Issue 388, March 21, 2007

by Hydrogen Boy

Acura Triumphant. 

Sebring, Florida. The Mobil 1 Twelve
Hours of Sebring is a happening, a party and a traditional rite of
spring for the sports car set, but most of all, it's about crackling
good racing - and this year's event provided the best racing seen at
the venerable airport circuit in many, many years. You can check out
the box score particulars in The Line, but for my money, the big story
of this year's race was the scintillating debut by the Acura-powered
LMP2 cars, which finished 1-2 in class and 2-3 overall - less than one
year after Acura first declared it would enter the American Le Mans

The superb Andretti Green Racing driver lineup
of Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti kept the
overall-winning Audi LMP1 R10 TDI more than honest all day long by
delivering consistently blistering laps with the result being a second
overall and an inaugural LMP2 class win for the Acura ARX. Even though
Herta had trouble shifting over the last 35 minutes, the AGR boys
finished two laps ahead of the Acura-powered Lola entry from Lowe's
Fernandez Racing, which was driven by Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz and
David Martinez. The vaunted Penske Motorsports Porsche LMP2 Spyders ran
into trouble, but Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Helio Castroneves
managed to gather it up enough to finish third in class behind the

"I can't put it in words. I would rate it as
one of the highest emotional experiences I've had," said Robert Clarke,
president of Honda Performance Development. So much work went into this
program. "It was one of my wild ideas and it went all the way from
'hell no' to our result today. It has been a long road, not just for
HPD but for Acura, our team, sponsors, drivers, everyone who is
involved in the program. I couldn't have been so bold as to dream of
this result. I could go on about the laundry list of things that could
go wrong. I knew we would get to the end of the race one way or the
other. We hoped to earn the invitation to Le Mans. It is more important
to us to convince ourselves that we are deserving of that. We'll know
if we deserve the opportunity come the end of the season."

"This was a fun race except for those last 20
laps," said Michael Andretti. "It was a great way to start out in
Acura's first factory sports car race. It was a tough race and we knew
it coming into this weekend. But the 12-hour simulation race last month
here helped us, and all of the Acura teams were prepared for today's
race. Obviously it paid off for all three teams."

Anyone who has ever been associated with
endurance racing knows how extremely difficult it is to compete at a
high level, let alone win, so for Acura to win its class first time out
truly is an extraordinary accomplishment, especially given the level of
competition. Acura's achievement overshadowed dominant wins by Audi in
LMP1 and Corvette in GT1 (who each ran basically unopposed), and it
even tops the slam-bang finish in GT2 between Jaime Melo in his Risi
Competizione Ferrari F430 GT and Jorg Bergmeister in his Flying Lizard
Motorsports Porsche (more on that in The Line).

It's easy to surmise that when a manufacturer
gets involved in motorsports that wins should be for some reason
"automatic" - but it doesn't work that way, not by a long shot. It
takes dedication, commitment, long, tedious hours and relentless hard
work to field a racing machine capable of achieving the kind of results
delivered by the Acura teams at Sebring.

Congratulations to everyone involved on a superb effort. 

Audi Sport North America. Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner
delivered the second straight win at Sebring for the R10
turbo-diesel-powered prototype. Since its debut in last year's 12-hour
classic, the R10 TDI has won every race it has entered - nine
in all - including last summer's 24 Hours of Le Mans. But things didn't
go exactly according to the script this year, as Audi's second team car
had electrical trouble and finished 11 laps down, in fourth overall.
Still, Audi won its eighth Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in a row,
which is simply incredible. We've run out of superlatives to describe
the accomplishments of Audi's endurance sports prototype racing

Another brilliant effort from Audi Sport North America delivered a second straight win at Sebring for the Audi R10 TDI. (ALMS)

Acura. Congratulations again to everyone at Andretti Green Racing,
Honda Performance Development and the entire Acura LMP2 effort. You
definitely gave the representatives from Toyota Racing Development
(TRD), who were attending the race on a low key, "just looking around"
incognito basis, something to shoot for should they decide to enter

Even though the Audi R10 TDI won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring for its ninth consecutive win (including the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year) and a second consecutive overall victory in the 12-Hour classic, the big story was the sensational debut of the new Acura-powered LMP2 cars, which finished second and third overall and 1-2 in the LMP2 class - less than one year after Acura first declared it would enter the American Le Mans Series. The superb Andretti Green Racing driver lineup of Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti (at the wheel above) led the Acura effort. (ALMS)

Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti were simply fantastic in their run to 2nd overall and 1st in the LMP2 class in the 12 Hours of Sebring last Saturday. (ALMS)

The Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura-powered Lola, which was driven by Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz and David Martinez, provided the second half of Acura's 1-2 punch at Sebring. (ALMS)

