Dyson hoping to take Sebring lessons to St. Pete
“It was a typical Sebring, a real rollercoaster of events,” said Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith of the team’s return to its Porsche roots for the first race of the 2007 American Le Mans Series season. The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was both encouraging and challenging, as the team’s pair of Porsche RS Spyders ran at a good pace, but on-track contact with other cars and too much time in the pits put victory out of reach.
Dyson Racing, one of sports car racing’s top independent teams over the last 20 years, gets its next crack at victory at this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg.
“We were very encouraged by the pace of the Porsche RS Spyders at Sebring,” said Chris Dyson, Smith’s teammate in the No. 20 entry. “The cars are clearly quick enough to take P2 victories this year. Unfortunately, we suffered a few mechanical issues and some on-track incidents, so we weren’t able to contend for the class win.”
Contact with another car sent Dyson into the pits for a 24-lap radiator, water line and side pod replacement in the first hour of the race. Butch Leitzinger in the #16 Porsche was also the victim of a fellow competitor and made an extra stop to repair body damage. Then a flat tire with Andy Wallace at the wheel of the No. 16 damaged the bodywork, and the entire rear diffuser had to be replaced.
Mechanical and electrical problems nagged the team, including low voltage in the No. 20 that set off various alarms on the dash. Not such a big problem but the car’s radio wasn’t working, and Smith had no way to ask the crew if he needed to come in to address the warnings, or if he could safely ignore them. The car also had a power steering leak that the crew needed to keep topping off with fluid, forcing two extra stops.
The sister car had its own electrical issues, requiring the crew to change the alternator and the battery at one stop, and then later in the race, the paddle shifter.
The team was not only learning about the new cars, but also about how the Michelin tires perform on the Porsches. Team engineer Peter Weston explained, “The entire week was spent on setting up the cars so we could double stint the tires,” a crucial timesaver during pit stops. “We ended up using our test setup with slightly softer springs.” Unfortunately, heavy rains on Thursday and Friday changed the track surface and, Weston explained, “the tires lost grip as they cooled off in the evening.”
Andy Lally, who partnered with Leitzinger and Wallace for his Dyson Racing debut, described the chance to drive with the team as “absolutely a dream come true.” Lally added, “Very few cars dropped out of the race, and that made some of the night driving tricky, especially passing some of the slower cars.”
This year’s early return to Daylight Savings Time reduced the night racing and made the endurance contest seem to go by more quickly than usual. “That was the fastest 12-hour I’ve ever been involved in,” said team manager Randall Kelsey.
Extra points are awarded for the Sebring endurance classic, so the No. 16 car’s fifth-place finish earned it the same number of points awarded for a third-place at a shorter race. Likewise, the team car earned extra points for its sixth-place finish. “Usually Sebring sets the tone for the whole season. But with so many races and so many cars in the class, it’s not quite the make-or-break race that it has been,” Weston said. He’s looking forward to the upcoming events, calling the Porsche RS Spyder “tailor-made for a street race.”
Dyson is confident about the races yet to come. “Everyone is working very hard at Porsche to ensure success in the coming races, and we are very excited about the upcoming races at St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Houston,” he said. “I think the cars should go very well there.”
Leitzinger is also undaunted by the somewhat disappointing debut. “We had some problems, but the feeling I have is one of real enthusiasm for the coming year,” he said. “This is the best car I’ve ever driven - it’s fast and communicates well to the driver. Porsche has a great support system and it was obvious at Sebring how strong the LMP2 class is.”
“P2 will be amazing this year as we have seen that Acura means business,” Smith said, “and Porsche doesn’t like to be beat, so watch this space!”
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. The race will start at 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 31. SPEED will provide a same-day broadcast event from 8 to 11 p.m. MotorsTV in Europe, SPEED Latin America and 7TV in Russia will carry the race live. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA’s Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.