ALMS Media Day recap
SCOTT ATHERTON GIVES HIS INSIGHTS
American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton gave a brief glimpse at what 2009 holds for the world’s leading sports car championship. From green racing and manufacturer diversity to economic strategies and the overall brand and platform were highlights of his address.
“The 2008 season was our strongest on record,” Atherton said from the Series’ annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway. “We are the best-positioned motorsports series for the current day: economic, environment and otherwise.”
Atherton addressed the following topics:
GREEN RACING: “It’s not the work of the American Le Mans Series but what has been conducted by SAE International coupled with the EPA and DOE. For any series to want to formally and really approach a green racing platform, it’s there. It’s not exclusive to the American Le Mans Series. We have been proud to be in a leadership role but it has never been intended to be an exclusive domain. We invite all forms of motorsport. We don’t believe this (ignoring green options) is going to be an option going forward. For racing to continue to survive, it will be imperative that green racing becomes a part of all platforms.”
MANUFACTURER DIVERSITY: “We continue to have more manufacturers represented in our paddock than any other series combined. We can take a hit, survive and continue. One manufacturer and two cars don’t make a Series. At the same time Audi has decided to do what it has done, others are electing to come in.”
SPECTATOR COUNT: “The trends in spectator increases from last season continue. Early indications are that the same trends for 2008 are still in place here for Sebring. The track is reporting that it is online for a record number of hospitality units. Ticket sales are trending on the same path from last year, which was a record year. The goal here is to post up an increase over 2008.”
“One of the first calls they made was to the American Le Mans Series to say ‘We would like to invite you to be a part of our display. Furthermore, we want you to bring your cars that showcase the leading-edge technology that is being developed in the Series that has that link back to the road cars. Show us alternative fuels, show us fuel efficiency, show us automotive innovation that is exciting, that is leading-edge and has a level of relevance that is unmatched.’
They then gave us the opportunity to participate with them in their press conference. We have an announcement to make in
THE PLATFORM: “The platform and branding remains unchanged. If there was ever a time to stay the course, this is it. We are real, we are upscale and we will not apologize for the form of motorsport we represent. There is substance that will make a difference. It is worthy of investment. We will not lift.”
ACURA TAKES DOUBLE CHAMPIONSHIP AIM
It has been a particularly newsworthy week for Acura. The new ARX-02a LMP1 entry is testing publicly for the first time at Sebring International Raceway alongside the slightly updated ARX-01b for the 2009 American Le Mans Series.
Patr¢n Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports will be flying the flag for Acura in P1 with a radical-looking design from Wirth Research and Honda Performance Development. The most obvious outward features are wide front tires (they’re actually full rear Michelins) and a swooping rear wing mount.
“The concept of our car has become clear,” said Erik Berkman, president of Honda Performance Development. “How do you fight against diesels with a petrol powered car? You have to do something different and that is out of the box.
“We’ve taken a pretty unique approach,” he added. “This car is pretty good on tires and can go softer yet. We want to see what the propensity is for double and triple stinting, even more. You’ve seen our lap times this week and there is more. But right now the biggest question is if Sebring will bring us to our knees or will we be able to survive?”
The results have been encouraging so far. Through four sessions over two days, de Ferran’s Simon Pagenaud had posted the fastest time with a lap of 1:44.814 (127.082 mph) Tuesday morning. It was quicker than Marco Werner’s existing Sebring qualifying record - 1:44.974 (126.889 mph) in an Audi R10 TDI from 2007.
“This a very exciting project,” said team owner Gil de Ferran, who will drive with Pagenaud and Scott Dixon at Sebring. “That in itself brings its own challenges. No one to my knowledge has tried a similar concept so we’re trying to get the best out of this car. We are making significant steps forward in these early stages. We could always wish we had a little more time but I am looking forward to meeting Audi and Peugeot over here. They are formidable competitors but we have a great team and look forward to the challengers.”
Both de Ferran and Patr¢n Highcroft moved from LMP2 last season to P1 this year. Under normal circumstances it would be an ambitious move. With all the innovations from HPD and Wirth, it makes a bit more daunting especially in the early days of testing and competition.
“The car is considerably more sophisticated,” Patr¢n Highcroft Racing owner Duncan Dayton, who will send drivers David Brabham, Scott Sharp and Dario Franchitti to drive the car at the 12 Hours. “We have a pretty steep learning curve finding what makes the car happy and work. There are a lot of reliability issues to get our hands around although we’re making progress on that every day. We’re headed in the right direction. The preparation of the car is paramount as well as avoiding small problems that become big problems.”
Meanwhile in P2, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing is back for its third season and second straight with the Acura ARX-01b. Team owner Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz will contest the full season for a third consecutive year; Michel Jourdain Jr. will join them at Sebring and Petit Le Mans.
Last year saw the Lowe’s Fernandez entry finish eighth in the class championship with a season-best second at Mosport. That didn’t tell the entire story, though.
“Our expectations are to finish races,” Fernandez said. “We proved last year that if you don’t finish races then you don’t get points. We found out last year how important that is. It was a very frustrating season in that respect. We passed the whole field at Laguna Seca last year but came in for our last stop and the car wouldn’t start. It was that kind of season.”
