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USCC Point Standings
2014 After Watkins Glen
Prototype Drivers
Pos Drivers Total
1 Joao Barbosa 31
1 Christian Fittipaldi 31
2 Brian Frisselle 26
2 Burt Frisselle 26
3 Sage Karam 26
4 Max Angelelli 25
4 Jordan Taylor 25
4 Ricky Taylor 25
5 Scott Pruett 24
5 Memo Rojas 24
6 Sebastien Bourdais 23
7 Michael Valiante 22
7 Richard Westbrook 22
8 Scott Dixon 22
8 Tony Kanaan 22
9 Ryan Dalziel 21
9 Scott Sharp 21
10 Johannes van Overbeek 21
10 Ed Brown 21
11 Marino Franchitti 20
12 Alex Brundle 20
12 Gustavo Yacaman 20
13 Eric Curran 18
13 Boris Said 18
14 Oswaldo Negri Jr. 18
14 John Pew 18
15 Joel Miller 18
15 Tristan Vautier 18
16 Gabby Chaves 18
16 Katherine Legge 18
17 David Brabham 17
18 Simon Pagenaud 17
19 Wayne Taylor 15
20 Fabien Giroix 14
20 John Martin 14

Manufacturers
1 Chevrolet 38
2 Ford 34
3 Nissan 28
4 Honda 26
5 Mazda 18
It's crunch time for ALMS teams

by Greg Creamer
Saturday, August 08, 2009

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Lowe's backed Fernandez car
In both the figurative and literal, it most surely is “crunch time” for the competitors in the American Le Mans Series. But one doesn’t blend well with the other, and it poses a rather significant conundrum for the teams and drivers. Success in one sense may breed failure in the other. It is just this type of stretch in a championship battle that takes the balancing act that competitors face at every event and forces it to the extreme.

In the figurative sense, this is by far the busiest run of races this season. In August alone this weekend at Mid-Ohio kicks off three races in four weeks. Add in Lime Rock two weeks ago, and that’s four in seven. And it is in these types of stretches that championships are won or lost. 

This is when a team can string together a run of success and make a big move in the points battle, perhaps even leapfrog into the lead. A team that is truly hitting its stride, whose mindset is well prepared for the grind ahead and the challenges it presents, and whose collective nerve is unflappable and execution in all facets is near perfect - and repeatable - can find great fortune in the weeks ahead. Especially if they get a little help…

Ah, now there’s the rub, isn’t it? One’s help is usually another’s misfortune, and in the literal sense, “crunch time” is something to avoid at all costs in such a crucial period. And “crunch” doesn’t just mean contact. It includes mechanical breakage. It includes mental breakdown. Brake fade and brain fade.

And in the type of stretch we’re in; the affect of one failure can multiply exponentially over the next races. A big shunt and resultant thrash can take a physical toll on a crew, thereby increasing the chance through a combination of exhaustion, haste and the law of averages of another issue. Or, a simple mechanical failure or puncture or the like that results in a big hit in the points can take a mental toll on the team. And if rattled and distracted, the likelihood of something else going wrong rises dramatically. Ultimately, if a team isn’t up to the task, either scenario can result in crises. And while their competitors may not yet have won, they have already lost.

So, caution is surely the approach, yes? Don’t push the equipment too hard, don’t get too ‘racy’. Simple survival is clearly the best strategy. Keep your nose clean and just accrue points. Just be there at the end of each race. Yeah, that’s it!

But, what if another team is always there at the end of each race as well, and often a spot or two ahead of you? Sure, you’ve come through the stretch unscathed, everyone clean shaven and well rested with no circles under eyes which are bright and clear. But you’ve not only failed to gain in the points, but you’ve dropped further astern and your shot at the championship has slipped away.

We’re back to that delicate balancing act I mentioned earlier. Aggression versus caution, speed versus survival.  It’s not so much WHETHER to make the decision to fight or retreat, but knowing WHEN. And right there is the key, in the beloved term of engineers, to “optimizing” your results during the dog days facing the teams. The KNOWING. Success this August should tilt toward those with experience. 

The knowledge gleaned from having been through this before is invaluable. Sure, there is no doubt those who will ask “Yes, but what about luck?” Granting that there is always that sliver of purely random luck that can skew any strategy no matter how well planned and executed (proof? Patr¢n Highcroft at Lime Rock…), but there is truth in the old adage - or cliché to the jaded - that one makes their own luck. Having been there, done that and preparing for all the known possibilities as thoroughly as possible, is the greatest asset a team can have.

You still, however, must have in that recipe one more crucial ingredient…speed. No matter how solid your experience, prep and strategy, at this level you must also have the pace to outduel your competition, and in both driver and machine. You simply must have the right mix. For classic examples one need only look to both last year and this year at Le Mans. 

In 2008, Peugeot clearly had the speed. Pre-testing and qualifying proved that. But in the race, Audi’s experience generated a flawless strategy, and mated to the package of experience and speed the drivers had (and incomprehensible speed in all conditions of one McNish, Allan in particular!), they pulled off their most stunning victory at La Sarthe.

This year, after last year’s fast but mistake-ridden debacle, Peugeot learned from that EXPERIENCE, reoriented its program accordingly and, in what was surely a key adjustment, realized that sports car/endurance racing experience and not just raw speed in its drivers was vital. Was it just coincidence that the car that won had David Brabham as a pilot? I think not!!

And that points out the most exciting aspect about this next month is that the players in the American Le Mans Series are among the best in the world. When the car takes to the track it is prepped at a world class level. When it comes steaming down pit lane, the crews swarming over them are at the top of the game. And when the drivers decide to not fight for the moment, that adjustment can be in only hundredths of a second. Virtually undetectable in form, but massive in result.

While a team may well not be able to clinch by Augusts’ end, it can certainly keep or haul itself into the hunt. Conversely, it can just as surely take itself completely out of it. This is what multiclass international sports car racing is all about, and the game is afoot! So tune in and witness the wizardry, for it is in a stretch run like this that a team’s mettle is truly tested, and true champions are borne.

Greg Creamer is one of road-racing’s foremost broadcasters and personalities. He has been the play-by-play host for the American Le Mans Series, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Formula 1 and many other motorsport championships. His “From the Booth” commentary will periodically appear on americanlemans.com.

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