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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; Sports Car Weekend

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On: Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 11:55AM | By: John Welch

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; Sports Car Weekend

The two premiere North American road racing series took to Canadian tracks this weekend, with mixed results. Both the American Le Mans Series and the Rolex Grand Am Series ran their second to last races, ALMS at Mosposrt in Ontario, and Grand Am at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal. Both race courses are stunning, and feature heavy doses of history and elevation change. Mosposrt offers some of the best downhill straights in North America, bettered only by Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca. It’s no Spa Francochamps, but its damn close. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has one of the best hairpins anywhere in the world, the turn 10 complex. This is spectator heaven, at the bottom of a hill and set up so that it can be surrounded by race fans. Truly an excellent piece of track engineering.

Both races were entertaining, in their own way. The Rolex Grand Am race was disappointing because it is the last race before the season ender—at the dreadfully boring Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The ALMS offering was bad for several other reasons. I've actually had serious nightmares about the ALMS folding or turning into a series dominated by GT cars. The bad and the ugly aren't going to help me sleep . . .

The Good: The Rolex Grand Am Series race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was one of the best this season, and maybe should have swapped dates with the next event, the final event for 2010, at Miller Motor Sports Park. Miller isn't fun, for anyone . . . ever. That’s a story for next week; today we discuss Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the awesome lead-swapping that went on there, Saturday.

Starting the race from pole, the No.99 Gainsco car looked stronger than it had all season. The Red Dragon carried a lower-downforce set up, and the Chevrolet engine seemed to have more oomph then in any previous Grand Am meeting. The Ganassi TelMex Riley wasn't slow by any means, but Jon Fogarty had the Gainsco machine working well and took his second pole at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Starting first after winning GAINSCO’s second consecutive and third career pole in Montreal on Friday, Fogarty paced the field for nearly the first 55 minutes of the two-hour sprint and pitted for the No. 99’s second and final stop of the race in the lead. Gurney took over and the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team turned in a solid pit stop only to be narrowly beaten out of the pits by the race-winning No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley of Scott Pruett.

As is the case most often, Pruett was flawless. Unstoppable. The race and the championship were in the proverbial bag. So, let’s list off the accomplishments here: Ganassi seals its fourth title, all with Scott Pruett, two with Pruett and Memo Rojas, Ganassi wins for the first time at Montreal, and Ganassi breaks the record for most wins in a season, clinching their eighth victory of 2010. Pretty damn good weekend if you ask me. Don't ask me, ask Scott Pruett.

"What a glorious day!" Pruett said. "This has been one of those races that it's been difficult for us to get our hands around. It's exciting for us as a team to wrestle it to the ground today. It's truly been a dream season, and it takes some of the stress off going into Salt Lake City. That's another of those races where we've never been to victory lane."

My guess is it won't be for long. Banner Racing took the GT win, Paul Edwards clawing his way back from nearly being lapped to passing the Steveson Camaros, one after the other, with five minutes remaining. This is the first 2010 victory for former champs Banner, who stood on top of an all-GM podium. Steveson Camaros came in 2nd and third, the No. 97 second and the rapidly deteriorating No.57 in third. Robin Lidell's ability to keep this car on track while it was shedding parts was amazing. Great drive!

Near the end of the race, the pass of the GT win. Notice how discombobulated the No.57 Camaro is . . .

The Bad: The entire ALMS race broadcast this weekend was effing garbage. None of the goofy commentators could get anything right, the awful graphics often displayed the wrong driver, team, number or combination of all three, and the race ended (as far as SPEED viewers could tell) FORTY FIVE MINUTES EARLY!

Seriously, ALMS, are you phoning it in?! Rumors about Dyson leaving causing you to just give up on 2010? Too excited for Petit Le Mans so you have to produce a sub-par broadcast for Mosport? And Mosport, geez, this circuit couldn't be any more exciting. Maybe some bits of track that run upside down or something, but otherwise, it’s dying to give us a good race! Too bad most of it was a caution-flag parade, concluded by out-right cancellation due to the track's inability to repair a broken barricade quickly.

