SLIP SLIDING AWAY

Lagoon & Convention CenterThe really early birds, such as volunteer race marshals and officials, got into the track Friday by 6am for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach while it was still dry. It was warmer than I expected. The skies looked promising, with almost flickers of rosy trying to push through the grey clouds. But, ultimately, the only red was the color of three session-stopping flags.

But, by the 7:15 am Green Flag for the American Le Mans Series the sprinkles had escalated into a torrential downpour. Parts of the track, especially by ‘The Fountain’ had serious puddles. The five-class sports car group got all kinds of weather in its two-hour session. The teams all went out on intermediate tires – no drys, no monsoons. There were a few slides here and there as some drivers felt like they were auditioning for Team Drift.

Car 54 Where are you? Its owner/driver, TIM PAPPIS/LOL B11/80 HPD, caused the third of three Red Flags when he hit the wall and did sufficient damage to require a flat bed tow. The other  two were AMELIO DiGUIDA/No.66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup; and the No.7 Oreca FLM09. Its drivers are JAMES KOVACIC and TONY BURGESS.

No.37 Conquest Endurance Morgan P2

No.37 Conquest Endurance Morgan P2

The top cars in each class were:

P1 – LUCAS LUHR/Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a

P2 – MARTIN PLOWMAN/Conquest Endurance Morgan

PC – KYLE MARCELLI/Merchant Services Racing

GT – WOLF HENZLER/Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 G3 RSR

GTC – MICHAEL VALIENTE/JDX Racing Porsche

The ALMS cars were first on track at oh dark thirty, and are scheduled to end the day with Qualifying starting at 5pm local time.

RIVETING RACING

It ain’t over until the Fat Lady Sings, or in the case of the ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey by Patron, the checkered flag at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. While the overall leader was certain in the last hour, the GT class went down to the wire. It was riveting as the leaders changed almost like a revolving door.

Talk about ‘Rockets Red Glare’ – literally. Above the checkered flags were pyrotechnics shooting above the Starter’s Stand.

Stirred, not shaken. The Aston Martin Racing AMR/Lola Coupe B09 60 won with three laps to spare to win overall and first in the LMP1 class. It was their first ALMS win.

Driver ADRIAN FERNANDEZ said “It was good to get back to the Lola and know it was reliable. It is the old car, but with new changes. This was only our second race in the car, so Petit Le Mans race will be important. The racing in ALMS right now is fantastic.” He has won nine times.

Co-driver STEFAN MUCKE drove to the finish – his first ever ALMS victory. He said “The race started well, but then we had contact twice and after that, we never thought we could win. I am really happy and thanks to everybody.” The third driver was HAROLD PRIMAT, also winning for the first time.

The Dyson Racing cars didn’t fare as well as hoped, race wise. But the team’s goal this weekend was to clinch the LMP1 championship, and it did – Dyson Racing for Team Championship, and drivers CHRIS DYSON and GUY SMITH for LMP1 Driver’s Championship. Smith turned the fastest LMP1 race lap.

“This one came as hard as any” said owner ROB DYSON. “Racing isn’t over till its over. Championships are valuable because they are very difficult to win.” Their Championship was also extended to Mazda. Lola and Dunlop. The team has been with Mazda for the past three years. This was the first Manufacturer’s Championship for Mazda since the RX-7 won GTO twenty years ago.

Pole sitter No.16 Dyson Racing Lola B09/86 was running third, a lap down with 16 minutes to go when JAY COCHRAN spun out exiting the Corkscrew (Turn 8A) and high centered Drivers Left in the gravel. The SFR SCCA Emergency Crew maneuvered him backwards and push started him down the track. Cochran lost two laps but remained third in class. There was a brief full course caution during the process.

The team car, No.20 Oryx Dyson Racing Lola, ended the race in the pits, also three laps down. The car was having some anomalies in the data readings and the team was checking.

The tightest, most competitive class racing was in the GT class. It was fierce and frequent, the passing and repassing. It was no use trying to write that story before the finish.

For Flying Lizards, it was the first win of the season – in the penultimate round. It was a long time coming. JOERG BERGMEISTER and PATRICK LONG/No.45 Porsche 911 RSR won by retaking the lead on the last lap when JAIME MELLO/No.62 Risi Competizone ran out of fuel. Bergmeister said “It was karma. The Risi guys weren’t playing fair.”

Bergmeister and Long have 54 ALMS wins between them, and Long has won the last three Laguna Seca ALMS GT races. Bergmeister has thirty-four victories and is tied for fourth overall, and Long now has twenty wins. They feel weight has been lifted from them after finally winning this year. They finished eleventh overall.

It should be noted that Long has another race tomorrow, in the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge where he will race No.45 Privacy Star/TruSpeed Porsche 911 in the GT class. He’s leading the standings in that series, and could clinch the title Sunday.

Patrick Long minced no words in the post-race conference. He said “Our strategy was to protect the car and not get into the barn burning racing that GT has progressed to. We tried to stay out of it and hope officials would tone things down. The officials didn’t and I was pretty upset how things went at the end.”

It was at this point in the conference that we learned Risi had been penalized. Long said “There were penalties handed out at the end. We have to keep striving on to win.” Risi No.62 was assessed a 90-second time penalty for “avoidable contact.’ The team wasn’t allowed to take the podium for its third place GT finish. This moved No.62 Risi to sixth in GT, sixteenth overall.

Bergmeister said “Risi was kind of rough with us, not very fair. They kept hitting me, actually both guys were hitting both of us.”

