Sebring Winter Test kicks off the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season. Image Credit: ALMS - Ryan Smith (2010)
American Le Mans Series Begins 2011 As 2010 Ended - Winning
With a rich offering of dynamic grids over the years, this season’s running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida may top them all. An impressive list of full-season entrants in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón will combine with the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup field for a 59-car grid, setting the stage for one of the most anticipated editions of America’s greatest sports car race.
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest – sanctioning body for the Le Mans 24 Hours – announced Wednesday the teams that will participate in the seven-round ILMC. Concurrently, ALMS sanctioning body IMSA released its list of full-season entrants for 2011. Together, it gives Sebring one of the largest and most diverse gatherings of sports cars it has seen in what will be its 59th running. It ties the largest Sebring field in the ALMS era, matching the 2002 grid.
Each of last year’s Sebring class winners are back for 2011 – Peugeot Sport in LMP1, Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing (up to P1 from LMP2), Level 5 Motorsports (LMPC to LMP2), Risi Competizione (GT) and Alex Job Racing (GTC). In addition, defending ALMS champions Highcroft Racing (P1), BMW Team RLL (GT) and Black Swan Racing (GTC), are on the initial Sebring entry.
A bevy of manufacturers will compete in the March 19 race. The battle at the head of the grid will be fascinating once again. In LMP1 alone, Peugeot will defend against the likes of Audi and representatives from Aston Martin, Honda Performance Development, Toyota, Mazda and Pescarolo.
The entry in GT is even more expansive with marques such as Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Panoz and Porsche. In addition, the LMP and GT Challenge classes that debuted in 2010 will compete alongside ILMC entries at both Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
“The American Le Mans Series was founded by Don Panoz as a year-round showcase of everything that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans the greatest motor race in the world,” Scott Atherton, ALMS President and CEO said. “Having Sebring serve as the first round of this important new championship is another validation of the world-class stature of our platform and Sebring’s status in global endurance racing.”
This week features a record 31 cars participating in the annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway, only one of many pieces of noteworthy news making the rounds in the Series. A collection of drivers, teams and officials from the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón visited with media members Wednesday and the following are some of the bits of information shared at the Winter Test Media Day.
Paddock crowds are growing. Image Credit: ALMS
Atherton: Carrying the Momentum
Series President and CEO Scott Atherton remained bullish on the outlook for 2011. There is good reason, given last year’s fantastic championship battles, a full-season grid of between 35 and 37 cars for this season, and an increasing share of a coveted youth demographic.
“Last year was the first year where all four class championships went down to the final race - in one instance, it was the last lap of the final race to decide the GT championship,” Scott said. “It was an incredible level of competition and mix of winners that we’ve never had."
“There’s a lot being written about the fact that traditional sports have lost the youth market,” he added. “It’s an important part of our demographic makeup, because those are our future core fans, and it’s important to be relevant to that fan base as you look at a long-range perspective. In our category of 18 to 34 age group, from two years ago, we doubled. That has caught the attention of a lot of organizations and companies that are already involved with us and those, who for the first time, are looking to be involved with us. At a time when other areas of our industry are experiencing significant declines, that demo is headed our direction.”
Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook are growing quite comfortable at Corvette Racing.
“When I was invited to be part of the Test, I was both nervous and excited,” said Milner, who raced against Corvette the last two seasons with BMW Rahal Letterman Racing. “As Doug (Fehan) said, it is a family-atmosphere and that is exactly what it was like when I showed up."
“With Corvette Racing, no matter what session, if it was pouring down rain or blazing hot, you would always see a Corvette out in the front. I look forward to having a target on our backs and being held to that standard- and to win races.”
Milner will drive the full season with Olivier Beretta. Westbrook will team with Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin at Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans.
“It is great to be a part of the team. As you know, I am used to driving Porsches and they are quite different from Corvettes,” Westbrook said. “I would rather be racing a Corvette than racing against one.”
Corvette Racing. Image Credit: ALMS
Corvette and Road America
Chevrolet and Road America announced a multifaceted marketing partnership today that will put Chevrolet in the spotlight at one of America's premier racing venues. Chevrolet is now the Official Vehicle of Road America, the renowned Corvette Bridge will return to the historic track, and the Corvette World Tribute will celebrate Corvette's rich racing heritage.
