World Record for Kept Secret

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton.

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton. Photo courtesy GRAND-AM.

Today’s Media Conference at Daytona to announce the “historic, landmark merger” of the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing was long on hope and short on details; but there are sixteen months to make it happen for one American sports car racing series.

The Fab Four were present for the big announcement – JIM FRANCE, vice-chairman NASCAR & GRAND-AM founder ; SCOTT ATHERTON, President & CEO, Panoz Motor Sports Group; Dr.DON PANOZ, ALMS founder; and ED BENNETT, Grand-Am CEO.

Other notables on hand included ED BROWN, president and CEO of Patron; COLETTE BENNETT, national sports marketing manager for Rolex; chairman and CEO of NASCAR, BRIAN FRANCE; CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, LISA FRANCE KENNEDY; NASCAR president; MIKE HELTON; NASCAR board member, GARY CROTTY; MARK REUSS, President, GM North America; JIM CAMPBELL, General Motors US Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports; JOHN DOONAN, Motorsport Director, Mazda North American Operations; BETH PARETTA, director of marketing and operations, SRT Motorsports; ANDRE OOSTHUIZEN, VP marketing, Porsche Cars North America; International Motorsports Association, chief operating officer, SCOTT ELKINS; President and general manager of Road Atlanta, JEFF LEE; president and general manager at Sebring International Raceway, TRES STEPHENSON.

In opening remarks, France pointed out that this was a new world record for a kept secret in motorsports – six months and 14 days.

What we know:

  • The new entity will take effect in 2014 starting with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and then onto The 12 Hours of Sebring, events which now can be co-promoted.
  • Probably a 12 race schedule
  • The impetus for joining sports car series started with Ed Brown of Patron talking with Jim France, who then happened to run into Atherton at an industry gathering … and meetings began
  • American Le Mans Series; Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center; GRAND-AM; International Motor Sports Association, Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway will be combined into a new entity, which also includes Panoz Motorsports Group.
  • The new organization has a Board of Directors: Chairman, Jim France; Vice Chairman, Don Panoz; and members Lisa France Kennedy; Ed Bennett; Scott Atherton; and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel, KAREN LEETZOW.

What we don’t know:

  • Name – Branding
  • Classes and categories
  • Schedule for 2014
  • Technical rules and regulations
  • Broadcasting
  • Relationship with ACO and FIA
  • Staffing
  • Officiating
  • Communications
  • Future of the eight groups within ALMS and GRAND-AM:
    ALMS’ CooperTires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series, Ferrari Challenge, IMSA, IMSA GT3 CupChallenge by Yokohama Series, and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
    GRAND-AM’s Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge, Rolex Sports Car Series, and TOTAL Performance Showcase

A sampling of the many sound bites:

France said “We do not have a name. We will be going through a plan. We have got some ideas on how to come up with a name for the new combined series.”

Panoz said what was being created is the American Sports Car Series, stressing the American part. “We have to take care of our own business, our own market, addressing our sponsors, our fans, our teams, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Of course we are going to pay attention to what’s going on around us, but we’ll be acting responsibly in our own best interests.”

France ended the session by saying “And at the end of the day, we’ll find a way to race and compete with each other and figure things out.”

ALMS WOWSER RACE!

Muscle Milk P1

Muscle Milk P1

Pole sitter KLAUS GRAF and teammate LUCAS LUHR/Muscle Milk HPA ARX-03a/Honda/Michelin/E-10 won the six-hour American Le Mans Series Presented by Patron sportscar endurance at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Saturday. It was the only car on the lead lap – 242. This victory is the first for the team at Laguna Seca.

Luhr turned the fastest race lap overall and in P1 – 1:15.544.

Luhr said “It was a good race for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, especially now that we have two wins in California in front of our home crowd. It was very important for the whole team and our motivation. It was very nice.”

The other P1 car, CHRIS DYSON and GUY SMITH in Dyson Racing’s Lola B12/60 Mazda/Lola/Dunlop/Isobutanol finished twenty-third overall with 227 laps.

The fireworks shot straight up from the Start-Finish bridge as the checkered flag started to wave, startling a few. And the fog rolled in.

Level 5 Motorsports P2

Level 5 Motorsports P2

The second overall-place car, Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b P2 driven by team owner SCOTT TUCKER, LUIS DIAZ, and FRANCK MONTAGNY was three laps down.

