical beast, the Acura ARX-02a. An LMP1 design, the 02a was used for a single season. With the combined LMP classes taking shape in the American Le Mans Series over the winter, Patron-Highcroft Racing decided to revert to their LMP2 chassis from the 2008 season, as its lighter weight and better tire wear might prove better suited to the rigorous ALMS calendar. Their foresight proved correct, as they and CytoSport were the two serious contenders for the ALMS title this season, both running former LMP2 machines.

After a difficult season, CytoSport were unable to give the RS Spyder the final race it deserved. Hampered by a misfire, the car was never up to speed and Highcroft cruised to another LMP Championship, winning the LMP2 class at Petit Le Mans in the process. Highcroft was not able to beat one of its season-long rivals in the final Petit standings, however; Intersport Racing was able to put its lowly Lola in the fifth position overall, one ahead of the ARX-01c.

LMPC: The Mobil 12 Hours of Sebring was the official debut of the LMP Challenge class, but the cars had already been tested by the teams. Expected to be a spec-race follow the leader cluster-eff, the LMPC drivers knew differently. They knew the FLM-09 was a sprightly handler, that the LS3 motors were perfectly suited to the little prototypes, and that they would be reliable enough to complete endurance race. Two teams jumped in head first, Green Earth Team Gunner, and Level 5 Motorsports. Both contenders began the year with two car teams at Sebring, and both brought two machines to Road Atlanta.

GETG got off to a fast start at Petit, Level 5 experiencing unforeseen issues with both cars at the start of the race. It was not to last, however, Gunnar Jeanette's team finding itself as many as 20 laps behind by the time Marco Werner ran into trouble in the final hour. Smoking heavily, Werner reported no problems with his Level 5 Courage, even though it was belching smoke. Having more laps over the field than were left in the race, Level 5 brought the car in and fixed the issue before returning to the track to complete the final laps.

The first LMPC Championship was awarded to Scott Tucker's Level 5 Motorsports, but next year the field should be even tougher. Intersport is adding a second team, more professional drivers are being hired, and the engines and aerodynamics should receive some development over the offseason, making for faster FLM-09s!

All images courtesy The American Le Mans Series.


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