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ALMS Wrap Up Pt.2: Best GT Season Ever Comes Down To The Last Corner

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On: Fri, Oct 8, 2010 at 10:55AM | By: John Welch

ALMS Wrap Up Pt.2: Best GT Season Ever Comes Down To The Last Corner

The LMP classes provided us with fewer thrills than we were hoping for at the 2010 Petit Le Mans, but this minor let down demonstrates the beauty of multi-class racing: the LMP race isn't the only race going on. There are also GT cars, and this year, many GT cars. By the end of 2008 GT1 had grown too expensive for its own good, reduced, in North America, to a near exhibition race between the two defacto-winners, Corvette Racing C6.Rs No.3 and No.4. By 2009 there wasn't even an Aston Martin DB9R racing in the ALMS, needless to say Saleens, Maseratis or Lamborghinis. GT1 had to go, and GT2 had to step up and fill the huge gap left by the massive engined, carbon-braked premier class. No problemo.

How does 6 manufacturers, all fielding two or more fully funded cars, sound? Maybe even a four-way points battle for all three championships: Drivers, Teams, and Manufacturer? You got it, and just for fun, that points battle came down to the last corner on the last lap. Purty dang exciting, especially considering some of the catastrophic accidents seen this season. Those BMWs have been rebuilt, what? Eight hundred times? Since March? Yeah, that sounds right . . .

The Petit Le Mans was a fitting end to a grueling season, the Corvette Racing ZR1s out for blood and everyone else just trying to survive to the 70% mark. Having never gone a season in ALMS competition without winning a race, things looked pretty bleak for the fledging GT2 squad coming into Road Atlanta. New engines and the associated teething problems that come with them have kept the yellow and black fiends out of the winner's circle for nine rounds; would their season end with heartbreak?

Risi Competitzione and BMW Rahal/Letterman enter Petit Le Mans determined to capture the Manufacturers title, while Porsche veterans Flying Lizard Motorsports attempt to use a relaxed strategy to ensure they get the Drivers title, then race balls out to the finish for the Manufacturers and the win. Endurance races have seemed like elongated sprints for the ALMS this season, and Petit would be no different. These cars and others duked it out for 1,000 kilometers and covered the holes in LMP excitement rather well. GTChallenge, a pro-am class made up of Porsche GT3 Cup cars, came down to the wire as well, and what of that silly 911 Hybrid deal? It lasted the entire race, and under different circumstances could have been very competitive. More on the stunning Porsche Hybrid, race results and recap inside the post.

Different teams employed different strategies during this contest of wills. An effective rule of endurance racing, there is a mandatory amount of laps that a team must complete before they are allowed to score points. In other words, if you don't complete 70 % of the race, you score a big ole goose egg in the Championship standings; even if you finished in the points, tenth in class or higher. With this in mind, the Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 RSR ran a conservative pace for the first 250ish laps. Patrick Long was honest regarding the strategy: "Some teams are running as if this is a sprint race (I think he might have been talking about Corvette Racing, more on them inuh second), but we aren't guaranteed a Drivers Championship if we don't score points today. We're taking it easy until we have finished around 75% of the race— then I think we have something for them . . ." Patrick Long is a reserved guy, he does well in commercials, and doesn't lose his cool at the track. He does, however, much like his teammate Jorg Bergmiester, know how to use the nose of his 911 to win races. Would they get reckless at lap 276? Most of the rest of the GT field was reckless at lap 2.

Corvette Racing isn't used to losing. They don't like it, haven't made a habit of it, and don't plan on continuing it. Possibly the most professional, well oiled European-style team in North America, rivaled only by LMP teams Dyson and Patron-Highcroft in pure slickititude, Corvette Racing wasn't prepared for the lack of wins they have endured this season. Coming into Petit Le Mans, that number was exactly zero. They've come close but have only a smattering of podium finishes to show for 2010. Unusual for Corvette Racing, and very disconcerting. Risi Competitzione hasn't had the same problem. Kicking off the year with a win at Sebring, Risi was deep into the battle for all three Championships come Petit Le Mans—Drivers, Teams and Manufacturers. BMW Rahal/Letterman, whose luck has been more or less lukewarm this season, had clawed its way into the Teams and Manufacturers conversation, and any number of excellent teams were on hand to spoil the day for all of these contenders. The Falken Tire RSR will win a race sooner rather than later, and Scott Sharp's Extreme Speed Ferraris are beginning to show the pace exhibited by Risi.