Second and third P2 cars were Conquest Endurance Morgan/Nissan/Dunlop/E-10, twentieth overall; and Level 5 Motorsports SCOTT TUCKER and CHRISTOPHE BOUCHET/HPD ARX-03b/Honda/Dunlop/E-10, in twenty-ninth position.

Tucker did drive in both of his P2 cars, but IMSA rules mandate that one of the two cars has to be ‘declared’ before the race to gain points. Tucker chose No.055, which finished twenty-ninth overall.

The Level 5 Motorsports two-car P2 team had highs and lows. Montagny was leading P2 before being overtaken by his team owner in the sister car. A minute later Montagny came together in Turn Eleven with CHRIS CUMMINGS/JDX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup/Yokohama/E-10 GTC. Montagny recovered and led P2 on and off during the afternoon. Cummings soldiered on, but finally retired after 119 laps.

MONTAGNY turned the fastest P2 lap – 1:17.003.

CORE Autosports PC
CORE Autosports PC

The competitive PC class had its winner finish third overall. COLIN BRAUN made a killer move in the closing lap, which worked to pass pole sitter BRUNO JUNQUEIRA/RSR Racing. Braun and team owner JON BENNETT drove one of the two CORE Autosport Orecas FLM09.

Braun said “The last few laps was exciting. I was racing Bruno and I knew I had to push really hard. I knew I had to set him upon in traffic, and that was going to be the only way I could get by. He went one way, and I went the other, and it turned out right for me.”

Junqueira turned the fastest PC lap – 2:19.298, a new race lap record.

Second and third in PC were Pole Sitters RSR Racing with Junqueira and TOMY DRISSI, fourth overall, followed by the other CORE car in fifth overall, driven by ALEX POPOW and TOM KIMBER-SMITH.

Oliver Gavin

Oliver Gavin

Jan Magnussen

Jan Magnussen

The other exciting group to watch, GT, had position changes up to the end and those cars were fearless in making pass after pass, even on prototypes. OLIVER GAVIN and TOMMY MILNER Corvette Racing Chevrolet/Michelin/E85 GT finished, ninth overall, with teammates JAN MAGNUSSEN and ANTONIO GARCIA hot on their heels after a killer pass near the end, to finish second in GT, tenth overall.

Gavin turned the fastest GT lap – 1:20.048.

Gavin said “I had a few close calls in the pit box, and maybe a P2 in the blend line coming out of pit lane. And then Wolf passing me for the lead, he was hard but fair; he gave me just enough room to get by. I managed to sneak by a lot of people, but we managed to catch all the breaks. Then I’d be able to get a bit of a gap. It was a great race for me today.”

Third and fourth in GT were teammates BMW Team RLL with JORG MUELLER and BILL AUBERLEN eleventh overall; and JOEY HAND and DIRK MULLER, twelfth overall.

Fifth in GT was SCOTT SHARP and JOHANNES van OVERBEEK/Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia/Michelin/E-85.

The pole-sitting Aston Martin 007, with ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, DARREN TURNER and STEFAN MUCKE finished eighth in class. Team Principal, JOHN GAW, said “Finishing eighth in class isn’t what we wanted having started from pole position, but it’s clear there is some work required to equalise refuelling times of similar cars in the ALMS because these delays cost us the chance to fight for the Vantage GTE’s first win. It’s a shame because although we didn’t come here to score points, the ALMS a terrific championship and a race win would have given the whole team a real boost.”

The top GTC Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, TRG’s Venezuela team finished twenty-fourth overall with EMILIO Di GUIDA, JEROEN BLEEKEMOLEN and BRETT CURTIS.

TRG GTC

TRG GTC

Second and third finished twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth overall – GMG Racing with JAMES SOFRONAS and ALEX WELCH; and BOB FAIETA and MICHAEL AVENATTI.

DAMIEN FAULKNER/Green Hornet Racing finished fifth in class, twenty-eighth overall, but turned the fastest GTC lap of 1:28.611.

The weather seemed warmer than the high sixties it was during the first few hours. A nice breeze kept the weather in check and chased away most of the wannabe clouds. The track temperature four hours into the race was 83 degreesF.

