ALMS/Grand Am double header attracts big crowds at Road America
One of the biggest crowds in nearly 20 years at Road America was treated to a little history Sunday, strange-looking as it might have been.
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The DeltaWing — the chrome-finished, narrow-nosed car with a shape unlike anything but maybe a Batmobile — led a race for the first time.
And although its chances at a victory in the Orion Energy Systems 245 were slim at best, the car and the feat were still something to behold.
Nobody was going to beat Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf and Pickett Racing on pure speed, but with a little strategy Brits Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick were going to have a lot of fun trying.
"Today we really showed what the essence of the DeltaWing was all about, Dr. (Don) Panoz's dream of showing how innovative the car is and how revolutionary it is," Legge said of the car rejected by IndyCar but welcomed to the sports-car world.
By stopping early and switching to slick tires on the drying 4-mile surface, Legge cycled to the front 53 minutes into the 2-hour and 45-minute race. She and Meyrick each led eight laps in a race that went 67.
"The car was really quick in the rain," Legge said. "It was a little sketchy to overtake on the wet patches when I had slicks on, but team made the right call ... and then Andy did an amazing job."
The two got unlucky when the race ended with four laps under the caution flag. That allowed a handful of cars to avoid a late pit stop that might have taken the DeltaWing back to second. Instead they took fifth as Chris McMurry and Tony Burgess finished as runners-up for Dyson Racing.
A year ago at Road America, Graf and Luhr overcame a four-lap deficit caused by a water leak but still came up 0.083 of a second short in the closest finish in American Le Mans Series history. This time they had no such problems, and the result was their fifth consecutive victory.
Graf was up by nearly a minute before Jan Heylen buried his Porsche deep in the Turn 1 gravel, forcing a cleanup that outlasted the race.
"My first race with Pickett was in 2010, and the way the team came along from 2010 until today is absolutely outstanding," Luhr said.
"I get asked often, is it boring for you, you don't have competition or not very strong competition. It's not our fault. We are ready to fight."
The way the cautions fell in relation to pit stops, Legge and Meyrick found themselves with the opportunity to race around Luhr and Graf several times briefly. Their straight-line speed was impressive, but realistically the car — nowhere near fully developed — was no match.
"When we were beside them, both of us probably had the idea they weren't going to get past," Meyrick said. "... To be racing wheel to wheel with those guys just shows how far we've come."
The advantage Luhr and Graf and the Pickett team have built will be gone soon as the LMP1 class — which had three entrants for this round — disappears in the merger of the ALMS and Grand-Am into United Sports Car Racing.
The weekend was a preview for next year as Road America became the only track to race both series on the same weekend. The decision paid off with the biggest crowd of the season at the track — surpassing the NASCAR Nationwide Series — and possibly the biggest since the CART heyday of the early- to mid-1990s.
The four-day crowd was estimated at well over 100,000. Although next year's schedule hasn't been announced, Road America is expected be a part of it. JSOnline.com