This sort of competition doesn't exist in the European Le Mans Series, not that I don't love that too. Simply pointing out that the ALMS combination of slightly slack rules and torturously difficult tracks has produced the closest sports car racing on the planet. Formula 1 aside, it's the best show on four wheels. The GT battle at Petit Le Mans displayed that truth for the entire world to see. Being a stop on the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, Road Atlanta spent last weekend on television from Des Moines to Dubai. From Oaxaca to Osaka. From Toronto to Turin. From Trenton to Timbuktu . .. and so on.

The lead changed hands over and over, each of the top teams able to assert their will at one point or another during the 10-hour race. The Flying Lizards stuck to their conservative strategy while Corvette Racing and Risi Competitzione went balls out the entire 1,000 kilometers. This would bite one of these teams at the end. BMW suffered the same fate they seem to have experienced at every meet this year. One car has a horrible, debilitating accident or mechanical failure, the other valiantly delivers the blue and white roundel to the podium. Today, bad luck would befall the blue-liveried No. 90 of Dirk Muller, Andy Prilaux, and Joey Hand,while the No. 92, red bannered M3 of Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, and Tommy Milner stayed in the lead pack all afternoon and into the evening. After a tumultuous 9 hours, the race came down to the very last corner of the very last lap.

As you can see, the Risi Ferraris had to squeeze out more pace than their fuel economy would allow, handing the win to Corvette Racing and the three championships to the Flying Lizards and BMW Rahal/Letterman in the process. For Corvette Racing, the win solidified an unprecedented streak—a win in every season of American Le Mans competition. Jan Magnusson became the only driver to capture a win in all twelve seasons of the American Le Mans, and Jorg Burgmiester, always behind the wheel of a Flying Lizard Porsche, won his record fifth Drivers Title. He and Patrick Long have won the Drivers Championship two years in a row, cementing the Flying Lizards as the most dominant Porsche team in modern North American GT racing. Considering names like The Racers Group and Barbour Racing enter into that discussion, the Lizards should be very proud of their ALMS achievements.

Next season we get to see the new Ferrari 458 Italia. It should be faster and more reliable than the extremely fast and reliable F430 GTE. Risi Competitzione's rivals should maybe think about that. BMW Rahal/Letterman and Corvette Racing will have had one more off-season to perfect their still fledgling race cars; they should enjoy a strong pace right out of the box in Sebring next March. Jaguar RSR has added new drivers and received an influx of Tata money, the Ford GT contingent has been increased by two, a second car for Robertson Racing and the debut full season for the jet-black ACS GT. The only car not recieving significant updates, be it drivetrain or car count, is the Porsche GT3 RSR. For some reason i don't worry about their competitiveness.

Look for the AutoShopper to keep you updated all off season, and to have full coverage of the 2011 Mobil 12 Hours of Sebring. In a time when most big ticket North American racing has been reduced to little more than identical spec car parade laps, The American Le Mans Series impress and entertain with innovation, variety, and pure, heart-stopping excitement.

Notice an orange and white Porsche not mentioned so far in this article? That would be the 911 Hybrid oft mentioned in previous posts. The electrified 911 ran in its own class, GTH, and preformed remarkably well over the course of 10 hours. Placing as high as 8th in GT and 10 overall at certain points in the race, the GT3H impressed the entire racing community on its way to finishing 18th overall. I feel the orange Porsche had more pace available; the car was especially respectful of lead battles taking place behind it, all three drivers pulling over several times; nearly coming to complete stops so leaders could pass. Heavier than GT2 cars, but with a random 160 bhp on tap coming out of corners, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a performance balance and classify this machine in the GT2 category. Who provides you with variety and technological advancement like that? NASCAR?! Right, call me when they figure freaking fuel injection out. F1? Let me know when they decide exactly what "engine development freeze" is supposed to mean. Isobutanol ran unclassified at last year's Petit, but come 2010 the Dyson Mazda and its fuel were classified in the LMP categories. The same may happen for the Hybrid Porsche; keep your fingers crossed.

All images courtesy The American Le Mans Series.

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