Long Beach: Thursday ALMS Notebook
It’s easy to see why Andretti Green Racing may have been disappointed with last year’s final result in the American Le Mans Series’ first visit to Long Beach. After qualifying on the overall pole position, leading 39 of the first 46 laps and posting the race’s fastest lap, the rookie Acura team finished sixth overall and in LMP2.
Early in the week of the Tequila Patr¢n American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, the AGR squad appears as if it will find itself right back in the hunt for overall and class honors Saturday. Bryan Herta was quickest in the first of two test sessions Thursday, and the No. 26 Acura ARX-01b finished third overall and in class at the end of the day.
“The car mechanically isn’t very different from last year’s,” said Herta, who will team with Christian Fittipaldi. “A lot of the information we gained here last year is helping a lot. The car is really good on street circuits to begin with.”
Before he said anything, Herta expressed his gratitude for Thursday’s test session, a first in the history of the Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. In 2007, teams has a single 45-minute session on Friday morning before qualifying in the afternoon.
“I really do appreciate the track officials and the Series finding more time for us to practice,” he said. “I really think it will be a huge benefit and we’ll have a better race for it.”
BACK WHERE IT ALL STARTED: Last year’s Long Beach race was the first of eight straight overall American Le Mans Series victories for Porsche’s RS Spyder and Penske Racing. Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas started their run to the LMP2 championship with an overall victory, a 0.76-second victory over the sister car of Sascha Maassen and Ryan Briscoe.
“It is a good feeling to come back here after the success of last season,” said Bernhard, who is riding a streak of eight straight P2 wins with Bernhard to set a Series record. “We only had 45 minutes of practice then qualifying last year, so we did a very good job adapting the car. We were prepared as we could be. I am glad we have more track time than last year; it is a help more for the people who haven’t been here before.”
Last year’s Long Beach race also saw an overall podium sweep for Porsche, the first time it accomplished the feat.
AD-VANTAGE FOR DRAYSON-BARWELL: Drayson-Barwell’s brand new Aston Martin Vantage GT2 made it through Thursday’s session without major dramas. The car was delivered to Los Angeles on Tuesday with the team picking it up Wednesday. The car’s only shakedown came in the parking lot of a local Aston Martin dealer later that night.
Still, that did little to quell the team’s excitement of the new cellulosic E85-powered machine.
“There is lots of work to do but that’s not unexpected,” said Jonny Cocker, who will drive with Paul Drayson, the former defense minister in British Parliament. “There definitely is a lot more time to find in the car. I felt like I was driving the car to the limit and thought we would be behind. But I didn’t think it would be this much. We’re trying to find a direction to go in but it will get better throughout the weekend.”
LUCAS LIKES LONG BEACH: Audi Sport North America’s Lucas Luhr has had more success on street courses than any driver in the history of the American Le Mans Series. With seven victories in eight street starts, he is hoping to add Long Beach to an already impressive résumé that includes an overall victory two weeks ago in St. Petersburg.
“I like the circuit. It is quite bumpy as you would expect for a street course,” said Luhr, who is teaming with Marco Werner in the diesel-powered No. 2 Audi R10 TDI. “There definitely are more bumps than St. Petersburg. It also seems quite quick for a street course although I don’t like the hairpin at the last turn; it is too slow of a corner. Other than that, it’s a great track and I already am enjoying it.”
Audi struggled at last year’s race with Allan McNish and Dindo Capello only able to muster a seventh-place finish overall. The R10 TDI relies on quick corners and long straights to take advantage of its V12 twin-turbo diesel powerplant. But the weight of the car and its long wheelbase make it difficult navigating the tight and twisty Long Beach circuit.
“We knew before today that it would be difficult here for our car,” Luhr said. “It is harder to pass here than at St. Petersburg, that is for sure. You don’t really have a long straightaway, only a long right-hand turn.”
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE FOR SUTHERLAND: Panoz Team PTG’s Tom Sutherland is racing at Long Beach for the second consecutive year. But it’s his first in the Panoz Esperante GTLM after competing in the Toyota Atlantic championship last season. The difference in driving styles and handling characteristics is more than significant, he said.
“The racing line is the same. But in the GT2 car you have find a different way of doing it,” admitted Sutherland, who is teaming with Tommy Milner. “I feel like I’m in a really good place, and sports car racing is definitely the place to be right now with everything going on. I still have a lot to learn but things are going well so far.”
The Tequila Patr¢n American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, Round 3 of the 2008 season, is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. PT on Saturday, April 19 from the famed Long Beach street circuit. ABC will broadcast the race from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 20. XM Satellite Radio will provide coverage on Channel 144 from 7 to 9 p.m. ET Saturday, April 19. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage of the race at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA’s Live Timing & Scoring.