Rumors for 2009 ALMS season
Once upon a time the “silly season” of rumor and speculation about the future of drivers, teams, sponsors and manufacturers generally broke out around late July and early August and was largely focused on the following calendar year. Well, it’s early August and the silly-season is in full-bloom in the American Le Mans Series. In fact it has been since early June.
Perhaps that’s a function of the Le Mans “break” that leaves those folks not partaking in the ACO’s annual twice ‘round the clock clam bake’ with of lot of time on their hands. And you know what they say about idle hands being the Devil’s workshop.
On the other hand, as the recent goings-on at Andretti-Green, Audi, Farnbacher Loles and VICI Racing indicate there’s real substance to this silly season. What’s more, the changes rumbling through the paddock this summer have, more often than not, been immediate rather than forward-looking. When the Series convenes at Road America for this weekend’s Generac 500 presented by Time Warner Cable, there will be very different lineup to that which contested the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park in May. Heck, it’ll be quite different from the lineup at the past two races at Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio in July.
Bryan Herta and Christian Fittipaldi are out at AGR. In are Franck Montagny and, at least for Road America and Mosport, Honda F1 test driver James Rossiter. Michel Jourdain Jr. is “in” as third driver at Lowe’s Fernandez Racing. While Dindo Capello is out at Audi; in is Marcel Fässler, at least for Road America and Detroit. Mosport? Looks like Capello will be back in the seat. Meanwhile, Porsche is continuing to mix and match Richard Westbrook and Marc Basseng with the VICI and Farnbacher Loles lineups.
What’s going on here? Plenty. In the case of Andretti Green and Lowe’s Fernandez, it’s no secret Acura’s current teams are scrambling to position themselves to run the manufacturer’s mooted LMP1 program in ’09, or at least consolidate their place in the Acura LMP2 pecking order.
In the case of Audi, it’s pretty clear management has been watching the goings on at AGR and de Ferran Motorsports in ’08 - not to mention the consistent performance of Penske Racing the past few years - and realized it’s time to integrate some young blood into its lineup of accomplished veterans.
“We have the task of rejuvenating our sports car driver lineup,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. “We have already successfully integrated Lucas Luhr, Alexandre Prémat and Mike Rockenfeller in the sports car project. We now continue this route with Marcel Fässler.”
Just as surely, Porsche’s moves at VICI and Farnbacher Loles are also aimed at rejuvenating their driver lineups. After all, look at the competition with an ex-Formula One star in Mika Salo at Risi Competizione and a Tafel twosome of Dominik Farnbacher and Dirk Mueller that have won half of the six races contested so far this season. Of course, VICI’s Nicky Pastorelli has some F1 seat time of his own, but the point is that Porsche is doing all it can to support the Flying Lizards’ Jörg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler in their effort to capture the GT2 title.
And we haven’t much touched on the other elements of the silly season. Namely the plans for teams and manufacturers for the remainder of the ’08 season, not to mention ’09. In addition to Acura’s plans for LMP1, Audi’s Ullrich has revealed plans are well under way for a successor to the R10 TDI. And if Acura joins Audi in LMP1 does that force Porsche’s hand, sooner or later?
Meanwhile, speculation continues to swirl around Corvette’s GT1 program. It’s no secret GM - like the Ford and Chrysler - is experiencing err…challenging financial times. And while the racing budget amounts to a “rounding error” on the books, you can be sure pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, Ben Franklins and Sacajaweas will be pinched.
This isn’t to say the Corvette program would be nixed, only to suggest changes might be in the works. What about refocusing on GT2 where ’Vettes would compete with natural super car rivals like Ferrari, Porsche, Viper, Panoz, Ford GTs and Aston Martin?
Although the public debut of BMW’s GT2 program has been pushed back to 2009, there’s plenty of speculation about other changes to the field be it in GTs or prototypes. Forsythe? Ian Dawson’s ECO Racing bio-diesel? Rafael Matos in the B-K Mazda at Petit Le Mans?
Stay tuned. It’s only gonna get more interesting.
David Phillips is one of North America’s most respected and renowned motorsports journalist. His ‘Another Turn’ features will appear periodically on americanlemans.com throughout the season. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Le Mans Series.