Long continued. “There was door banging, and taking each other to the wall, in first hour. This baffled me. Our team ‘came together’ in our car – drivers and strategist. We said ‘Let the officials take care of it and stick to our own race. We were fuel rich and he sealed the deal on the last lap. We decided to stay out of trouble and not indulge in the craziness.” Long was complimentary to the pole drivers in No.56 BMW RLL BMW M3 drivers, JOEY HAND and DIRK MUELLER, saying “It ran us clean and that was the race we were looking for all day, but didn’t happen because of the 62 car in there.”

“At Laguna it’s come down to some rough racing, a contact sport to some racing. We need to get back to classic racing.”

Hand and Mueller finished second in class, and clinched the ALMS GT Driver’s Championship. BMW RLL won the ALMS GT Team Championship. Hand turned the fastest GT lap.

Third in class was the No.01 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia with JOHANNES van OVERBEEK and team owner SCOTT SHARP.

DUNCAN ENDE/No.66 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup brought it home for TRG in the GTC class, his fourth such win. His usual co-driver, SPENCER PUMPELLY – who drove the fastest GTC lap – has now won three times, but it was the first ever win for PETER LUDWIG.

ELTON JULIAN/No.63 Genoa Racing Oreca FLM09 won the LMPC race, finishing fifth overall, after starting third in class and ninth overall. It was his sixth ALMS win and he turned the fastest LMPC race lap. His co-drivers were MICHAEL GUASCH and ERIC LUX – his second win. Julian was set for a late stint in the race, and had to skip his rest/lunch break to get into the car earlier. After one lap, Guasch said he broke his ankle and couldn’t drive any more. Julian said “I wish I had eaten.”

There was no surprise that the brand new Honda /No.055 won the LMP2 race, as they had no competition. LUIS DIAZ drove to the checkered flag, and the co-drivers were CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT and team owner, SCOTT TUCKER. They finished fourth overall. Thursday’s Test Day was the first time the new car was driven.

Bouchut – who was the fastest LMP2 driver – said “The race at Laguna is hard because it is a big challenge with you in the car. The track changes all the time, some corners change differently. You have to push the machine and see where you go.”

The new Porsche 911 GT3 Hybrid finished first and only in the UNC category (not eligible for points) and tenth overall, despite starting at the back of the field due to not qualifying. This was only its second race in North America, and third race outside of Germany. The drivers were ROMAN DUMAS and RICHARD LIETZ. They only made three pit stops. There was a contingent of German and Austrian Porsche engineers here to watch the Hybrid’s progress.

Porsche factory driver Dumas – the fastest of the the two drivers – said “The drivers like to say it’s about the power – the four-wheel-drive and 200 extra horsepower generated from stored braking energy, but the Porsche hybrid racing system is much more than that. It’s generating those things with fewer pit stops and more efficiency. Beating this world-class field of factory GT cars is really something special for us.”

The next round is the season finale race -Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in two weeks.

PHOTOS TO FOLLOW
Media Center closing

ALMS IS FOR THE FANS!

ALMS is for the fans!

ALMS is for the fans! Photo by Lynne Huntting

The sun came out Saturday morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and it’s been blue skies and gentle breezes for hours. The ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron had its morning warmup. SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge qualified for Sunday’s race. IMSA sanctioned Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites and IMSA GT3 by Yokohama had their races. It was a busy morning, and there were fans everywhere.
ALMS Pre Grid

ALMS Pre Grid. Photo by Lynne Huntting


In addition to all the track activities, the ALMS drivers had an autograph session, all positioned in front of their paddock/garage locations. It was elbow to elbow. Even more crowded was the grid prior to the ALMS start – with a fan walk. It was not for the faint of heart nor the claustrophobic. But the fans lapped it up, getting autographs, taking and posing for pictures, and just generally enjoying the wonderful weather.
Bryan Sellers & Engineer

Bryan Sellers & Engineer. Photo by Lynne Huntting


BRYAN SELLERS/No.17 Team Falken Tire and his engineer opined that while they were enjoying sitting on the pit lane wall enjoying the weather, it was unexpected and affected the car setups. They had to revise, considering that it was their hottest day and their coldest day – all in the same race. Sellers is on a roll, figuratively. He’s won two races this season and is looking forward to Saturday’s race, but admits that it will be tough with the right competition and challenging road course. He will start ninth in class, twentieth overall. His co-driver is WOLF HENZLER.

The qualifying driver starts the race in ALMS.

In the morning ALMS Warm-up, the fastest drivers per class were: LMP1-LUCAS LUHR/No.6 Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing AMR/Lola Coupe B08 62; LMP2-CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT/No.055 Level 5 Motorsports Lola; LMPC-FRANKIE MONTEBELLO/No.05 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09; GT-JOHANNES van OVERBEEK/No.01 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia; GTC-MARTIN RAGGINER/No.30 NGT Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup; and UNC-ROMAIN DUMAS/No.911 Porsche Motorsports North America Porsche GT3 Hybrid.

Dyson crew thrashing on Pole Car - on Grid

Dyson crew thrashing on Pole Car - on Grid. Photo by Lynne Huntting


During the morning warm-up the pole sitting car, No.16 Dyson Racing Team Inc. Lola B09/10 had some mechanical problems, which they worked on all the way up to the start of the race.

For Sunday’s Cadillac Sports Car Grand Prix, World Challenge driver RANDY POBST/No.6 K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 AWD has the pole, overall and in the GT class. Starting first in the GTS category will be PAUL BROWN/No.50 Tiger Racing Ford Boss 3025; and AARON POVOLEDO/No.88 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 AWD will be on pole for the TC class.

The IMSA GT3 by Yokohama race started 37 of the 38 entries, with SCOTT TUCKER/No.055 Kelly Moss Motorsports was excluded for avoidable contact.