“Some people believe that in tough times, you can cut back on racing,” Berkman summarized. “It’s happening to all of us. But I want our chest out, our head up. We’re proud of our effort and want to showcase it.”
DYSON ‘ZOOM-ZOOMING’ INTO 2009
The new alliance of Mazda and Dyson Racing went on record Tuesday to discuss their excitement for the 2009 season in the Mazda-powered Lola 08/86 LMP2 coupe.
“There is terrific momentum,” said John Doonan, MAZDASPEED Motorsports Team Development Manager. “We have not scratched the surface yet” of what can be done as Mazda and Dyson Racing.
He also noted that Mazda’s progress has attracted worldwide interest. At least six prototypes around the world will feature Mazda MZR-R power, setting the Japanese marque apart.
“We have been building a great friendship with Mazda since 2005; it was always a question of not if but when we would get together,” said Chris Dyson, team driver as well team VP and Sporting Director “There is a lot of commonalities and shared values with Dyson Racing and Mazda. We both have a common purpose - integrity.
“It is a wonderful reunion of sorts - BP, Castrol, Lola, Advanced Engine Research (AER), Michelin. All together this will take the program to the next level, so to say. The Lola coupe is a large step forward. The engine is very potent. I think it’s real to be targeting race wins for 2009.”
Marino Franchitti remembers growing up with Mazda. “My relationship with Mazda started when I worked in a Mazda garage cleaning cars as my summer job. I know a lot about the car and I know we have a great package.”
Ben Devlin has acquired the most time in the car with experience that is unmatched. He drove the car late last season for B-K Motorsports. “I have built family ties with Mazda. What I learned last year with the engine and chassis I look forward to applying for 2009. We saw great potential.”
BMW, RAHAL LETTERMAN PROGRESSING WITH NEW M3
BMW and Rahal Letterman Racing are seeing the fruits of their labor together at Sebring International Raceway. The entire full-season contingent are on hand for the first time for the American Le Mans Series’ annual Winter Test. BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team’s new history begins in the newest-generation BMW M3, a car “trimmed for racing,” and fully committed to the challenge and competitiveness of competing in GT2, the Series’ deepest class.
“We are very proud to return to the American Le Mans Series,” Rahal Letterman Racing’s Bobby Rahal said, “and to have finally put this program together with BMW. For me, as a driver and team owner, I want to thank BMW for its commitment and providing us with a great driver lineup and car.”
Martin Birkmann, Motorsports Manager for BMW North America, agreed that the relationship parallels in its brand values - technical skills, proficiencies and professionalism - and will no doubt present strong competition in the GT2 field. “Racing is engrained in our DNA at BMW,” Birkmann said.
The drivers also had plenty to say Tuesday.
Bill Auberlen on his return to the BMW family: “I have driven all the generations of BMWs and it’s a soul thing - the sound on the inside… it makes me smile to be welcomed back” by the M3.
Joey Hand on the tie-in between the M3 road car and race car.: “I am fortunate to drive this race car and have an M3 on the street with me at home. With BMW, it’s all about balance, something I have never felt in any other car I’ve driven. Good front grip. Good on the corners. Good breaks.”
Tommy Milner on growing up with BMW: “I have always been a fan of BMW. For me, I started my career with BMW driving for my dad and it’s an honor to be on the team.”
Dirk Müller’s and his personal extensive experience: “I’m thrilled to be a part of the chain and am looking forward to working with Bobby Rahal and BMW. I’ve had six years of BMW experience in Europe and one year in
FLYING LIZARD’S NOT-SO ODD COUPLE
Flying Lizard Motorsports drivers Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister will never be mistaken for twins. That much is clear.
“Physically we’re very close,” Long said Tuesday with an obvious sarcastic smile. “We can use all the same seats and pedals, steering wheels and all that. Our accents are very compatible.”
It doesn’t take long to get the joke. Bergmeister is a 6-4, blond-headed German. Long is a 5-9, red-headed American. Perhaps the closest thing they have in common is that they are both Porsche factory aces.
They also are one of the most successful duos in the American Le Mans Series. They established themselves as a premier pairing in 2005 and 2006 with eight combined GT2 victories and three class championships between them.
It gives Flying Lizard an extremely valuable lineup as it attempts to defend its GT2 championship from 2008.
“It’s nice to be together with my ex-wife again! That’s what I call him,” Bergmeister said. (Ed note: Long responded, ‘I thought I was the husband!’) “We are really close friends. It’s always good being paired together. I’m looking forward to gaining even more success with the new car.”
The new car is Porsche’s 2009-spec 911 GT3 RSR, an upgrade and update to a car that helped the manufacturer recapture the GT2 championship in arguably the most competitive class of 2008. That’s not likely to change this year.
“We have as much development to do as anyone else. We’ll have to step it up even more again,” said team principal and driver Seth Neiman. “Porsche knows how to win championships and develop customer teams. We want to build a team that can last and be competitive every year. To do that you need the stability of a manufacturer like Porsche.”
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