A ceremony will be held during the ALMS race weekend in August to rededicate the famed Corvette Bridge, which spans the track at Turn 6. The Corvette Bridge was a signature landmark at the track from 1963-81, and the Corvette logo reappeared on the crossover in 1992. The Corvette World Tribute, to be held on August 21, the day following the seventh round of the ALMS, will include a Corvette racers reunion, club and pro series races, a concours, parade laps and other activities.
“When you think of iconic venues, Road America is definitely on the list,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager. “It started out as a race on the streets and then moved to a road course. What we like about Road America is how it embraces and values all the cars on the grid. The Corvette nation is excited for what’s to come at Road America.”
Secret to Lizards’ Success
According to Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, the formula for back-to-back driver championships with Flying Lizard teammate Jörg Bergmeister isn’t really that complicated.
“Our goal for 2011 is to continue on what we have been doing,” Long said. “The Flying Lizards have held the championship for three years. We don’t usually start out as favorites in pure speed or lap times. The strategy and pit stops are what we have worked on which helps us in the highly competitive field. You have to have a flawless season, not just a weekend, to defend a championship.”
The Lizards’ dynamic duo is testing out a series of updates in Porsche’s 911 GT3 RSR racer.
“There are updates with the suspension; right now we are trying to find where the car works the best at Sebring,” said Bergmeister, a five-time ALMS champion. “Also we have some aero changes along with different mufflers and restrictors to help reduce the noise on the track.”
The new car also features a paddle-shift system, which requires a bit of mental adjustment.
“Jörg and I both reached down for the gearshift and it wasn’t there,” Long cracked. “I was hoping our in-car camera wasn’t on when that happened!”
Bringing on Ferrari’s 458
Both Risi Competizione and Extreme Speed Motorsports are testing Ferrari’s new F458 this week at Sebring – the first time the car has turned a wheel in North America.
“This is the first real test for the 458,” said Risi’s Jaime Melo, a winner at Sebring three times with the Ferrari F430. “We have spent some days testing in Europe but the weather was not so nice and it was definitely not Sebring. The car has a lot of potential. We need to work on the setup some more, but the performance has been something that will only get better and better.”
Risi Competizione's Ferrari F458. Image Credit: ALMS
Speaking of the 430, how is it similar to the 458?
“The biggest difference is the engine, aero, suspension… so it is actually a completely different package,” Risi team manager Dave Sims. “There is no comparison. But we have to get it up (and ready) straightaway. The GT championship is so challenging that there is no choice.”
ESM’s Ed Brown was in Italy a couple of weeks ago at Ferrari’s official test track to shakedown the first of the team’s F458s.
“The car is unbelievable. We are working through some things right now, but it will be great,” said Brown, who will drive for the full season with Guy Cosmo. “Sebring is a huge test for the car. The biggest strain right now is to have the car race-ready for Sebring. Our crew’s goal is to shake it down to make it as reliable as possible.”
First Day Test Top Runners
Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing opened the Sebring Winter Test in strong style Wednesday with the fastest times in both sessions with its Aston Martin-powered Lola. The exotic closed-top prototype turned in a best lap of 1:50.530 (120.510 mph) with team owner Greg Pickett, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr sharing driving duties.
Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing's Lola. Image Credit: ALMS
Of all the motivating factors driving Greg Pickett to get back behind the wheel of a race car, one simply took the cake. “I didn’t want my career to end upside down in a Porsche!”
The annual Sebring Winter Test is the first time Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing’s owner/driver has been in the cockpit since a horrific crash that left Pickett on top of a tire barrier at Mid-Ohio in August. Wednesday, Pickett got his first lap in his team’s new Aston Martin-powered Lola coupe on the first day of the two-day test.
“It’s a pretty little car,” Pickett said. “We were brokenhearted to close the door on the RS Spyder, and Porsche was sad about it as well. The Lola really does feel different, and you can feel the extra weight (around 75 kilograms). It’s nice to be able to squeeze through the GT cars easier than we did last year. For an old guy like me, it’s more fun!”
The Muscle Milk squad will race its new coupe for the first time in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón next month as part of a 59-car field for the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida. In last year's race, the Aston Martin factory team drove the car to a third-place overall finish.
Dyson Racing's Mazda-powered Lola B09/86, another prototype coupe, was second quickest at 1:51.042 (119.955 mph). Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Jay Cochran each drove Wednesday.
The 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida is set for 10:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 19. The race will be shown live and in its entirety on ESPN3.com and americanlemans.com starting at 10 a.m. ET. ABC will provide coverage from 12:30 to 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20. Visit the American Le Mans Series’ schedule page for information on tickets and area accommodations.
... notes from The EDJE