ALMS wrapping up in style
Highlands TodayThe American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón closes its season with a solid group of entries for the 15th annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda. The ALMS' final event will see 43 sports cars on the grid: the full ALMS field along with a choice group from Europe, which makes the Road Atlanta race one of the sport's biggest international events.
Published: October 8, 2012
Published: October 8, 2012
Perhaps never has Petit Le Mans, which runs 1,000 miles or 10 hours, played a larger role in settling ALMS championships. The two prototype classes, LMP1 and LMP2, have come down to the season's 10th race. It's winner-take-all for Dyson Racing and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in P1, as well as for Level 5 Motorsports and Conquest Endurance in P2.
The Muscle Milk-Dyson battle has ebbed back and forth over the last two months. Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won five straight races from April to August before Dyson Racing won at Road America and Baltimore — the latter a 1-2 class finish. Graf and Luhr were back on top at VIR in the most recent round three weeks ago.
In addition to the Muscle Milk HPD prototype and Dyson Racing's two Lola-Mazda coupes, Rebellion Racing is part of the P1 battle at Road Atlanta with a Lola-Toyota. The trio of Andrea Belicchi, Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost will drive the No. 12 entry and hope to improve on last year's fifth-place overall finish at Petit Le Mans.
The other "new" top-line entry for the race is the Nissan DeltaWing, driven by Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez. The radical car, racing for the first time in North America, will run unclassified as it did at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
The fight between Level 5's two HPD entries and Conquest's Morgan-Nissan is part of an expanded LMP2 field that features four entries from the European Le Mans Series. Level 5 has seven class wins in nine races, with six coming from Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut. David Heinemeier-Hansson and Martin Plowman have two wins in Conquest's rookie campaign. Level 5 has enlisted the driving skills of four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti and younger brother Marino in hopes of collecting its second consecutive P2 championship.
Dempsey Racing returns to the ALMS P2 field with Hollywood star Patrick Dempsey partnering with fellow team owner Joe Foster in a Lola-Judd. Level 5, Conquest and Dempsey will compete against European counterparts representing Zytek, ORECA and Nissan.
The ALMS GT grid continues to be the best in the world, featuring 12 full factory or works-supported entries. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner wrapped up the GT driver's title at VIR, as did Corvette Racing and Chevrolet in the team and manufacturer standings, respectively.
Corvette Racing leads a contingent of two-car teams. Flying Lizard Motorsports enters two Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs, BMW Team RLL has two BMW M3 GTs and SRT Motorsports races its two new SRT Viper GTSRs. Team Falken Tire and Paul Miller Racing each have a single Porsche, and Lotus Alex Job Racing enters its Lotus Evora GTE.
Extreme Speed Motorsports also has two cars in the race — a pair of Ferrari F458 Italias. However, one will race in GT and the second in GTE-AM — a class featuring both professional and amateur lineups. Another Ferrari — from AF Corse — is in GTE-AM for Petit Le Mans, as is IMSA Performance Matmut's Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
Prototype Challenge closes the season with eight ORECA FLM09s, led by class champion CORE Autosport with two entries, including one for class driver's champion Alex Popow (CORE clinched team championship at Road America, and Popow clinched driver's championship at VIR). Among the other PC teams contesting Petit Le Mans is defending race-winner PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.
Seven Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars will compete in GT Challenge. Alex Job Racing's Cooper MacNeil already has the driver's title locked up, as does AJR in the team category.
Former Major League Baseball star and Georgia Tech graduate Jason Varitek will serve as grand marshal. Varitek spent 15 years with the Boston Red Sox and was team captain for seven seasons (2004-2011). A two-time World Series champion, he retired earlier this year, having played 1,546 Major League games — all with Boston.
"I'm looking forward to being the grand marshal at Petit Le Mans," Varitek said. "I've been to the race before and was blown away by the cars and the crowds. Atlanta is pretty lucky to have such a fantastic international racing event in its backyard. The entry list looks impressive this year, so I have no doubt it'll be another amazing experience."
The three-time All-Star is the only Major League Baseball player to catch four no-hitters behind the plate. He won the Gold Glove in 2005. He ranks first for Boston catchers in career hits (1,307), runs (664), home runs (193) and runs batted in (757) and is second all-time in Boston team history with 11 post-season home runs.
"Road Atlanta is honored to have Jason Varitek serve as grand marshal at Petit Le Mans," stated Geoff Lee, Road Atlanta president and general manager. "His stellar career at Georgia Tech and with the Boston Red Sox has earned him the respect and admiration of sports fans throughout the country."
The 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Oct 20 from Road Atlanta. ABC's broadcast begins at 1 p.m. Oct. 21.