Bryce Miller & Sascha Maassen

Bryce Miller & Sascha Maassen


Bryce Miller's winning IMSA GT3 car

Bryce Miller's winning IMSA GT3 car. Photo by Lynne Huntting

BRYCE MILLER/No.35 TruSpeed Motorsports won overall and in the GT3P (Platinum) class. The GT3G (Gold) class was won by MIKE HEDLUND/No.64 Jerry Woods Enterprises, finishing fourteenth overall. Miller started second behind pole sitter, HENRIQUE CISNEROS/No.26 NGT Motorsport, taking the lead on Lap Four and racing on to win the 26-lap race. Cisneros finished second, with CARLOS KAUFFMAN/No.24 NGT Motorsport finishing third.

The Margin of Victory was 0.953 and the race ran for 45.34.171.

Turns out the IMSA GT3 winner Bryce Miller is D. Bryce Miller from Laguna Niguel CA. The ALMS GT driver Bryce Miller hails from Summit NJ.

New Jersey BryceMiller joined the obligatory ALMS drivers autograph session. Then he waited in the pits as his co-driver, SASCHA MAASSEN started the ALMS race in their No.48 Paul Miller Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. They will start tenth in the large GT field, twenty-first overall.

LUCAS DOWNS/No.79 Eurosport Racing won the Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites overall and in the Lites 1 class. SCOTT TUCKER/No.5 Level 5 Motorsports won the Lites 2 class, finishing eleventh overall. Tucker was a busy man on Saturday also. He was entered in three races, and ran two. After his ALMS autograph session, he suited up for the ALMS race. Bouchut qualified the Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-01G LMP2 car and will start the race, first/only in class, and fifth overall.

The weather continued warm into the afternoon, certainly feeling (to me) warmer than the reported 62 degrees – the predicted high. The low is supposed to be 53, so we’ll see.

SMITH, BLEEKEMOLEN, HAND, MARCELLI, TUCKER & LEITZ FAST UNDER CLOUD COVER

Guy Smith No.16 Dyson Racing LMP1

Guy Smith No.16 Dyson Racing LMP1. Photo by Regis Lefebure

GUY SMITH/No.16 Dyson Racing Lola B09/86 has the pole for Saturdays ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey Patron race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Smith’s lap was 1:13.927, 0.694 ahead of STEVEN KANE/No.20 Oryx Dyson Racing. This was Smith’s fourth ALMS pole this year, fifth overall, and second in a row at Laguna Seca.

Smith said “This is a great circuit and one of those places that drivers either love or hate. Fortunately fo rme, I really enjoy it and it suits my driving style. I scored my first ALMS pole here last year and there is no better place to do it with a Mazda engine. We know what we need to do for the championship. The best thing for me is to treat it like another race. if you think about a championship too much then it becomes a distraction.”

It was interesting to observe the track’s speedometer, and for each session I noted the fastest time I saw.

Third was ADRIAN FERNANDEZ/No.007 Aston Martin Racing. Fourth and fifth were KLAUS GRAF/No.6 Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing, and TONY BURGESS/No.12 Autocon.

While it had been sunny for four hours prior, as the Prototypes took to the track for their fifteen minute qualifying session, the clouds rolled in fast and thick, for a cloud-cover session. Then, as the cars pitted, the clouds briefly parted, and the operative word here is briefly.

It seemed that the most position changes lap by lap were seen in this class. Five drivers in this class really went at it and the top speed I observed was 155 mph. All five had Lola chassis. Dyson Racing’s two cars had the same chassis, and the other three cars had different chassis.

Jeroen Bleekemolen

Jeroen Bleekemolen. Photo by Rich Chenet

JEROEN BLEEKEMOLEN/No.54 Black Swan Racing was the fastest GTC driver, of nine, all racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars. Bleekemolen’s lap was 1:27.850. “It was a good session. I was able to get a nice gap to second place. I had a couple of really nice laps.The competition is quite high as we are running the same car. I think we have four or five cars that can win.”

DAMIEN FALCONER/No.34 Green Hornet/Black Swan Racing Porsche and SPENCER PUMPELLY/No.66 TRG were second and third. The speedometer’s fastest time was 129 mph.

The largest ALMS class is GT. Although there was dicing around for position, in the end it was again JOEY HAND/No.56 BMW Team RLL, at 1:22.226. It was his fifth ALMS pole position. “This definitely is my home track. A lot of people would say the Corkscrew is the best corner, but I really like Turn 9 and Turn 10. Turn 9 is a man’s corner  because there is so much speed and risk. We want to win and are in attack mode. I’ve been fighting a cold all week and it’s been aggravating.

Second and third kept changing lap by lap. For Saturday’s race, OLIVER GAVIN/No.4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 will start second in GT.

Hand’s teammate, BILL AUBERLEN/No.55, was third in GT. The fastest GT speedometer time was 134 mph. The session was interrupted by a red flag for and the clock ran out. Starting thirty-fifth in a 36-car field will be the No.98 Jaguar RSR, as it didn’t run the session.

LMPC had seven cars, all with low and loud throaty sounds. The fastest observed speedometer reading for this class was 136 mph. All the competitors drove Oreca FLM09 cars.

KYLE MARCELLI/No.89 Intersport Racing at 1:18.844 has the LMPC pole. His sister car, No.37, did not qualify and will start thirty-fourth. Marcelli said “Everyone is jelling really well at Intersport. Qualifying was the first time this weekend on new tires, and I didn’t know how much time there would left in that set. This race will be about attrition. You can’t afford to make mistakes like drop wheels off the track. The key will be to keep it between the lines.”