I am, of course, being too harsh. I love all of these drivers and do not want to see any of them get hurt. If the track isn’t safe then the track isn’t safe, that’s it. This transparent rage is simply a side effect of my devotion for the ALMS and my depression caused by a race ended prematurely. In all fairness, this is only the second time in 12 years that IMSA has red-flagged an ALMS race early. That is a pretty good record for a series filled with cars that can all approach or top 200 mph. The finishing order not being the real story here, let’s get it out of the way.

Romain Dumas, Porsche factory driver on loan to CytoSport, was nearly giddy when given the opportunity to drive the Porsche RS Spyder again. He and Timo Bernhard have won the ALMS LMP2 Championship twice, in 2007 and 2008. Driving for Rodger Penske, the pair made every car, from direct competitors Acura and Lola to big shots like Audi, look embarrassingly slow. Penske Porsches regularly won overall victories, beating Audi R10 Diesels when no petrol-fueled car could even sniff their particle-filtered exhaust. Since Penske dropped out before 2009, no team has even come close to beating a diesel in any race. I was at Sebring this March, Drayson and AMR had NO chance against the Peugeots. None, whatsoever.

Dumas loves the Spyder, and as his record shows, the Spyder loves him. Leading last weekend’s Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport from the first lap to the last, Bernhard put a third trophy in Greg Pickett’s cabinet for 2010. Mr. Pickett, recovering nicely from a huge wreck at Mid-Ohio, couldn’t have asked for better stand-in drivers. Though Klaus Graff drove only a few laps after the driver change, he has also claimed three victories in the CytoSport/MuscleMilk RS Spyder this season. With Patron/Highcroft finishing second, the points battle is going to go down to the wire in October, at Road Atlanta.

Autocon Motorsports finished in third position, their second podium in a row. This represents the two best ALMS finishes in this team’s history. The bright orange Lola B06/10 was limping around the circuit without a clutch, by fate smiled on them, the race ending before their driveline did.

In GT the Flying Lizard Porsche captured the victory after the No.92 BMW pitted from the lead. The race never saw another green flag, and the Rahal/Letterman squad had to settle for third position behind the Lizards and the No.62 Risi Ferrari. Green Earth Team Gunnar took the LMPC win, while points leaders Black Swan Racing stole an unlikely victory in GTC. Why was it unlikely? Continue to the “Ugly” . . .

The Ugly: Wild wrecks during the Mosport weekend. First off, Corvette Racing had a bad couple of days, never able to avoid brushes with the Dyson Mazda prototype. First the teams butted heads during practice, then during the race. Attempting to finish a pass on the ARX 01c of David Brabham (who was starting his 100th ALMS race and who absolutely hated the “Le Mans Style” aerodynamics of his HPD powered LMP), Dyson chopped the No.3 ZR1 of Jan Magnussen while cresting a blind hill. The Dyson car, driven by Chris Dyson, suffered a flat left rear, while the Corvette finished the race bouncing off of its right rear suspension, as if it were a wrecked panel van sold at auction without a proper frame straightening. Magnussen was a little annoyed, and showed Dyson his displeasure by nearly side-swiping him after the caution flag was displayed. That was not the end of the GT drama.

The Rahal/BMW team has had its fair share of car destruction lately, having to completely rebuild the No.92 a week ago. This week it was the No.90’s turn to shine. Or “fly” as the case may be. Muller ran his M3 up the back end of Andrea Robertson in the Robertson Ford GT, leaving the ground for a split second before landing in a gravel trap. The No.90 was a total write-off.

Crazy, right? That wasn’t the wreck that ended the race, however. No, it took a tangle between the fastest class and the (supposedly) slowest class to actually end the race early. Just after entering the Andretti Straight another prototype driver took advantage of what he thought to be an open lane. The lane was decidedly not open, and, in fact, was very much occupied by the leading GTC car, the No.48 Orbit Racing Porsche of Luke Hines. This caused some minor problems, as I will let the videos illustrate . . .

So, that enormous, Porsche-destroying incident is what put a damper on my weekend. IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield put the disappointment into perspective after the race. “We delayed enough for the possibility that we may have been able to get back going,” explained Barfield. “But we were also still under a time window for television. There was a very small window we had to try and get that kind of repair done and get back going.

“When we realized it wasn’t going to happen, just for the sake of the show, we put everyone around to take a real checkered flag, finish up and do the podium ceremonies.”

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