Corvette Racing. The brilliant Corvette Racing Team, which basically
ran unopposed in GT1, used the 12-Hour as the first part of a 24-hour
test in preparation for Le Mans in June. The No.4 Corvette C6.R driven
by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis hammered out a 17-second
victory over the No. 3 team car driven by Jan Magnussen, Ron Fellows
and Johnny O'Connell. The No. 3 car appeared in stunning, bright white
livery for one race only in honor of Ron Fellows' limited production
Corvette Z06 replica (only available in white) that is available in
showrooms right now. It also reminded us of the bright white Grand
Sports from the 60s and Jim Halls's winning Chaparral from the 1965
Sebring race. The team also tested a new production-based air
conditioning unit in the Corvette C6.Rs during the race on Saturday,
which will be required by the organizers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in
June. The team will also run the A/C during the rest of the ALMS season
after the French endurance classic. It worked to perfection, but it was
quite disconcerting for the drivers, who actually thought that it
worked too well. They weren't used to stepping out of race car
after a long run in an endurance race and not feeling totally spent,
apparently. Part II of the 24-hour test for Corvette Racing? After
Sebring, the team's two C6.Rs were loaded - untouched - into the
Corvette Racing transporters and driven straight to Road Atlanta where
they were unloaded, fired-up and, as you read this, running another
12-hours nonstop. That's the kind of relentless preparation it takes to
compete at the highest level - and win.

The GT1 class-winning Corvette C6.R No. 4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis leads its team car, the No. 3 C6.R driven by Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Jan Magnussen, in another dominant performance for Corvette Racing at Sebring. (GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

The No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R wore special gleaming white livery honoring Ron Fellows and his special edition Corvette Z06 for the street.(GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

The crack Pratt&Miller crew goes to work on the No. 3 Corvette C6.R. (GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

The No. 3 Corvette's livery reminded many of the 60s, when white Grand Sport Corvettes powered around the airport circuit. (GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

Max Papis, Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin celebrate another win for Corvette Racing. (GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

Risi Competizione, Ferrari. The slam-bang finish in the GT2 class
between Jaime Melo in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT and
Jorg Bergmeister in his No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911
GT3 RSR was simply fantastic. Melo (with co-drivers Mika Salo and
Johnny Mowlem) beat Bergmeister (and co-drivers Johannes van Overbeek
and Marc Lieb) by 0.20 seconds, which is the closest finish in
Sebring's 55-year history and also the closest finish ever in the GT2
class. On the final lap, Melo and Bergmeister were side-slapping each
other all the way down the back straight and around the final corner
and then banged each other to the finish line - after the two teams had
battled over virtually the entire race. It was enough to make even the
hardest-core, Bristol-lovin NASCAR fan say, Hell, Yeah!

The GT2 battle was the dogfight of the race. Here, the Jaime Melo-Mika Salo-Johnny Mowlem Ferrari F430 GT leads a tightly bunched GT2 pack, with the Jorg Bergmeister-Johannes van Overbeek-Marc Lieb 911 GT3 RSR lurking two cars back . (ALMS)
The Jorg Bergmeister-Johannes van Overbeek-Marc Lieb Flying Lizard Motorsports 911 GT3 RSR missed out on the GT2 class win by 0.20 seconds. (ALMS)
Jorg Bergmeister drove brilliantly for Flying Lizard Motorsports at Sebring. Here's what he told ALMS communications about the last lap battle - and controversial finish - with Jaime Melo and the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT, the closest finish in America's greatest sports car race: "I have watched the video. When you see the video, the footage is not as clear as what actually happened. He rode into Turn 17 with a lot of speed. He first bumped me on the right rear near the apex of the corner. I got an oversteer and had to lift off the throttle and then we were side by side. He was on the inside, I was on the outside. He bumped me again and pushed me toward the wall. I had to really back off the throttle - if I hadn't I would have gone into the wall. I thought that making a move like that at the end was very dangerous." These two will battle again this season, you can be sure of that. (ALMS)

More GT2 action. (ALMS)

A great shot of the Darren Law-Seth Neiman-Lonnie Pechnik Flying Lizard 911 GT3 RSR. (ALMS)

It wouldn't be Sebring without a sunball shot. (ALMS)

In case you wondered, yes, it is still a working airport... (ALMS)

Presenting the Kumho girls... (ALMS)

The prestart mob scene on the grid. (ALMS)

The start. (ALMS)

Making it look ominously like last year's NASCAR championship winning season, Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) powered by 2nd place finisher Tony Stewart (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) to win the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway last Sunday. (GM Racing/Bob LeSieur)

Jimmie Johnson got a really big Kobalt tool for his win in Atlanta. (GM Racing/Dorsey Patrick)