Saturday started with a forty-minute fog delay, and ended with the fog rolling in. Curtis said “Little evidence of the sweet, close racing that happened here all day long. And that’s why we come — for the racing, not the weather.”

For those who didn’t watch the live streaming of the race, catch the race tape delay 5pm EDT on ESPN2 Sunday 13 May 2012 – Mother’s Day. The last hour was a wowser. The cars were running three abreast, making sandwiches of the middle car, with some of the passers being the GT Davids to the prototype Goliaths.

The stunt performed Thursday evening by ESPN Pit Reporter, TARO KOKI, was actually a demonstration to show the very steep elevation drop-off from the Corkscrew down to Turn Nine. It’s a 12 percent drop, the equivalent of five and a half stories from Turn Eight to Turn Eight A. Then it’s an ten story+ drop=109 feet from Turn Eight A to Turn Nine. Not sure they were able to find room to position in-trike cameras, but the footage shows how scary it was. Koki fell off,or at least pretended to. He’s fine.

Townsend Bell & Bill Sweedler

Townsend Bell & Bill Sweedler

After a character-building weekend kept the Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora/Cosworth/Yokohama/E-10 in the garage much of the time, BILL SWEEDLER got his first-ever laps in the car – ten in all. TOWNSEND BELL started the race and the car lasted 22 laps before the transmission gave out just past the Start-Finish Bridge, in an unsafe location. The car was towed to the garage where the crew changed the gearbox. With two+ hours remaining, Bell got back on course, but eventually retired after 66 laps.

PATRICK DEMPSEY/Lola B12/87 JuddMW V8/Michelin/E-10 spun and eventually continued after spinning out into the temporary cones driver’s left apex at the top of the Corkscrew. The cones were to keep drivers from going off there, and kicking up dust and sand upon re-entry.

Joey Hand

Joey Hand

When JOEY HAND/BMW Team RLL/Dunlop/E-85 took over the GT lead mid-race, he then lost his rear bumper cover after dragging it part way around the course. He drove over rumble strips out of the line trying to lose it, but instead it went flying over the hood of his rival ANTONIO GARCIA, running second in GT driving the Corvette Racing Chevrolet/Michelin/E-85.

PC Pole Sitter BRUNO JUNQUEIRA was running third in class with less than two hours to go, when he hit BUTCH LEITZINGER/52, beaching him in the gravel pit causing a Safety Car to tow him out.

ED BROWN, team owner of Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458/Michelin/E-85 spun out and stalled, causing another Safety Car situation to tow him out. During that caution, it was wholesale pitstops, with Michelin reporting the teams were switching from the medium afternoon tires to soft evening tires as the track cooled.

Six cautions punctuated the six-hour race, for a total of 35 laps. Thirty of the thirty-five cars were running at the finish.

LETS GO RACING!

PaddockThe weather gods shone down on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the fourth and final day of the American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patron. There were whispy white clouds over the blue skies, and it felt warmer than the 60 degrees F shown on my phone.

There were crowds everywhere, especially on the grid for the pre-race ceremonies. I wished for spurs to make my way through the mobs.

In the morning warm-up, all thirty-five ALMS cars were on track. It didn’t matter who was fastest, because that’s not the name of that game. There were a lot of in and outs of the pits, to practice driver changes, car adjustments, fueling, tires, etc.

The Conquest Endurance crew had gotten its Morgan/Nissan/Dunlop-E-10 repaired overnight and will start the race.

The Lotus/Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora/Cosworth/Yokohama/E-10 GT was moved to the back of the grid for an engine change.

The GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup/Yokohama/E-10 was moved to the back of the grid for a tire change.

The CORE Autosport No.06 Oreca FLM09/Chevrolet/Michelin/E-10 failed Post-Qualifying Technical Inspection, appealed and was reinstated, to start second in PC, seventh OA.

Tires are ‘free’ in ALMS P1, P2 and GT classes, and spec in PC (Michelin) and GTC (Yokohama.) The tire count is: Michelin-18; Yokohama-8; Dunlop-8 and Falken-1.

 

ALMS ALLOUT

Qualifying for the American Le Mans Series Presented by Patron at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was broken into four segments. The fifteen-minute sessions started with the GTC class with seven cars, followed by the 12 GT cars. Nine PC cars had the third session, with the P1/P2 classes – all seven of them, running last.

