First-Half Surprises in the ALMS
We now have three races of the 10-round American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n complete, and the GT class has lived up to expectations while the other classes have yet to disappoint. That being said, there are a few standouts and surprises. Here are some of mine:
Strength of the Corvettes
It’s no secret that Pratt & Miller along with GM can build a great racecar. The Corvette is one of the most successful brands in the sport. They and Corvette Racing had it down to a science in GT1 but GT2 – now GT – threw the team for a loop at first. The competition did their homework; BMW, Ferrari and Porsche all proved how much Corvette had to learn when the C6.Rs moved to GT2. And at the end of 2011, I was not sure that anyone would be able to construct something to challenge BMW.
Then the “Jake” clad machines from Detroit rolled out for 2012. Both cars have top-5 finishes in each ALMS round this year with the No. 4 entry winning the last two. At Sebring, both cars were the fastest full-season ALMS qualifiers with Jan Magnussen and the No. 3 on pole – an impressive two-plus seconds faster than the same race in 2011.
Oliver Gavin set the fastest race lap in the two most recent races and the team shows no signs of slowing down. With both cars competing at Le Mans – and Corvette as defending class champion there – I can only imagine them coming back stronger at Lime Rock.
Class of drivers in Challenge classes
When IMSA introduced the LMP Challenge and GT Challenge categories, the intention was to offer a place for teams and drivers to learn the dynamics of multi-class racing and to grow into the traditional classes.
What we see now are fully funded teams employing professional drivers to coach and team with novice racers who do in fact want to learn but also want to win. GTC has become a “Who’s Who” of Porsche talent with drivers like Jeroen Bleekemolen, Nick Tandy, Sean Edwards, Leh Keen, Martin Ragginger, Damien Faulkner and Spencer Pumpelly all competing in 2012 alone.
Prototype Challenge has had an equally surprising growth with open-wheel and prototype stars Bruno Junqueira, Raphael Matos, Memo Gidley, Dane Cameron, Butch Leitzinger, E.J. Viso and others. The competition in both challenge classes is at a shockingly high level. Each race comes down to the end and there is no way to predict who will be there at the checkered flag. Look at the final five minutes of the Mazda Raceway round for an example.
Struggle of Porsche
Debuting a new car is not an easy feat; we have seen it be a challenge in the past. But for me, it’s surprising that Porsche is as far away from the rest of the GT competition with the new 2012 911 GT3 RSR. Porsche is the most successful brand in ALMS history and it expects to fight for championships – let alone race wins. But the start of 2012 has seen the new car fighting to stay close to Corvette, Aston Martin, BMW and Ferrari.
The most recent event in Monterey saw the Porsches nipping on the heels of their GT rivals late in the race, but is there enough to contend for victories? We saw in 2007 that it took most of the season for the most recent iteration of the 911 to develop into a race-winner. Are there similarities to this year? To me, there are still more questions than answers.
After having the opportunity to watch the ALMS grow and develop from year to year, there are certain things that I take for granted. I assume that each year there will be more cars, more fans, closer competition, etc. Given the continuing lag of the global economy perhaps I should be surprised; but I am not. The ALMS keeps drawing the crowds, competitors and competition. One more thing I am certainly not surprised about is that I am looking forward to the season picking back up at Lime Rock Park in July!