If, like John, you plan on trying to live in a bubble for the next week and not read or hear about yesterday’s ALMS results until you can watch it for yourself (it’s being aired on CBS next Saturday the 29th in an edited and tape delayed format) then you don’t want to read this message. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and live in the real word, you realize the second you open up your Facebook account, talk to a friend or check you email you’re going to find out the same thing you would if you read this release, then keep reading. You might as well hear it from us first!
Four Ferraris, two Corvettes, two BMWs and two Porsches, all running within ten seconds of each other during much of the six-hour American Le Mans Series Monterey race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca yesterday, continue to provide fans at the track and a national TV audience the finest sports car racing ever seen in North America.
With nine minutes and 20 seconds left in the endurance event, Patrick Long (USA), driving the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, overtook the factory BMW on the re-start after a late yellow flag to score a three-tenths of a second GT class win – the team’s second-straight victory.
Long, and co-driver and fellow Porsche factory pilot Joerg Bergmeister (Germany), overcame an eighth-place grid position after a troublesome qualifying session to gain the season points advantage over their rivals. The pair won five races in a row last year en route to the GT class championship.
CBS Television will broadcast a tape-delayed, edited version of the event next Saturday, May 29, at 1:30 PM Eastern time.
Referring to his battles with first the Ferraris, then the Corvettes, and final the BMWs in the closing 60 minutes of the race, the usually calm and articulate Long was almost speechless.
“I can’t even describe the last hour of this race. I was on everyone’s bumper, and they were on mine. We were fast enough to compete, but would have not been fast enough to win if the Flying Lizard crew didn’t put us in that position by minimizing our time in the pits and calling perfect strategy. The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was perfect, and Joerg and I kept the mistakes to a minimum. I’ve never been in a race that was a pressure-cooker from green flag to checkered flag like this one,” said Long.
“We had back luck earlier in the week, including my mistake on a potential fast lap in qualifying, but we fought from an eighth-place start to the win over the best GT field I have ever seen. Our crew picked up time on the field for us on every pit stop, and our strategy was perfect. And Patrick had the best re-start ever to gain the lead and bring it home.”
With 10 yellow flags for various incidents during the race, the green flag re-starts played as critical role in teams’ final finishing positions as efficient pit stops did. Long pointed out that when the green flag drops for the first car, it’s time to race for everyone – you don’t have to wait until your car gets to the starter stand.
“On that final re-start, Joey (Hand, the BMW driver) left a bit of a door open for me, and I took it three- wide through the last corner,” Long said. “Then it was all about running away because I knew Joey wouldn’t be happy. We came from eighth on the starting grid and worked our way through a very competitive field,” Long said.
The final standings in GT showed Porsche, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Corvette, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari – in that order. Porsche now leads the manufacturers’ championship points with 65, while Ferrari has 55 and BMW 50. In the drivers’ points chase, Bergmeister/Long enjoy a ten-point lead over the Ferrari drivers Melo/Bruni, while BMW drivers Mueller/Hand are third.
Seventh in GT was the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 G3 RSR of Wolf Henzler (Germany) and Bryan Sellers (USA). The team had been fighting the set-up for the twisty 2.238 Laguna Seca track ever since the car came off the truck, and, according to Henzler, despite the team’s hard work, they never really found that sweet spot during the six-hour event.
“We just could get the car balanced to turn competitive times to keep up with the others,” he said.
Henzler had jumped into the lead at the start of both previous races.
The other Porsche in the GT field, the Flying Lizard Motorsports entry with Seth Neiman/Darren Law/Timo Bernhard was forced into the pits twice during the event to fix damage from on-track incidents, and finished 11th in class.
While this exciting battle was raging in the GT class, a smaller, but just as intriguing competition was taking place for the overall race win. The Muscle Milk Porsche RS Spyder, with Klaus Graf/Sascha Maassen/Memo Gidley aboard, led the race overall at several junctions, and looked like they would compete for the overall win when bad luck struck.
Memo Gidley, the last-minute substitution of car owner Greg Pickett, spun the car during his first lap out in the middle of the race, going through the gravel trap. A small piece of gravel had lodged itself behind the shift paddle, causing the car to stay stuck in gear. Once the American was towed back to pit lane, the crew immediately assessed the problem, but had unfortunately fallen seven laps down to the leaders, and to 18th place overall.
But Maassen and Graf peddled hard through the field, aided by attrition at the top of the standings, and earned a second place finish overall.
“It ‘ain’t’ over until it’s over! That’s what they say. I think these kinds of races are the sweetest, when there is a little bit of a setback and you have to recover. Fun is not a straight line and we were up and down and in the end to finish second is, I think, a great achievement,” said Maassen, who won the first race ever for the RS Spyder at Laguna Seca in 2005.
In the ALMS GT Challenge class for matched Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, Black Swan Racing, in only their second race with their new 2010 race car, went flag-to-flag with Tim Pappas, and Dutch brothers Jeroen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen to score an impressive win over some serious competition,
“We had a great start in Long Beach but some things went wrong; today it went really right,” said Jeroen Bleekemolen, the reigning world Porsche Supercup champion, who won the class pole and set the class’ fastest race lap. “It’s great to get the win and hopefully move up in the championship.”
Team owner Pappas couldn’t imagine much of a better start to the season.
“This is pretty cool. We came out for Long Beach without much preparation,” he said. “We had a difficult, frustrating race. We went home and worked hard and practiced. All the guys at Black Swan are great. The Bleekemolen brothers come over from Holland and it was a great race. We didn’t put a tire off and made zero mistakes in the pits so that turned out to a race win.”
The Black Swan Porsche led all six hours and ended up a lap ahead of TRG’s Porsche of Andy Lally, Rene Villeneuve and Henri Richard. The class points leaders, the Car Amigo/Mission Foods Porsche of Butch Leitzinger/Juan Gonzales/Rudy Junco, Jr. finished third.
The American Le Mans Series takes its tradition mid-season break for team who participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 12 – 13), and returns on July 11 to Miller Motorsports Park in Salt Lake City for round #4.