KLAUS GRAF/Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a/Honda/Michelin/E-10 got the pole, with a 1:13.573, 1.785 seconds ahead of his only P1 rival, Dyson Racing Lola/Mazda/Dunlop/Isobutanol. It was Graf’s fourth ALMS pole position, and second for the team this year. He said “We have not been on the pole here as a team, but the HPD cars have always done well here. We’ve improved the car in each session. That is the goal no matter if there are two cars or 10 cars in the class. We have also worked with Michelin in testing to bring our street soft tire from Long Beach (a Muscle Milk victory) and make it work here. It says a lot about how well they make tires.”

The two Level 5 Motorsports cars battled each other for the P2 pole, and CHRISTOPH BOUCHUT/HPD ARX-03b/Honda/Dunlop/E-10 prevailed, edging teammate FRANCK MONTAGNY by 0.089 seconds. Team owner, SCOTT TUCKER, said “Christophe and Franck both did a great job today.  I’m happy they are pushing each other to lower their lap times, but not fighting each other on track.”

Qualifying third in the car’s debut was JONNY COCKER/Dempsey Racing Lola/Judd BMW V8/Michelin/E-10. While team co-owner, PATRICK DEMPSEY, said the car’s inaugural run was “Testing With Traffic,” Cocker was fifth overall in a field of 35. Dempsey further said “There’s still a lot to learn, but today we took a really big jump out of the times.”

Bruno Junqueira

Bruno Junqueira

By far, the most exciting session was PC, with very competitive driving. BRUNO JUNQUEIRA/RSR Racing ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet/Michelin/E-10 captured the pole with a 1:17.867, good for sixth overall. This spec class was created for gentlemen drivers, but has some very experienced, talented veteran drivers, who duked it out for the entire session. While the competition for second through fifth carried on, Junqueira just kept knocking down faster laps and retained the pole.

TOM KIMBER-SMITH/CORE Autosport was second, with MEMO GIDLEY/Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in third. Fourth and fifth were BUTCH LEITZINGER/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and COLIN BRAUN/CORE Autosport.

DARREN TURNER in the 007 Aston Martin/Michelin/E-10 turned his pole lap, and then waited in pit lane nail biting to see if it held. It did, at 1:22.229, sixteenth overall. This is another very competitive class. That time was good for sixteenth overall. He said  “I’m looking forward to the race, but anything can happen. If we can keep it in the top three, we’ll be really pleased.”

TOMMY MILNER/Corvette Racing Chevrolet/Michelin/E-85 was second fastest in GT, followed by JORG MUELLER/BMW Team RLL/Dunlop/E-85. Fourth/fifth fastest were PATRICK LONG/Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche 933 GT3 RSR/Michelin/E-85 and Milner’s teammate, ANTONIO GARCIA – with the identical time of 1:22.919. As Long turned the time first – by ten minutes – he will start fourth in class, followed by Garcia – IMSA rules.

The GT class is so competitive that only 0.713 seconds separates the top eight cars.

TOWNSEND BELL, with only 16 laps in the Lotus all weekend, qualified eleventh of 12 GT cars. His co-driver, BILL SWEEDLER, has yet to have any time in the car. The Lotus/Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora/Cosworth/Yokohama/E-10 missed the first session, and had only nine laps in P2, before Qualifying. Bell will be busy this weekend. He is running the full ALMS season with AJR, and he also has a one-off ride in the Indianapolis 500. After the ALMS race Saturday night, he flies to Indy for the second day of practice. Bell is again driving with SAM SCHMIDT, in No.99 Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Honda.

Green Hornet Racing’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup/Yokahama/E-10 took the GTC pole with DAMIEN FAULKNER turning a 1:27.495, twenty-eighth overall. Second and third in class were NICK TANDY/TRG and JEROEN BLEEKEMOLEN/TRG.

Conquest Endurance Morgan/Nissan/Dunlop/E-10 will start at the back due to no qualifying effort. After topping the first P2 practice session, the car only made eight laps in the second session. DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON felt something break and he pitted immediately. The crew found a broken front suspension piece, and went to work in hopes of making the Saturday afternoon grid.