Second and third in LMPC were GUNNAR JEANNETTE/No.06 CORE Autosport and ERIC LUX/No.63 Genoa Racing.

Two classes, LMP2 and UNC were one car classes. CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT/No.055 Lola Honda qualified fifth overall and first/only in LMP2. “It’s a brand new car. We are really happy so far. It’s running like we expected. In terms of performance, it’s very competitive. I am very confident, but it’s very challenging in all the corners. So much sand can come on to the track. This may be a lot like Spa because of the elevation. But there is only one Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It is so unique.”

Porsche 911 Hybrid

Porsche 911 Hybrid. Photo by Lynne Huntting

The UNC Porsche 911 Hybrid didn’t qualify, and will start last.

As always with IMSA, the results are unofficial until the Starting Grid is released.

COOL HAND JOEY & SNOWY DUO

Track Speedometer SignIt’s been “unseasonably cool” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, not the type of weather typical for the annual fall sports car race. This weekend is the ModSpace American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron race, along with four support series – IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, Cooper Tires Prototype Lites, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, and Star Mazda Series.

All five series practice Friday morning, with qualifying in the afternoon for ALMS, IMSA GT3 and Prototype Lites.

ALMS had two hours of Testing Thursday, in cold foggy weather. The new ‘speedometer’ atop the track’s cross-over bridge shows the speed of the cars as they pass under and crest the Turn One hill. The fastest observed speed Thursday was 157 mph in ALMS. It’s hard to say which car it was, as the speed is recorded after the fact, as the cars goes out of sight.

Although it’s not usual for Test times, ALMS did post a sheet Friday morning for the Thursday session. The fastest drivers in each class were: P1 and overall-KLAUS GRAF/No.6 Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing AMR /Lola Coupe B08 62 at 1:16.293/105.603 mph. P2-CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT/No.055 Level 5 Motorsports Lola Honda – only car in the class this weekend; PC-RICARDO GONZALES/No.06 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09; GT points leader JOEY HAND/No.56 BMW Tam RLL BMW E92 M3; GTC-MARTIN RAGGINER/No.30 NGT Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, a last minute substitution Thursday, replacing SEAN EDWARDS; and the UNC leader and only car in the class RICHARD LIETZ/No.911 Porsche Motorsports North America Porsche GT3R Hybrid.

The family that plays together stays together. In the IMSA GT3 field of 38 cars, there is a Mother and Son duo. MELANI SNOW/No.56 Snow Racing Platinum 2011 has been racing for years, but has not raced at Laguna Seca since 2009. The Platinum class is for 2010 and 2011 Porsches and has 25 drivers.

Melanie & Madison Snow

Melanie & Madison Snow


Son MADISON SNOW is racing No.62 Snow Racing Gold 2008. According to the driver and the Porsche representative, fifteen-year old Madison is the youngest Pro Series Porsche driver in the world. He is a Rookie and leading the Gold class points, ahead of 12 other drivers. Madison came to the IMSA GT3 Series from Go-Karts, which he has raced for a long time and a few Skip Barber Mazda races at his home track, Miller Motorsports Park in Utah – the only circuit this IMSA season on which he’s raced. All the other IMSA circuits on the 2011 schedule, including Laguna Seca, are new to him. Madison has spent a lot of time on video games learning the new tracks..

Madison likes the famed Corkscrew, says it’s fun, but thinks maybe it has too much hype. Overall he really likes Laguna Seca He said Thursday it was hard because the wind was blowing sand onto the track, and he had to adjust for that.

With school approval, Madison has skipped classes this week. He turns sixteen on 26 December 2011.

FOGGY TESTING AND BUSY DRIVERS

Scott Tucker Prototype Lites

Scott Tucker Prototype Lites. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Thursday was a full-schedule Test Day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the ModSpace American Le Mans Series Monterey presented by Patron. That’s a mouth full. The track was busy 9am to 7:30pm, with ALMS not being on track until late afternoon and evening.

As it’s a test day no times are being published. The support series have two sessions each, one in the morning and one in afternoon. ALMS takes the track late afternoon and into the night.

After the typical late morning fog burned off, it was a beautiful September four hours, with blue skies, gentle breezes and warm sunshine, better weather than had been predicted. Then fog rolled back in mid-afternoon, the breeze picked up, and the temperatures dropped.

The American Le Mans Series is the featured event, with four other support series racing during the three-day weekend. ALMS has a six-hour endurance Saturday afternoon and evening. Other series racing this weekend are Cooper Tire Prototype Lites Championship and IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, sanctioned by IMSA; the SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge presented by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine; and Star Mazda, sanctioned by IndyCar.

ALMS has 36 cars in the seven classes, down three cars from the advance Entry List. The ALMS class breakdown is LMP1=5; LMP2=1; GT=13; UNC=1; LMPC=7 and GTC=9. Missing this weekend will be the two Robertson Racing Doran Ford Elan Power GT cars, and the Porsche Napleton Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup in the GTC category. They all run selected races. Robertson has a Pro Car and an Amateur car. One of the Pro drivers, ANTHONY LAZZARO of GA is running No.33 Prototype Lites 1 for Ferrari of Houston. The Napleton team also is involved with the (Porsche Cayman) Intercontinental Trophy Cup Series in its inaugural season.

ALMS is an international series, with 28 drivers from foreign countries – Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

The Prototypes Lites series has 17 cars, with 17 in the Lites 1 Group and six in the Lites 2 category. The majority of drivers in this group are American, with three from Canada and one each from Ireland and Puerto Rico.

