ALMS teams test at Miller Motorsports Park
The Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels is still a month away, but three teams from the American Le Mans Series visited the track today for pre-race testing.
|The Penske Porsche at Miller on Monday|
|Miller Motorsports Park/Tyler Marshall|
The series will be competing on the historic street circuit in Long Beach, Calif., this weekend, but the Penske Motorsports, B-K Motorsports and Autocon Motorsports teams made a brief stopover in Utah to gather data in advance of next month’s event at Miller Motorsports Park, scheduled for the weekend of May 16-18.
Although Miller Motorsports Park is not new to the teams, this year they will race on the faster 3.048-mile Outer Course for the first time after having raced the twistier 4.5-mile Full Course the past two years.
Penske Motorsports returns to Utah as the defending race winner with its state-of-the-art Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 prototypes, having defeated the vaunted LMP1 Audi R10 TDI last year with a brilliant pit strategy devised by team owner Roger Penske. The more technical nature of the Full Course also played to the Porsches’ favor, as the smaller car, fitted with a 3.4-liter Porsche V8, is more nimble than the higher-horsepower Audis with their twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter diesel engines. The Outer Course may turn the tables in Audi’s favor.
Penske driver Patrick Long, who got the call up to the big leagues this season after honing his skills in GT cars in recent years, was excited about his new car and philosophical about his new team’s chances.
“Coming back to Miller Motorsports Park with Penske Motorsports and an RS Spyder is a completely new experience,” he said. “I’m loving life right now. I like the new layout of the track. It brings the same fluid activity of the old layout, but with a shorter lap that could open up some more opportunities for passing. It certainly doesn’t play to our advantage, but we’ve defied odds before so we’re never going to count ourselves out.”
Long, who is the only American Porsche factory driver, said that the Outer Course could provide the fans with some of the fastest laps in North America.
“I think the average speed will be really high,” he said, “and I think you can count on seeing lap speeds as high as anywhere we run.”
B-K Motorsports is the factory Mazda prototype team, and its entry in the LMP2 class is a Lola B07/46 chassis with a 2.3-liter turbocharged Mazda four-cylinder engine. Team driver Gerardo Bonilla, like Long, also got called up to the majors this year after working his way up the ladder through the STAR Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and the IMSA Lites presented by Hankook Tires series. He won one of the two IMSA Lites races at Miller Motorsports Park last year, and is also a fan of the Outer Course.
“It’s actually nice, because it’s easier to get a rhythm mentally since it’s shorter,” he said. “The full track is longer than any other track in North America, so it takes more mental energy to do it well. This configuration is not as taxing on the brain, so you can focus more on the smaller technical items around the track. It should be a great race.”
Autocon Motorsports was testing its British-built Creation CA06/H chassis fitted with a 5.0-liter Judd V8 engine, but not for the Utah Grand Prix. The team will miss the race at Miller Motorsports Park in order to get their car sea-freighted to France in time for June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Unfortunately, we will have to miss this year’s race,” said team principal Bryan Willman. “It’s just a matter of timing. We love this facility, and it actually serves as a great test for the circuit at Le Mans. Hopefully we’ll be back for next year’s race.”
This weekend’s race, the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, will be televised on a tape-delayed basis by ABC at 10:30 am MT on Sunday, April 20.
Joining the American Le Mans Series for the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels will be the SPEED World Challenge Championship, the STAR Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, the IMSA Lites presented by Hankook Tires, the IMSA Challenge by Michelin, and the first of this year’s “Magic of Miller” Celebrity Races.