ALMS ACCELERATING

CORE Autosport PC

CORE Autosport PC

LUCAS LUHR continued to take the lead in the American Le Mans Series Presented by Patron at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, running first overall and in the P1 class. He lowered his time by more than a second, turning a 1:15.697 in the Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a/Honda/Michelin/E-10. The team, owned and run by Northern California racer, GREG PICKETT, considers Laguna Seca its home track. The team is based in Benecia, three hours North of Monterey.

The other P1 car, Dyson Racing Lola/Mazda/Dunlop/Isobutanol, had an off which caused mostly cosmetic damage, when CHRIS DYSON spun on cold tires.

Also maintaining its position, in the PC class, was TOM KIMBER-SMITH/CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet/Michelin/E-10. He was fifth overall, with a lap of 1:19.376. This is Kimber-Smith’s first trip to the 2.238-mile elevated road course.

The other three classes mixed it up, with different leaders.

The P2 class leader was FRANCK MONTAGNY/Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b Honda/Dunlop/E-10, finishing second overall at 1:16.815.

Level 5 Motorsports P2

Level 5 Motorsports P2

DARREN TURNER/Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage//Michelin/E-10 led the GT class, at 1:23.432, seventeenth overall.

The GTC Class was led by MARTIN RAGGINER/JDX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup/Yokahama/E-10, twenty-ninth overall with a time of 1:29.031

All 35 of the ALMS field were on track, including Lotus/Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora/Cosworth/Yokahama/E-10. The car was last of the GT cars, twenty-eighth overall. But it was on track and got in nine laps.

ED BROWN/Extreme Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia/Michelin/E-85 beached it in Turn Six, causing a Red Flag for the tow.

By the time the sports cars took to the track Friday afternoon, the track had heated up and the radios were alive with the teams trying to decide what tires to declare/mark for Qualifying. One of the problems was that the track was different in the shade than in the full sun. There also was a fair amount of dust and sand kicked up by over-zealous drivers driving wide of the track.

The top speed I saw recorded on the Start-Finish radar sign was 143 mph, fastest so far of the weekend – from what I saw.

 

ALMS GETTING ACCUSTOMED

Muscle Milk P1

Muscle Milk P1

The American Le Mans Series Presented by Patron had its first official track session Friday morning at Mazda and a minute later the first car spun on cold tires. The ambient temperature was in the low sixties.

The cars started out slowly and carefully, for the most part, and as the session wore on, so did the tires and confidence and the times dropped.

LUCAS LUHR/Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a Honda/Michelin/E-10 was again fastest overall and in P1 class, with a time of 1:16.834. Dyson Racing’s Lola B12/60 Mazda/Dunlop/Isobutanol was second in the class of two.

The fastest P2 driver was ANTONIA PIZZONIA/Conquest Endurance Morgan/Nissan/Dunlop/E-10, turning 1:18.179, ahead of four other cars in class. He was third overall, behind Dyson.

Conquest Endurance P2

Conquest Endurance P2

TOM KIMBER-SMITH/CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09 Chevrolet/Michelin/E-10 beat eight other PC drivers, with a lap of 1:20.385 – sixth overall.

OLIVER GAVIN/Corvette Racing Chevrolet/Michelin/E-85 was the fastest of the 12-car GT class, at 1:23.973, good for fifteenth overall. He pretty much led the GT field during the session.

DAMIEN FAULKNER/Green Hornet Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup/Yokohama/E-10 was the fastest GTC car, at 1:28.648, twenty-eighth overall.

Corvette Racing GT

Corvette Racing GT

 

The beleaguered Lotus Evora/Cosworth/Yokohama/E-10 of Lotus/Alex Job Racing didn’t make it on track, as the team was trying to resolve the engine management issues which caught them out after only four laps during Thursday’s test session. The crew was hoping to make it for the second practice, or at least in time to qualify.

Lotus/Alex Job Racing GT

Lotus/Alex Job Racing GT

 

FANTASTIC FRIDAY & ROOKIES RULE

Each day the weather and ambiance just gets better at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Friday was the third of a four-day weekend – the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron. Both IMSA an SCCA Pro Racing have series competing this weekend.

Friday the weather was already in the low sixties and try sunny for the first ALMS hour-long practice session.

Earlier there were two races and one qualifying session for support series.