IMSA GT3 has 38 spread among its two classes – Platinum Cup=26 and Gold Cup=13. This series has mostly American drivers, with two from Canada and one each from Colombia and Venezuela.

Patrick Long WC Car

Patrick Long World Challenge Car. Photo by Mark Weber


SCCA World Challenge has a field of 36 cars, in three categories: Grand Touring=15; Grand Touring Sport=10; and Touring Car=11. Included in the group of mostly American drivers are two Canadians.

Star Mazda has 16 cars, with two categories – Expert Series Competitors and Team Championship Drivers. The joke in this crowd is that the Experts are the drivers old enough to rent a car. The Mazda drivers come from the US and six foreign countries – Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Ireland and Venezuela. Seven are rookies. Mazda has partnered with IndyCar and the Star Mazda Series is part of the Mazda Road to Indy.

I haven’t cross referenced all the Entry Lists yet, but there are several drivers and/or teams running more than one series this weekend.

SCOTT TUCKER of KS is going for over-achiever of the weekend, running three races, all on Saturday. Not only is his Level 5 Motorsports LMP2 Lola Honda making its debut this weekend with co-drivers LUIS DIAS of Mexico City and CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT of France, Tucker will run solo in two other races – Prototype Lites in No.5 Level 5 Motorsport Lites 2, and IMSA GT3 Cup No.55 for Kelly Moss Motorsports.

Tucker is leading ALMS LMP2 Driver standings with co-driver Bouchet with 71 points each, and his other co-driver, Dias, is second in the standings with 55 points, sharing with RYAN HUNTER-REAY of FL. This weekend the team is only running the one new Honda Performance Development ARX–01g. In the other two series, Tucker is eighth in both IMSA GT3 Gold and Prototypes Lites 2.

PATRICK LONG of FL is racing a Porsche 911 GT3 in both ALMS GT with Flying Lizards Motorsports and in SCCA World Challenge. His number happens to be 45 in both series. Long is leading the World Challenge GT Driver standings, with 1152 points, 115 points ahead of JAMES SOPRANOS of CA, racing No.14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche GT3. In ALMS, the 2010 GT Champion is tied for fifth with his 2010 and 2011 co-driver, JORG BERGMEISTER of Germany.

TRG, which considers Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as one of its two home tracks, is racing cars in two series with different drivers. In the ALMS GTC category, the team is fielding two Porsche 911 GT3 cars: DUNAN ENDE of CA and SPENCER PUMPELLY of GA, with PETER LUDWIG in No.66 and DION von Moltke of FL, EMILIO di GUIDA of Venezuela and Team Owner, KEVIN BUCKLER of CA. Dr. JIM NORMAN of FL is running No.11 in the IMSA GT3 series, as is CARLOS GOMEZ of Columbia. Ende and Pumpelly were leading the GTC points until last weekend’s race in Baltimore, where they had ‘adversity.’

TRG is also running ANDY LALLY in this weekend’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase Race at Chicagoland. He is the top Rookie in the Series, and is in the top 35 of the Owner Points, which guarantees him a spot on the grid.

There are no TRG cars at the NASCAR Grand-Am race this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Friday’s schedule calls for Practice for all series, and Qualifying for all the IMSA-sanctioned Series – ALMS, IMSA GT3 and Prototypes Lites. SCCA qualifies Saturday morning at oh dark thirty, and Star Mazda ditto for Sunday morning.

GIL GOES IN GLORY • ROUGH RIDERS

The sun came out Saturday as Grand Marshal GIL de FERRAN gave the command to the field of American Le Mans sports cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was just one of many special moments for the Brazilian team owner/driver at the Monterey Sports Car Championships weekend. He is retiring as a driver, but remaining as a team owner. The 41-year old driver put his No.66 Acura ARZ-02a LMP1 car on the pole with a flying lap at the end of the 20-minute Friday qualifying session.

The de Ferran Motorsports car had a special all-white paint scheme for the weekend, emulating that of his mentor and hero, JIM HALL, of Chaparral fame. Hall, and two of his famous cars were at Laguna for exhibition and several demonstration laps and lots of photo ops. De Ferran used to race for Hall and won his first Indy Car race with Hall at Laguna Seca in 1995.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was de Ferran winning the four-hour race – with co-driver SIMON PAGENAUD, who started the race, and turned the race’s fastest lap. The team bested  six other class contenders.

It was cold, windy and the Monterey Bay fog had rolled in at race’s end, but there were smiles all around enough to warm anyone.

De Ferran said “Coming into the weekend, there were a lot of different thoughts going through my head. But I had a job to do as a driver. In a way, the race was so intense that I never had time to think of anything else. This car I know is an Acura but for all effects, I think it was a Chaparral this weekend. When you look at the car from a distance, it really does look stunning.”

With more than an hour to go in the race, the No.9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a LMP1 clinched the 2009 LMP1 championship. Drivers SCOTT SHARP and DAVID BRABHAM finished third overall, second in class. The team, which had been leading going into the race, had completed 70 percent of the race and sealed the deal. Good thing as they had some mechanical issues in their last pit stop.

Patron Highcroft Racing, owned by DUNCAN DAYTON, a vintage car racer, also won the Prototype Green Challenge.

The LMP2 winner was ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, team owner and driver of No.15 Acura ARX-01B – with co-driver and LMP2 pole sitter, LUIS DIAZ. They finished second overall, and they were the only other car on the lead lap. The Margin of Victory was 0.662 seconds. At the last pit stop Fernandez took on four tires, while de Ferran took fuel only.

The Fernandez drivers twice led briefly, during pit stops. Diaz turned the fastest LMP2 race lap. This is the last ALMS race for the Fernandez team. Unconfirmed rumors has the team considering Indy Racing League. There were four LMP2 cars in the race.

