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June 11, 2010 > The ALMS race in Monterey

The ALMS race in Monterey

By Dick Ryan

American LeMans Series, presented by Tequila Patron (ALMS), made its annual trip to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey over the May 20-23 weekend. ALMS is an organization that has organized sports car endurance races in the USA for 12 years. Rules are based on the famous 24 Hours of LeMans in France. Because these are long races (4-6 hours), each car has two or three drivers for each race.

Premier group has four classes that run at the same time. The LeMans Prototype (LMP) class is composed of their fastest cars. These 1,985 pound cars develop 600 HP to 700 HP and use advanced ground effects aerodynamics to hit top speeds of 200 mph. The next class, new for 2010, the LMP Challenge class is a "little brother" to the LMP class. Their 430 HP engines limit the top speed of the LMPC cars to about 180 mph.

ALMS has two classes for production-based cars. The GT class includes Corvettes, BMW M-3s, Jaguar XKRSs, Ferrari F430s, and Porsche 911 GT3s that have 450 to 500 HP with top speeds of 170 mph. GT Challenge class features three different Porsche 911 models with 150 mph top speeds.

Now that you have an introduction, let's get to the racing. The weather at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was cold and windy for Saturday's 6-hour race. But it was dry instead of the predicted rain. The Patron Highcroft Racing team set the fastest qualifying LMP lap time but the team made a small mistake and one of the drivers did not drive the car on Friday. For this violation of the rules, their Connecticut based, Honda Performance Development ARX-01c was sent to the back of the grid for the start of the race.

Simon Pagenaud took the green flag and pushed hard. He passed car after car and by lap 4 the car was about halfway up the field. At the 78 minute mark he was in first place. At the end of the six hour race Marino Franchitti took the ARX-01c across the line in first place for the win covering 237 laps in the 6-hour race.

The closest finish of the weekend was the 0.365 second win by one of the Flying Lizard GT3 RSR Porsches in the GT class. Patrick Long was driving at the finish and beat one of the Rahal-Letterman (yes, the David Letterman from TV is part owner of the team) BMW M-3s driven by Joey Hand by about a car's length. Long passed Hand at the green flag on a restart with eight minutes remaining in the race. For that eight minutes Hand tried everything he could to get past the Porsche but just couldn't quite pull it off. Eight different cars led the GT class at different times. At one point, the top seven cars in class were only seven seconds apart.

In LMPC the "home town team" of Level 5 Motorsports ORECA-Corage FLM09 completed 229 laps and won by 7.1 seconds over a similar car of Genoa Racing. Level 5 is based in Petaluma, so the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is their home track and they had a large number of supporters at the race. To show you how closely competitive these cars are, the Genoa car lead 114 laps and the Level 5 car lead 115 laps, including the all important last lap.

Black Swan Racing won its first GTC series race in their white and green Porsche 911 from Boston. They led every lap from the drop of the green flag and finished a lap ahead of the second place TRG Porsche 911 from Petaluma. Black Swan's owner Tim Pappas teamed up with Jeroen and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen for a "Triple Crown" (pole position, fastest race lap, and the win) this weekend. Triple Crowns don't happen very often so the team was ecstatic with their accomplishment and it was fun to watch them celebrate.

If you have not been to a race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, you should try one if you like cars. The track's website is http://mazdaraceway.com, so take a look at their schedule and pick one to attend. The track also hosts many club races if you would like to attend a less crowed event.


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