Rookie TRISTAN NUNEZ/Performance Tech Elan DP02, 16 1/2 years old from South Florida, won from the pole position in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Series. He  led all 17 laps. Nunez also was first in the L1 class. His Margin of Victory over runner-up ANTONIO DOWNS/Eurosport Racing Elan DP02 was 2.821 seconds in the half-hour race.

SCOTT TUCKER/Level 5 Motorsports West WR1000 won the L2 class, finished fourth overall. Within the overall field, there are eleven drivers in the Masters Class. The top placing Masters driver was CHARLIE SHEARS/Comprent Motorsports Elan DP02.

Nunez has had six consecutive poles in the series. The IMSA rules require the drivers start on their qualifying tires. With the track getting dirty from all the sand and dust on the track from drivers’ off-course excursions, most drivers ran a fast qualifying lap and  parked, waiting to see how it shook out.

IMSA Lights has a second race on Saturday.

The IMSA Lites field has fifteen American drivers and two from Canada in the Lites 2 category.

In the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race, Rookie ELLIOTT SKEER won the early morning 45-minute race. He started second and got past pole sitter, Rookie STEVAN MCAleer, finished in second place, 3.001 seconds behind.

Friday was a very full day. Besides the two afore-mentioned races, there was the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge Pirelli race, the IMSA GT3 Cup race, and more practice for ALMS prior to its qualifying at the end of the day.

Last year’s ALMS Race went into the night, ending at 7:30pm, as it will this year.  But this year, the race’s end will still be daylight edging into twilight/dusk. The sun didn’t set until after 8pm Thursday night. And what a beautiful sunset it was!

JUSTIN BELL

JUSTIN BELL

 

While it was still daylight at the end of Thursday’s activities, TARO KOKI, ESPN3 Pit Reporter, eventually after much discussion and what appear to be coaxing from racer/TV Broadcaster, JUSTIN BELL, rode a miniature trike from the Corkscrew down the hill towards Turn Eleven. What we who were watching from the Media Center didn’t know that Bell was originally slated to take the ride, but chickened out. At least that’s the story I heard from ESPN. Way to go, Justin!

 

ALMS TESTS THE RED FLAG

Muscle Milk P1

Muscle Milk P1

The breezes had slowed, the few clouds in the blue skies were wispy, and it was mildly warm at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca when the American Le Mans Series Presented by Patron field took to the track late Thursday afternoon.

As the ALMS sessions were tests, the red flag was liberally used to move any car caught out mechanically or otherwise. One such car was CHRIS DYSON/Dyson Racing Team Lola B12/60 P1 – one of two cars in the class. He spun out on cold tires in the Corkscrew. Others included TRG’s No.66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup in the GTC category which parked between Turns Five and Six – where a Lotus had gone off earlier. The session was Time Certain, so the clock ticked during the Red Flags.

The pits were quite busy during the two-hour session, so getting a clear photograph of pit lane cars was nigh on impossible. In some cases, the crew swarmed all over the pitting car that the car was almost covered.

I didn’t have time to much watch the Start-Finish radar sign. The fastest time I saw was 140 mph.

LUCAS LUHR/Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a was the fastest overall and in the P1 class. His time was 1:16.837. The next four cars were LUIS DIAZ/Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX/03b P2; GUY SMITH/Dyson Racing Team Inc Lola B12/60 P1; CHRISTOPHE BOUCHET/Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b P2 and Dempsey Racing Lola B12/87 P2, after running as high as second overall.

Merchant Services ORECA FLM09 was sixth overall and first in the PC class.

Driver transponders weren’t mandatory for the test so it wasn’t always possible to know who was in the car at a given time.

Jan Magnussen No.3 Corvette

Jan Magnussen No.3 Corvette

The two yellow Corvettes dominated the GT session, swapping the lead back and forth. In the end it was OLIVER GAVIN in No.4 and JAN MAGNUSSEN second in class, fifteenth and sixteenth overall.

Green Hornet Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup was fastest in GTC, twenty-seventh overall.

ALMS has five categories, so there are races within races. Classes P1 and P2 are the purpose-built Prototype categories, an expensive category with fewer cars. Tires are open. GT is typically the largest class and this weekend is no exception – 12 cars. GT’s are production-based moderately modified sedans, similar to their showroom counterparts. Tires are open. PC is Prototype Challenge with all the cars being ORECA FLM09 prototypes, and they all run on Michelin tires. GT Challenge has three versions of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, and they all run Yokohama tires.