The GT2 class had the most cars (14) and perhaps the most exciting finish. That race was won by JORG BERGMEISTER and co-driver PATRICK LONG/No.45 Flying Lizards Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, finishing sixth overall. It was neck and neck with Pole sitter was JAN MAGNUSSEN/ No.3 Corvette Cr.6,  with a crash ending right under the Starter’s stand.

Magnussen gave Bergmeister a good run for his money in the waning laps of the race, hounding him every step of the way. The two swapped the lead several times in one lap, making a Porsche sandwich out of another car going three wide through the apex of Turn Two, and putting on a thoroughly entertaining, if not nail-biting show. Magnussen officially took the lead but had to give it back for making the pass at pit exit. He turned the fastest race lap in the GT2 category.

It was neck and neck on the last lap, when Magnussen bumped Bergmeister who crowded Magnussen to the pit wall in front of the checkered flag, and the Corvette spun across track and crashed into the wall, finishing second in class and seventh overall.

Magnussen was taken to the track Medical Center and released, sore but walking back to his compound. Later, after being at the hotel, the Dane went back to the local Monterey Hospital for further observation. Race officials haven’t heard anything more.

Magnussen said “Going into the last corner I was too far away to make a proper attack, but Joerg parked the car. I didn’t see that, so I slid up and hit him a little – he went sideways and I managed to get on the inside. It was a drag race up the hill, and I managed to get ahead of him. Then he turned me into the wall, and he kept turning in. Then I spun around the nose of his car.”

Bergmeister said “I’m definitely sorry Jan went into the wall. I didn’t want that to happen. But it was a banging game. I’m glad he’s OK. It was just race – tough racing. The Corvette passed me the first time at the hairpin but he went in way too deep and I was able to get back around him. He was a little quicker I have to say. I wasn’t trying to figure out where he was gaining time on me. I was trying to stay on track and in front.”

The race results are official and the GT2 finish remained the same.

Flying Lizards won the GT Green Challenge.

The ALMS Challenge class winner (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) was Velox Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, with MITCHELL PAGEREY and SHANE LEWIS, taking sixteenth overall. Operative word is was. After the race, ALMS excluded the car for fuel capacity. This gave the victory to pole sitter  GUY COSMOS/No.47  Orbit Racing  Porsche,  and his co-driver JOHN BAKER, who finished seventeenth overall. That class had eight entries.

ALMS also excluded Gruppe Orange No.36 Challenge car with drivers WESLEY HOAGLUND and BOB FAIETA, for minimum weight. They had finished third in class and eighteenth overall. Faieta had turned the fastest race lap in the class.

Thirty-two cars ran the race, and ten did not finish. There were four cautions for 21 laps.

DRIVER DRAMA

Rookie RAPHAEL MATOS/No.2 Luczo Dragon Racing kept his Sunday fastest driver position, in the second day of qualifying for the 2009 Indianapolis 500 at The Brickyard. He is the top  and only Rookie yet to qualify.

The lineup for the second eleven qualified drivers:
Matos, PAUL TRACY/No.15 KV Racing Technology, VITOR MEIRA/No.14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises when he re-qualified after his original run was disallowed due to a technical infraction; JUSTIN WILSON/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing; HIDEKI MUTOH/No.27 Andretti Green Racing; ED CARPENTER/No.20 Vision Racing; DAN WHELDON/No.4 Panther Racing; A.J. FOYT IV/No.41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises; SCOTT SHARP/No.16 Panther Racing; SARAH FISHER/No.67 Sarah Fisher Racing; and DAVEY HAMILTON/No.44 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Kingdom Racing.

Viso, Hamilton and Fisher were in line at 5:59 PM EDT, but were reminded by BRIAN BARNHART,  IRL President of Competition that IRL reserved the right to request drivers to pull out of line if they weren’t planning an attempt. They pulled out, to allow Sharp to make his run. They all had already qualified in the field.

Barnhart complimented those three drivers: “The sportsmanship out there was incredible today.”

SCOTT SHARP was on track when the gun went off. It was his third try after being bumped and withdrawing a run; but it succeeded and he was twentieth of the 22 now in the field. He bumped Viso, who now will have to try again next weekend. Viso said “There was a lot of drama going on, and things obviously didn’t end up as we all wanted. But we knew that being in the 21st, 22nd position is a very vulnerable position and anything could happen. And it happened just in the last minute, and that’s a sad thing because we didn’t have time to go back out and defend ourselves.”

Sharp races in the American Le Mans Series race next weekend at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. His team has a first-week engine lease deal with Honda, but there are some miles left on the engine. Sharp hopes his team and IRL can work something out for Sharp to test somehow, between Utah and Indianapolis.

TODAY’S TALLY
Bumped: Viso; Sharp; Andretti; Foyt IV; and MILKA DUNO/No.23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Withdrawn: Sharp; Tracy and Fisher. Also Rans: 2008 Rookie Champion, RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.21 Vision Racing; and ALEX TAGLIANI/No.34 Conquest Racing, who each attempted a run in the last ten minutes, but waved off when they realized they weren’t fast enough.

Late in the afternoon during practice between qualifying attempts, JOHN ANDRETTI/No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing spun and swirled down the track into the Turn One wall and gave it a huge whack. He was seen and released from the Clarian infield medical center, cleared to drive. However, soon after he was bumped from the Sunday’s field.

Andretti explained “We’ve been fighting the balance on the car, making changes. We were loose the time before, and I guess that was my out lap and probably got a little bit hot for the balance of the car and just lost the back end. I had a little bit of an oops this morning, too, and managed to save it, but that one jumped too far on me too quickly. I feel fine. The car took a hard beating, and that’s frustrating. The team will work on it. They’ll get it back together, and we’ll be back on next week.”

