When Michelin asked us if we would like to join them for a weekend trip out to Austin, TX for the inaugural running of the International Sports Car Weekend at the Circuit of the Americas, it was immediately agreed that we'd be fools to not go. First of all, the ALMS in its current state is disappearing after only two more races with its assumption into the United Sports Car Championship, and secondly, the Le Mans winning 991 RSRs would be there with the WEC. Besides, COTA is a new track that we'd never seen before, and that is always an exciting prospect.
Arriving at the track, it was easy to get a feel for the newness of the place. Everything was extraordinarily displayed, absolutely pristine, and larger than life. Older tracks like Laguna Seca, Mid Ohio, or Road America have a feeling of history immediately upon arrival, you can feel the years of track action practically vibrating your soul, but like a newborn baby, COTA has an altogether different feel, perhaps one of potential.
The paddock areas and grand stands are second to none. Having stepped foot directly on the track, I'm confident when I say the surface is absolutely perfect. Then again, it's a Tilke designed FIA approved track, it certainly should be, shouldn't it? Lastly, if it wasn't clear before this weekend, it certainly is now; the esses in sector-one do not allow for any passing, so patience is virtuous here.
From its inception, the American Le Mans Series has always put on a great show, and this remains the case, even as the series winds down to its finale. The screaming LMP1s are exciting to witness, but this weekend's racing was uncharacteristically dull with zero overall lead changes and zero caution periods (both for the first time in several years). LMP2 and LMP Challenge don't seem to have the gravitas required to hold the crowd's attention on their own.
This year, at least, the GT battles are the ones to watch, and COTA didn't disappoint. From a Porsche standpoint, it was a disappointing outing. The CORE car qualified relatively well and got away at the start to mix it with the top runners. Collin Braun proved quick in the car, but after handing over to Pat Long, the car lost drive at pit out, and was later retired. The Paul Miller car fared not much better, as Bryce Miller and Marco Holzer finished the race a full 21 laps down to the victorious Corvette. The highest placed Porsche was, indeed, the Falken Tire 3-year old chassis. The car was visibly slower than the competition, both on the straights and in the corners, and trudged on to finish in 7th, 2 laps down. The battle for the lead was exciting, with Corvettes, BMWs, and Vipers all involved, fighting hard through the last lap.
In GTC, TRG took their first victory of the season over MOMO, with Patrick Dempsey's team taking the third podium position.
The WEC was an exciting prospect, as Porsche's 991 team was still on a high from their 1-2 finish at Le Mans, and this was their first visit to North America with the new car. Early on, both 991 RSRs ran lock step, and both looked on course to score some healthy points for the championship, however, the 91 car of Bergmeister and Pilet suffered a flash fuel fire on their first pit stop. The fire was minimal and caused no damage, but the cleanup caused the car to lose a number of laps, and from that point, they were simply circulating playing catch up.
The 92 car (Leib and Leitz) ran well most of the day, but the Texas heat and the new track conspired to negate any double-stint tire tactics, and their Michelin slicks had to be changed at each stop. In the end, the GTE Pro category went Aston Martin's way, and Porsche was forced to settle with fourth.
The GTE Am class, however, saw the IMSA Performance Matmut car on the podium, and the Proton Performance car taking 5th place.
Things we learned at COTA
1. In the aftermath of the incident at Baltimore that took all three Porsche RSR out of the race, the three different teams reacted very differently. CORE Autosport owner Jon Bennett, behind the wheel of the CORE LMPC car at the time, received a radio call from the team informing him that Porsche had one RSR tub ready to ship from Germany if he wanted it, and without further delay, Bennett said "Do it, we're in this all the way." The Falken Tire team, when facing a similarly damaged chassis tub, resorted to pulling their 2010 car out of retirement and committing to the aerodynamic challenge involved in running that car for the remaining three races. After speaking with someone from the Paul Miller team, it was made clear that their tub was fine, with the car requiring only some cosmetic panel replacement, a new set of radiators, and a new exhaust system in order to be ready for the Texas round.
2. CORE's commitment to excellence has not gone unseen, and they have been awarded the contract for the factory supported 991 RSR team for next year's run at the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. That remains to be seen whether the effort will be a factory works Porsche staff based out of CORE's South Carolina headquarters, or if CORE will be staffing the project, and the "factory" will simply be providing support. For more on this development, see our report.
3. In light of the CORE announcement, many have been claiming that the contract should have gone to Flying Lizard, who are currently taking what was billed as a 1-year sabbatical from RSR competition to run Cup cars in the GT Challenge class. It seems as though Seth Neiman will announce shortly the team's intent to stick with a similar car, moving to the 991 GT America contesting the GT Daytona class for 2014. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but the decreased load on the team pocketbook must surely be a factor.
More Contests Coming Up
We've got some great autographed Porsche swag from COTA to give away to our readers, so keep an eye open for that in an upcoming post/email. Our sincerest gratitude to FLATSIXES.com sponsor Michelin Tires. They were instrumental in the good times we had at the track last weekend!
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