To Infineon and Beyond
What do you want from life? Well, you can’t have that but if you are a sports car fan
you are entitled to…. Are entitled to? More like hope for. The powers at the ALMS
have to get it together and present a full calendar of racing. The long gap between
Sebring and Mid-Ohio was a non-season in itself and the worst possible scenario
for an organization that prides itself as being for the fans. Those feelings run deep
within many of the ALMS personnel and privately there is a great deal of frustration.
Simply, this gap has to be addressed.
The long wait certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans once the circus
wagons of the ALMS set up tent at Sears Point. The commercial reality is that I am
typing this column from the media room at Infineon Raceway but for most of us
hacks and snappers, it’s Sears Point. For some unjust reason, Sears Point
doesn’t register emotionally compared to say, Laguna Seca. It should because
some of the greatest races of the ALMS era have taken place in the windy track in
the hills of Sonoma. 1999 gave us the first west coast appearance of the BMW
LMR, fresh from victory at Le Mans. JJ Lehto and Steve Soper combined to give the
screaming V12 a convincing win. The 2000 race wasn’t a race at all but a personal
demonstration of what can happen when a man and machine become one. Allan
McNish put on the most dominant display of driving ever witnessed at that or any
ALMS event to date. Nishy lapped the field including his teammate during his stint,
which of course was from pole. The Audi R8 was on a roll but the car’s future
dominance of the LMP class truly began that Sunday afternoon in Sonoma.
2001 gave us the return of the Panoz LMP-01 ground pounder after the experiment
of the Panoz LMP 07 faltered. “This car is like sleeping in my old bed” according to
Jan Magnussen as the duo romped to a much appreciated by the fans third place.
And the GT and GTS classes had their own share of memorable first and last lap
follies. Stuck and Wagner, Porsche vs. BMW in 1999, BMW vs. BMW, the Vettes,
Cha cha cha changes!
Sears Point has gone through what seems to be a constant renovation. The
successful introduction of NASCAR to what always seemed to be the elitist sports
car crowd of San Francisco has been an enormous success with crowds reported
in the hundred thousand neighbour hood. The addition of the new grandstands
along turn 1 has wiped out the view that we had for so many years from atop the
hill where you could witness the action from down the hill towards turn 11. Overall
though the track is user friendly with a great many vantage points to take in the
action. And even with a small field
Compared to past ALMS races, there was plenty to take in on Saturday.
An entry of only six prototypes is hardly a selling point, the solo Champion Audi R8
against a pair of Dyson Lola-MG’s with three LMP2’s rounding out the open top
contingent. So I did what I always do at a race… I went out to talk to the average
fans to ask why they were here and what was it they wanted to see. I avoided
anybody in a Corvette hat or t-shirt ( tattoos included ) because I know why they,
and thousands more, were in attendance. That would be to see Mr. Dale
Earnhardt Jr. (is the tiki bar open?) Most of the answers were pretty thoughtful and
I was pleasantly surprised how several approached the subject of Grand Am’s full
fields versus the shrinking ones of the ALMS. “ Racing is not about parity, at least
not this type. The speed difference of a LMP over a GT car is where it’s at, not a GT
car that can keep up with a prototype until you hit a turn.” In those few words you
have the real story. That’s what people want and expect from sports car racing and
it has been that way since the beginning. The question now is exactly who is
Has it really been that long ago that Brooksie, Sylvia, Cara, Fiona, Baby Cotton and
a few others all met for the first time at Vanessa’s? The lack of big manufacturer
entries means budget cutbacks and the standard round of consolidation and belt
tightening is evident. No Cara and sadly, no Fiona Miller. The stinger about Miller
Babe’s absence is that if she WAS here we would have two Prodrive Ferrari’s and
a far less confident GM Pratt brat Vette squad. Still, if there is one team that can be
counted on to do a through and professional job it is Vanessa’s Hospitality. Is this
a little hype cause she feeds me? Nope… it’s because hanging out at her place is
as comfortable as being at home and she has a great personality. And I eat
healthier too. It is a busy weekend for our fave rave… 150 for breakfast, a couple of
hundred for lunch… and Larry still has a smile on his face.
A sunny day for being fuelish…
Making the rounds and talking with several teams I kept hearing the same
complaint yet no one would go on record. Apparently there will be a discussion
after this weekend’s festivities. IMSA issued a bulletin on July 16 that the fuel
supplied by Sunoco at selected events would have as much as 10% ethanol in the
batch. This is a real no-no and the potential for damage to o-rings and other seals
is of great concern to those concerned with expensive motors. Oddly enough,
IMSA admits to this concern and that competitors should exercise caution.
Wouldn’t it be better and safer to simply go to another fuel regardless of a signed
supplier contract? A paddock full of damaged racecars caused from a fuel supply
problem is not worth the aggravation and potential withdrawal of competitors. Is
this a real problem?
The brilliant move of getting Dale Jr. to put in an appearance aboard a third
Corvette with Boris Said. Can all those Earnhardt fans be wrong? Those who lined
up for his autograph should answer that one.
The two Krohn-Barbour Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT’s are a work in progress
but the effort deserves to be applauded. The A team of Peter Kox and David
Brabham are going about this task in a professional manner but keeping a sense
of humor intact. Brabs got off a great line when I remarked that from my
observation that the Lambo looked to be one nervous car on track. “Yes, the great
DB replied, “and the drivers inside of the car are nervous”. The Lambo and the
Saleen don’t have the budget of the Corvettes and one wouldn’t expect the battle
on track to be close and it wont be judging by the posted times. But they are here
to race and that is exactly what they will do. In the case of David Brabham, that is
what the man has always done.
Robin Liddell has rolled up the frequent flier miles and this weekend he was
called to fill a last minute seat in the Intersport Racing Lola B2K44 along with Clint
Field. A bizarre occurrence with the other Intersport Lola has now placed Jon Field
as a third driver with his son and brave Sir Robin. The tub on the Lola B160 literally
broke while sitting on pit row. Scratch one LMP1 entry. Better safe than sending a
kid out in a crate like that though.
The biggest upheaval has been in GT. Usually it is the Alex Job factory assisted
Porsches out front. So far it hasn’t exactly gone to the script that Alex and Holly Job
anticipated. The long layoff from Sebring gave a few new upstarts some time to
develop their GT3 RSR’s to take on the long time winners. If it isn’t the No Calif.
based Flying Lizard Motorsports team or the Petersen/ White Lightning team, it is
the Risi Ferrari which scored an upset win at Lime Rock. Sure, it was due to good
pit strategy but they pulled it off and the Porsches did not. On a good day, both the
Racers Group and Orbit can’t be counted out either. Job has shown the patience
of Job in the past, if the Florida based outfit is to remain on top, then the extra
attention to detail that his team is known for will have to give that little extra.
GT Pole Sitter Romain Dumas is partnered with Marc Lieb aboard the #24 Job
Porsche with teammates Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister in the number two
spot aboard the usual #23 GT3 RSR. I would look for #23 to have the edge only
because Dumas and Lieb, while fast, are known to be mechanically sympathetic.
And if there is one track capable of constant mischief, it is Sears Point. That’s just
one of the reasons we love this place… oh and San Francisco has great
restaurants, Napa has good wine and women on horses, lots of places to hear
live music, etc.