GRAHAM RAHAL/No.02 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing took a ride on the wild side to avoid hitting the wildly spinning Andretti. Rahal turned it every which way but loose to avoid hitting Andretti…and he succeeded. It certainly will make the highlights reels. While he climbed out of the car not a very happy camper, Rahal’s crew and team back in the pit lane were all smiles and clapping – Rahal didn’t crash. Later Rahal said “It was a helluva moment. My father was yelling “yellow, yellow, yellow” and I could tell by his voice that it was right in front of me. His (Andretti’s) car exploded with debris going everywhere. I locked up my brakes, causing the engine to kill, and I had to restart. The front tires were flat by then, so I couldn’t drive off. I did hit one of his tire ramps which bent my left front suspension , but it didn’t hit me in the head. I’ll happily take that. It’s better than putting the McDonald’s car in the wall.”

Rahal’s teammate, Rookie ROBERT DOORNBOS, will have a car ready to drive next Thursday. He crashed both the primary and backup car – left side on one and right side on the other.  Both tubs got damaged a bit, but nothing major, according to NHLF Chief Mechanic, MITCH DAVIS. “In the end only one car full of parts was damaged. The primary car went back to Chicago for work, and the backup car is nearby in a carbon shop getting work done. It will be ready Tuesday for Doornbos to drive next weekend.”

One reader quipped that it seemed that the drivers were trying to qualify…for Dick Clark’s Top 40 Spins, Volumes One and Two.

Panther Racing called DARREN MANNING to stand by for MIKE CONWAY, who crashed Sunday morning in practice and is in Methodist Hospital overnight for observation after suffering a bruised lung. The team already has Manning’s seats and everything, and Manning is still looking for an Indy 500 ride; but he thinks “Mike’s going to be absolutely fine.”

The teams now have three days off, before practice starting noon Thursday 14 May 2009.

MARCO FASTEST WHILE SUN SHINED

Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway it started out breezy, overcast, and dry for the delayed ‘Opening Day’ of practice for the 2009 Indianapolis 500. Wednesday’s Opening Day was all but rained out, so Friday’s schedule was to start at 10:30 am instead of noon, to allow more practice time. There was, however, a 25-minute delay to dry the damp track and then it was all systems go. The clouds did part late afternoon to allow the sun to shine warmly, and by the end of the day at 6 PM local time, the skies were blue and it was 76F/24C degrees ambient while the track was 99F/37C. The peak temperatures were recorded at 5:45 PM – 77F/25C and 102F/38C.

The fastest driver overall Friday was MARCO ANDRETTI/No.26 Andretti Green Racing at 222.478 mph/00.39.9152. He turned that lap mid afternoon on his thirty-fourth of 52 laps. He said “It wasn’t a bad day for Team Venom Energy, we obviously had tow and had the fastest time today.  But I think on our own, we are not bad as well, the positive thing is we worked really hard on the car balance and it’s pretty good. We’re doing our best, for sure.”

Second fastest was HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 Team Penske, the only other driver in the 25’s at 225.237 mph/00:39.9579. The other three were RYAN BRISCOE/No.6 Team Penske, last year’s champion for Indy 500 & IRL – SCOTT DIXON/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing; and his Ganassi teammate, DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.10.Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti and Wheldon are all past Indy 500 winners.

Top Rookie was ROBERT DOORNBOS/No.06 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing in seventh place, behind DAN WHELDON/No.4 National Guard Panther Racing. In the last minute of practice, Wheldon brushed the wall exiting Turn Two.

This is only the Dutchman’s second ever oval race, the first being his run last weekend at Kansas Speedway, where he qualified second, but finished twelfth, one lap down. Doornbos has run two other races at the Brickyard – two Formula One races on the road course configuration.

Doornbos is being coached this month by fellow Dutchman and two-time Indy 500 winner, ARIE LUYENDYK. Doornbos said “I’m so happy to be here at the Indy 500. I was here before for the Formula One races in 2005 and 2006, but to be here for the Indy 500, you know you are part of something special. You feel the vibe when you see the row of bricks and feel part of the history. I really like driving on the ovals. Rookie Orientation went well, and I was able to get up to speed quickly, so I was looking forward to getting back on track. Arie Luyendyk has been coaching me and helping me make some changes to the car, and we have run well. It has been fun today. We stayed inside the top four for most of the day, and it is looking good. It was nice to be P1 for a while even though it’s just testing. It’s a good motivator for everybody, including the driver. I’m feeling comfortable, and I really enjoy driving here. I liked the qualifying format in Kansas, and I am looking forward to doing it here where it has always been done this way.”

Rookie RAPHAEL MATOS/No.2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing took the most advantage of the day, turning 132 laps – the most of any driver. He’s been busy all week, running 212 laps so far, more than any other driver. Matos was twenty-sixth of the 31 drivers on course Thursday.

All but one of the 2009 Rookies have passed their Rookie Orientation. For STANTON BARRETT/No.98 CURB/Agajanian Team 3G, it’s still a work in progress. He was last Friday.

Thirty-two separate driver/car combinations were on track, with 31 separate drivers. RYAN BRISCOE drove his No.6 Penske Racing car and also the No.12 Team Verizon Wireless car, which is for WILL POWER, who is running just this race. Power also raced his No.12 car. No doubt Briscoe was helping set up the car for Power.

