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ALMS: Good News, Hopeful News

David Phillips
Monday, April 27, 2009

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ALMS at Long Beach
After what was widely regarded as the dullest American Le Mans Series race in recent memory at St. Petersburg, things perked up considerably at Long Beach. There was a lively - if controversial - scrap for LMP1 honors between the Acuras of De Ferran Motorsports and Patr¢n Highcroft Racing. Lowe’s Fernandez had to work for Acura’s LMP2 win over Dyson Racing’s BP Lola-Mazdas. The Flying Lizard Porsche came out on top in GT2, but only after an entertaining scrap with the similar Farnbacher Loles entry ended when the latter suffered mechanical problems.

And in contrast to St. Pete, Corvette was on hand to claim GT1 honors in the U.S. swan-song for its mighty C6.Rs, even though the No. 3 ’Vette was (metaphorically) on the trailer long before the checkered flag dropped.

In addition to the return of the GT1 Corvettes, the field was augmented by the first appearance of VICI Racing with its T-Mobile Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, likewise the Team Falken Tire Porsche made its debut at Long Beach. Coupled with the Autocon Motorsports Lola-AER in LMP1, those entries produced a grid of 20-plus cars. Not exactly an overflow entry but surely better than St. Petersburg's dismal count of 17.

Paul Gentilozzi is bringing the Jaguar brand to ALMS
Of course the GT2 ranks figure to expand in the coming months, what with Corvette’s long-awaited post-Le Mans move into the class and the welcomed announcement that Jaguar will be joining the fray sometime this season at the behest of Rocketsports Racing. For those keeping track, that makes eight of the world’s leading marques which compete in GT2 by season’s end: BMW, Corvette, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Panoz and Porsche. Rocketsports boss Paul Gentilozzi is seldom prone to understatement, but his comments at the press conference announcing Jaguar's entry into GT2 are worth repeating.

“What Trans-Am was (in its glory days) is what GT2 is today. It’s the best sports car/sedan racing anywhere in the world. We can talk about what Trans-Am used to be, what DTM used to be. But as you look on the horizon, what’s coming in GT2 is a great group of teams, a great group of drivers that have spirited intense competition, and that’s what the fans want to see.”

Still, it’s another marque whose decision whether or not to participate in the American Le Mans Series this year or next figures to most influence the overall health of the Series. That, of course, would be Audi. Recent rumors swirled around the paddock suggesting Audi is poised to re-enter American Le Mans Series competition as early as the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio in early August.

Officially, Audi remains moot on the prospects of a near-term return to the American Le Mans Series (Ed. Note: Audi of America president Johan de Nysschen recently spoke on the possibility of a full-season return in 2010 to AutoWeek). However, anyone with a pulse can readily understand that even the rumor of an Audi return is welcome news to the Series. After all, Acura’s continued participation in the Series must be in grave doubt. Absent Audi (or any other manufacturer, for that matter), Acura faces only token opposition from independents like Intersport and Autocon in LMP1. And even though Acura now faces serious competition from Mazda in LMP2, that program is clearly winding-down this year with Acura's focus switching to LMP1 and Lowe’s Fernandez Racing openly pursuing sponsorship for Luis Diaz in the 2010 IndyCar Series.

Speaking of which, in addition to Acura’s American Le Mans Series sports car program, Honda is heavily invested in the IndyCar Series, not only supplying engines to each and every competitor but supporting the series through various race sponsorships and collateral marketing programs including television, magazine and newspaper (remember them?) advertising efforts.

In the current economic environment, one could hardly be surprised were Honda to decide to put all its remaining eggs in the IndyCar basket for 2010 under any circumstances, but particularly if it faces no opposition in LMP1 from Audi or any other major manufacturer. So the American Le Mans Series left Long Beach in better shape than which it arrived in St. Petersburg. A few new teams and sponsors with the promise of more to come augur well for what well may be the glory days of GT2. And now there's at least a glimmer of hope on the LMP1 horizon. So far, however, it's only a glimmer.

David Phillips is one of North America’s most respected and renowned motorsports journalists. His ‘Another Turn’ feature appears regularly on americanlemans.com. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Le Mans Series.

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