After the session ended and the track was cold, an intrepid ESPN pit reporter rode a mini-trike from the Corkscrew all the way down to Turn Nine, feet stretched out in front of him. The set up with the camera crews and the Safety Crew from San Francisco Region SCCA took three times as long as the actual run. It’s expected the bit will be used during the race broadcast.

MAZDA EXTENDS LAGUNA SECA NAMING RIGHTS

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

It was a picture-perfect day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the announcement that Mazda North American Operations is extending its naming rights contract with the Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula. JAY AMESTOY, Vice President, Public Affairs and Motorsports of MNAO said the extension was for five years-thru 2017, and he expected more extensions after that.

It was smiles all around, including GILL CAMPBELL, CEO/General Manager of the track, and JOHN PINEO, Monterey County Director of Parks. And the icing on the cake in the announcement was the addition of one of Mazda’s favorite drivers, PATRICK DEMPSEY, who has been driving Mazda’s since the beginning of his race career. He lauded all the support of Mazda throughout the years. He feels the love from those in motorsports.

Dempsey had the option of running Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in Utah or making his planned ALMS debut at Laguna Seca, his ‘home’ track.’ Easy Choice said he. The track has great history, with PHIL HILL winning his first race here in a 120 (Jaguar), and “I want to be part of that history.”

Dempsey said this weekend will be a “Test With Traffic.” Laguna has great rhythm.

On another subject – the progress of Dempsey’s movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain” … he’s aiming for shooting in the fall. The director’s choice is down to two. Meanwhile, on the website of author GARTH STEIN, there is a trailer for the movie, mainly focusing on ENZO.

Thursday’s schedule for the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron weekend called for practice and qualifying for Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites Power by Mazda, IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, and SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge and Playboy ALMS field is 35 strong. The class breakdown is: P1=2; P2=5; GT=12; PC=9; and GTC=7.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

Wednesday was a beautiful spring day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patron weekend. Once the morning fog lifted and was blown away by the crisp ocean breeze, it was clear skies and sun all day. The ambient temperature was in the high sixties, while the track temperature was in the seventies in the morning and nineties in the afternoon – as per a Pirelli tire engineer.

ALMS is the feature race this weekend, with a six-hour endurance race Saturday afternoon and into the dusk.  The other series are SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge and Playboy Mazda MX5 Cup, IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama, and Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites.

All but ALMS tested Wednesday, and as it’s unofficial, no times were given. There were a few Red Flags to tow cars who ran into trouble – mostly self-inflicted. But, there were no injuries to drivers, and mostly minimal to cars. Once in awhile I would look at the trick radar sign on the Start-Finish bridge, and the highest speed I saw was 132 mph. Wait until tomorrow.

Dempsey Racing Logo

The big news Wednesday was the late entry of Dempsey Racing … as in that Dempsey – actor and race car driver/owner, PATRICK DEMPSEY aka Dr. McDreamy on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Dempsey, along with long-time co-driver and mentor, JOE FOSTER of Georgia and co-driver JONNY COCKER from the UK, will debut No.27 Lola B12/87 with a Judd BMW V8 engine, running Michelin Tires and using E-10 fuel.

The ALMS Trina Solar/GNC Beverages/Motel Racing car will run in the P2 category, bringing that field up to five cars.

The last-minute decision to run the race at Laguna Seca came after a three-day test-shakedown session last weekend at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Dempsey had his first run in the car last Friday. “This race will really be a continuation of our learning and testing process, only this time in front of a bigger crowd.”

Dempsey has been running GT cars in the rival sports car series, NASCAR’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. His ALMS plan include a partial 2012 season, a full 2013 season and then The 24 Hours of Le Mans. All will be revealed Friday in a press conference.

Dempsey racing will also be running another car in the Saturday ALMS race. In the PC class, the team will run No.25 Oreca FLM09 with a Chevrolet engine. Michelin Tires and E-10 fuel. Every car in the PC class runs the same car, engine, tire and fuel.

Dempsey Racing's P2 car

Dempsey Racing's P2 car

The support series continue practice and qualifying on Thursday and ALMS has late afternoon/dusk testing.