Power had been hired at the beginning of the 2009 Indy Racing League season to fill in for Briscoe’s full-time teammate, HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 Penske Racing, while Castroneves was going through his federal tax evasion trial. Once Castroneves was acquitted, he retook his seat and Power was out of a full-time ride, although Penske hired him for the Indianapolis 500.

RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.21 Vision Racing was seen and released from the Clarian Emergency Medical Center, cleared to race by DR. GEOFFREY BILLOWS, medical director for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. RHR spun and made a moderate hit on the Turn Two wall Thursday afternoon. He attributed the half spin to a calibration and weight issue with some vibration in the tires. The car sustained front and rear suspension damage, but the crew said it is taking its time today repairing the car to make sure everything is alright. The car will be out on track Friday morning, “bright and early.”

PAUL TRACY/No.15 Geico/KV Racing Technology is one of two returning open wheel racers with prior Indy 500 experience and are only running the first weekend of practice. He’s run six Indy 500’s, three under the IRL banner. Tracy feels he can get everything he needs to run this weekend. He ran Tuesday with the Rookies, as a ‘Refresher’ run for returning open wheel racers who have run the Indy 500 in the past, but not last year. Tracy was fastest overall of nine drivers, running only 25 laps of a possible eighty plus.

Friday Tracy said “We had a good day with the GEICO-KV Racing Technology car. We ran a lot of laps in traffic with a lot of race-level downforce. Our objective today wasn’t to try to be the fastest but to work on the race setup. We are inside the top 12 in race trim, which is great because it looked like most of the teams were working on their qualifying setups. So from that standpoint, I am happy with how the day went. However, we are not where we feel we should be for qualifying, so our goal tomorrow will be to start trimming the car out and get ready for qualifying.”

SCOTT SHARP/No.16 Tequila Patron Panther Racing also ran the Tuesday Refresher Course, and was second fastest overall with 26 laps on track. He ran the inaugural IRL season in 1996 and won the 1997 championship with BUZZ CALKINS. Sharp still holds the record for the most IRL race starts-146 and most consecutive starts-138, among other stats. Sharp was fifteenth fastest Thursday.

There are 39 cars at IMS  –  31 with Tech stickers.

Thursday there was 45 minutes of caution, mostly for track inspection.

The Fast Friday schedule calls for cars on track at noon for six hours

FRANCHITTI, PHILIPPE, AND DE FERRAN FASTEST FRIDAY AM

Warm and sunny bright is the order of the day for the first official day of the 35th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Blocks away from the track one could hear the Indy Racing League’s Firestone Indy Lights Series take to the track at 8 am PDT. All six race groups practice and/or qualify Friday.

The first half hour of the 90-minute Indy Racing League IndyCar session was limited to ten drivers, Rookies and those outside the top ten in points. ROBERT DOORNBOS/No.06 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing was fastest in that group.

DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing was the top IndyCar driver Friday morning at 1:11.1915. He spent much of the session in that position. Franchitti, who is sporting long curly locks this season, has a bet with pal TONY KANAAN/No.7 Andretti Green Racing, who has a closely shaved head. Whomever wins first dictates the others hair style. Kanaan is game to take clippers to Franchitti’s hair, and the other side of the bet is that Kanaan will let his hair grow. This weekend marks the 100th race for Kanaan in indy cars.

Second through fifth were RYAN BRISCOE/No.6 Team Penske., MARIO MORAES/No.5 KV Racing Technology, WILL POWER/No.3 Team Penske, and GRAHAM RAHAL/No.02 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing.

Top Rookie was ROBERT DOORNBOS/No.06 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing in sixth place. After racing Formula One and Champ Car in 2007, it’s hard to think of Doornbos as being a rookie, but IRL considers former CCWS drivers as Rookies due to lack of oval track experience.

This will be the second race at Long Beach for Doornbos – he ran the 2007 Champ Car race, and likes street circuits.

Doornbos won the A1 GP Sprint race in Portugal last weekend, racing for Team Netherlands. However, he suffered an electrical problem on the first lap of the Feature race and retired on the spot. Something shorted out from the in-car camera wiring. Team Netherlands is one of the top four countries in the series, along with Ireland, Switzerland and Portugal, and Doornbos said the series is attracting strong drivers. “I agreed to three races for A1GP Team Netherlands but racing conflicts prevent me from any more this season. I enjoyed it and did well – one victory, two poles, three podiums and six starts on the front row. People love it when you win for your country.”

Doornbos said “It’s not that different driving an IndyCar and an A1GP car. I know how to drive open wheelers, with experience in several series including F1. However, the IndyCar is far more comfortable. The A1 car has a more cramped cockpit. The A1 car has mega downforce and lots of grip. The IndyCar has less grip than the Champ Cars. The car is all over the place and it’s hard work to drive.”

Firestone Light’s RICHARD PHILIPPE/No.36 Genoa Racing, JONATHAN SUMMERTON/No.9 RLR/Andersen Racing, SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/No.27 AFS Racing, JAMES DAVISON/No.21 Vision Racing, and JR HILDEBRAND/No.26 AFS Racing were the top five in the early morning practice. There were some spins, minor mechanicals and two visits into the tire walls, but no one was hurt and cars not severely damaged. All 25 were on track, and the top three are Rookies.

GIL de FERRAN/No.66 de Ferran Motorsports Acura LMP1 topped the ALMS morning practice session. The top drivers in the other classes were: LMP2-ADRIAN FERNANDEZ/No.15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura; GT1-OLIVER GAVIN/No.4 Corvette Racing Chevy Corvette; and GT2 WOLF HENZLER/No.87 Farnbacher Loles

ALMS qualifies Friday afternoon for Saturday’s afternoon ‘sprint’ race.