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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Six Hours In Monterey

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On: Fri, May 21, 2010 at 3:51PM | By: John Welch

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Six Hours In Monterey

We haven't enjoyed an American Le Mans Series race since the weekend of April 18th, when the ALMS parade put on an excellent show in Long Beach. That race was won on a last lap pass, an astounding move by Simon Pagenuad in his formally LMP2 ARX-01c. Remember, the Le Mans Prototype classes have been combined this season. Performance equalizers have been put in place to ensure fierce, competitive racing between the powerful, heavy LMP1s and the nimble but less powerful LMP2s. The car Pagenaud dusted off for the win, Adrian Fernandez's Lola/Aston Martin, is powered by a 6 liter V12. Pagenaud's Acura sports a tiny, wheezing HPD (Honda Performance Development) V8. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the advantage the Aston might have over the Acura. This sort of competitive parity is found only in the ALMS (the European Le Mans Series still separates LMP1 and 2) and it makes for some fantastic finishes.

As far as the points battles are concerned, 2010 is a stellar year for fans of razor-thin margins. Two, I repeat, TWO of the four classes are tied at the top, and these classes just happen to be the two top classes—LMP and GT. In LMP there are eight teams within ten points of each other. The ALMS proves time and time again that its formula for parity is unrivaled in top-level motorsports the world over.

There are no European teams competeing in the Monterey Grand Prix this weekend, which is a significant disappointment. That means the Audi drought continues and no oil-buring French-Lions. For the first time this season there will be no Prodrive/Gulf/Lola/Aston-Martin prototype to lust after. I think the embassment of being defeated by an inferior marque/car may have put the gorgeous AMR Lola back in Europe for good. I sure hope not; that thing is baby-blue candy-coated sex on wheels and it would hurt me deeply if I was never given the opportunity to hear its twelve-cylinder siren song again . . .

Stupid CBS and your stupid delayed programming. The Monterey Grand Prix takes place this weekend, but will not be seen on television until May 29th. Let's be honest, if this is the only "Ugly" thing I can find to gripe about then the ALMS must really kick ass. Seriously, the ALMS absolutely flattens ass and then rearranges ass's molecules. Throws ass in the dryer right after wringing ass's neck. Beats ass with ass's own sister. Tases ass while curb stomping ass. You get the picture. The American Le Mans Series is pretty sweet.

The Good: Close championship battles are almost unheard of in motorsports. Usually, one team or driver dominates the field, with a few exceptions from time to time. A tied championship, after two races, is completely unheard of. Yet that is what we have in both top-tier ALMS classes, LMP and GT. The season started out normally enough in Sebring; for the first ten hours of it, anyway.

When the dust settled at midnight in Central Florida, the Sebring 12 Hours produced some surprise winners. Peugeot took the over-all honors, but the LMP2 win went to Team CytoSport and their Porsche RS Spyder. Beating the Patron-Highcroft Acura by a full two laps, the out-dated RS Spyder raised more than a few brows during the Sebring weekend. With Peugeot showing up only when it feels like it (namely, Sebring and Petit Le Mans) and Aston-Martin running only the first two races, it was easy to predict a season-long points battle between two former LMP2 teams. The RS Spyder was putting the beat-down on Audi R10s in 2007, when the classes were still separate. Patron-Highcroft reverted from their 2009 LMP1 chassis, the awkwardly beautiful ARX-02a, back to an LMP2 for 2010. There is something to be said for light weight and tight packaging.

But wait; don't write off the big bore LMP1 cars just yet. Drayson Racing is campaigning their Lola Coupe at Laguna Seca, and Emmanuele Pirro is returning to the cockpit. Pirro is a serious hired gun, having won Le Mans and many other titles with various Audi teams. The Drayson Coupe is no slouch either. A fire-breathing Judd V10 powers this car, and it features the latest aerodynamic spec, straight from Lola.

Another LMP contender that should never be counted out is InterSport Racing. Jon and Clint Field are bringing their Lola roadster to Monterey, and as we have seen in the past, they have no problem cranking up the boost and causing the factory teams conniption fits. The only crappy part: that boost flows into a notoriously fragile Mazda/AER MZR four-cylinder power plant. To out muscle teams like Drayson, who have twic, or three times, the cylinder count, InterSport has to shove massive amounts of air down the MZR's throat. The InterSport m-o: Dominate the first ten laps, blow up, come to the next race and do it all over again. I love InterSport Racing and I wish them the best.

And we still haven't gotten to GT! The "Production" class (Insomuch as they share a firewall and wheelbase with their production siblings) is all tied up as well! Shared between the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche and the No. 62 Risi Competitzione Ferrari, the GT fight should be brutal . . . something like this maybe . . .

The Bad: Drayson Racing and their ten-pot Lola aside, no big-name European teams will turn a wheel at Laguna this weekend. No diesels, no V12s, no R15s, 908 HDPis, no AMR 007s. Sad really. If there is a bright spot, it's that there are still 35 cars starting the event, and several American-based dark horses in the prototype ranks: the aforementioned InterSport Racing Lola, also, Dyson Racing and their Isobutanol-fueled Lola Coupe; add Autocon Motosports and their bright orange Lola, and you have a prototype contingent that is more than able to entertain for six hours.

The Ugly: CBS is pre-empting the race for a dog show or professional Frisbee Golf or Bob Ross or some such nonsense. It won't be seen until May 29th, and it will be chopped to pieces. There is no way they are going to show a six-hour endurance race, in its entirety, on CBS.

So, I'll have to report the winner before I watch the race. That is sort of a bummer. Also a bummer: running out of room before saying word one about the other two ALMS classes, LMPC and GTC . . . more on those two following the race.

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