1960 NASCAR Grand National Champion Rex White sits in a replica of his 1962 Chevy Impala NASCAR stocker before the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Speedway last Sunday. Sweet ride. (GM Racing/Dorsey Patrick )

Rex White says, "I got your 'Car of Tomorrow' right here!" - or something like that. Dig the shift ball. (GM Racing/Dorsey Patrick )

Jeff Altenburg, Tri-Point Motorsports, Mazda. Jeff Altenburg (No. 72
Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development Mazda 6) of Ellicott City, Md.,
grabbed his third-career win and first win in three seasons in the
SPEED World Challenge Touring Car race at Sebring International
Raceway. Randy Pobst (No. 73 Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development Mazda
6), of Gainesville, Ga., finished second, 0.433-second behind his
teammate, and Pierre Kleinubing (No.1 Acura Certified
Pre-Owned/RealTime Acura TSX) of Coconut Creek, Fla., completed the
SPEED World Challenge Touring Car podium and set the fastest lap of the
race with a 2:22.710 (93.336 mph) on lap 16. "It feels awesome to win
and it was a perfect weekend," Altenburg said. "First pole in four
years and that was with the help of Randy [Pobst]. We decided we were
going to help each other out more in qualifying and give one another a
pull down the straights. We both got a clean start. Worked together to
not do anything silly. Randy says he wanted to win with all of his
heart and I'm sure he did, but I think he could have pulled a move or
two during the race. But, being teammates, he opted not to and I
appreciate that. Seeing an orange and white car behind you [RealTime
Acura] is a little more disconcerting than having your teammate right
behind you." The season opener of the SPEED Touring Car Championship
will be broadcast on SPEED Sunday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. Round Two
of the SPEED Touring Car Championship will take place May 17-19 at
Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah.

Jeff Altenburg leads teammate Randy Pobst at Sebring in the SPEED Touring Car race. (Photo©SCCA/Mark Weber)

Eric Curran, Whelen Engineering, Corvette. Eric Curran (No. 30 Whelen
Engineering Chevrolet Corvette C6 ) of East Hampton, Mass., battled
changing track conditions after torrential rain pummeled Sebring
International Raceway for three hours to win his first SCCA Pro Racing
SPEED World Challenge GT race. Reigning SPEED GT Champion Lawson
Aschenbach (No. 1 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose/Cadillac CTS-V), of West
Palm Beach, Fla., and Tomy Drissi (No.15 Next-The Movie Chevrolet
Corvette C6), of Hollywood, Calif., rounded out the top three
finishers. Curran also set the race's fastest lap, a 2:11.005 (89.456
mph), on his way to the victory. "The conditions helped a lot here
today. I'm from Massachusetts and grew up racing at Lime Rock Park and
every time you race at Lime Rock Park, it rains. I love the slippery
conditions and obviously I got up to speed really quickly. I wanted
this win and wanted it for Whelen Engineering. Earlier this week, I was
bailing out of the car on the back straightaway as flames were coming
out of the hood and the Whelen Engineering team just worked so hard to
get it back to where it was before. I'm very happy to be back in a
Corvette and back in GT." The SPEED GT season opener from Sebring will
be broadcast on SPEED, Sunday March 25, at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Round Two of
the SPEED GT Championship heads to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
April 13-15.

Eric Curran won the 2007 SPEED World Challenge GT opener in the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette C6. (Photo©SCCA/Mark Weber)

Lawson Aschenbach finished second in the SPEED GT opener at Sebring in the No. 1 Cadillac CTS-V in his debut for Team Cadillac Racing. (GM Racing Photo/Richard Prince)

Jimmie Johnson, Team Cadillac, SCCA. SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World
Challenge GT Championship drivers got their first taste of modified
oval racing Monday with a test at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. The
1.5-mile oval course they will run for Round Four of the series'
Championship on May 24 has two chicanes, one on the front stretch and
one on the back stretch. Seventeen cars took part in the test that ran
until 9:00 p.m., under the lights. Jimmie Johnson made his SCCA SPEED
GT debut driving the No. 48 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V
that he will pilot after he qualifies for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24.
"It's been a great experience, and I'm definitely learning the limits
of the car today. I spun out and took out one of those [temporary]
barriers on the back stretch, so I've learned the limit of the brakes."
Johnson said the SPEED GT Cadillac is remarkably similar to his more
familiar Nextel Cup car. "It out-performs the Cup car in the braking
zone," Johnson said. "But when you turn in, the power down side of it
and the way the car maneuvers through the corners is very similar. That
was the thing that shocked me the most the first time I drove it at
Sebring is that it drives a lot like a Cup car." Unofficially, Andy
Pilgrim turned the fastest lap in the track configuration that will be
used in May, turning a 47.797 second lap (112.978 mph) in his No. 8
XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V. Lou Gigliotti was second in
his No. 28 LG Pro Long Tube Headers Chevrolet Corvette at 112.879 mph
(47.839 seconds). Johnson was third at 111.783 mph (48.308 seconds).

Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/Bose Cadillac CTS-V, rotors glowing, as he enters the back stretch chicane. (Photo: Mark Weber/SCCA)

Pro Racing, Mid-Ohio. The SPEED World Challenge will join with the Indy
Racing League and the American Le Mans Series for the Honda 200 /Acura
Sportscar Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio, July 20-22. The addition of
the Mid-Ohio round completes the 11-event SPEED World Challenge
schedule for 2007.

Publisher's Note: A.J.
Morning, our Autoextremist east coast motorsports correspondent, filed
the following report from Sebring where he immersed himself in the
racing - and the scene. - PMD

(A.J. Morning)

Sebring, FL -

"Uh oh, this is about to
get..." before the word "messy" could come out of my mouth, a Porsche
GT3 Cup car spun in the deep water on the front stretch, taking several
other competitors with him. No injuries, aside from some bent metal and
bruised egos, but the excitement was already ramping up - and it was
only Thursday. 

The rain on Thursday and Friday
was classic Florida rain - so strong was the downpour, I couldn't see
past 30 or 40 feet. The water on the track - on the front-stretch right
in front of me - was so deep, the wind was actually making waves in it.
The only suitable racing at that moment, would've been a Jet-ski race.
Several of the support races and practice sessions were either delayed
or called off, due to this. 

But by Saturday, zero-cloud sunny skies had returned, and everybody was ready to get down to business. 

A week at Sebring is unlike a
week anywhere else - what with the crazy weather, the fans, the
positively massive variety of cars on the track (even if the field of
34 cars was on the light side), the fans, the drivers... did I mention
the fans? What makes this race great, and it truly is one of the
greatest sports car races anywhere in the world, is the enthusiasm
brought by the 235,000 or so people who turn out year after year to
pack the infield and see their favorite drivers and cars go at it for
12 hours straight. 

One of the coolest things about
endurance racing, is the fact that some of the racing - and almost
always the finish in most cases - happens at night. Shorter races can
be started in late afternoon and drift into early evening, but it just
isn't the same as a long day's journey into night. With a 10-12 hour
race, it's a war of attrition and survival of the fittest - nobody
talks about who won the 3-hour race a few years ago; it's always Le
Mans, Sebring, Petit Le Mans, or sometimes Daytona 24. Watching these
cars split the darkness with high-powered headlights in white and amber
hues, never gets old on me. 

As for the racing itself, Sebring brought to light several outstanding points of light, and a few very big problems. 

The competition in P1 and GT1
is... dead. There's nothing there but two cars, really. Audi has two
outstanding Le Mans-winning R10 TDI cars against... well, nothing.
Intersport and Autocon showed up, but were never major factors. In GT1,
the Corvettes have only token competition in the form of the Team
Modena Aston Martin DBR-9. The Aston team has some skilled drivers and
talent throughout the team, no doubt, but they're still a privateer
entry with too little budget and experience to compete with the
world-conquering Corvette C6.Rs.

A note about the Corvette
Racing C6.Rs: The white paint scheme on the #3 Corvette driven by Ron
Fellows (as a tribute to his outstanding service in the car), Johnny
O'Connell, and Jan Magnussen was simply brilliant. After seeing these
two cars in yellow for so long the change was most welcome. I'm sure
there may some apprehension within the ranks about changing the car's
livery, what with the problems encountered when they displayed the
beautiful Stars & Stripes colors a few years ago, but superstition
doesn't win races; hard work and determination do. I'm absolutely
certain that the Corvette team knows this, as they've worked harder and
longer than anyone to get where they are today. 

With the case of the Audi R10s,
they were beset with restrictions to "balance" the competition between
them and... the rest of the field. It worked so well (depending on
where you're counting from) the Andretti Green Racing Acura didn't just
win P2, it damn near won the overall race. For Acura to come right out
of the box and soundly beat the Porsches of Penske and Dyson, much less
threaten for the overall win, was astonishing. Honda/Acura has brought
their A-game to this series, and it shows. 

The newly-minted Andretti Green
Racing entry with the open wheel aces Bryan Herta, Dario Franchitti,
and Tony Kanaan at the wheel spent much of the race on the lead lap,
keeping the ever-dominating Audi R10 lead car on the run. At times, the
split for overall lead between P1 and P2 cars was under 1 second. The
P2 winner was indeed fast, but with the race so close between P2 and
P1, and with the scales tipped so firmly in P2 right now, why not just
make the class "open prototype" for the season? 

The racing in P1 and GT1 made
me wonder why there really needs to be four distinct classes anyway -
at least for now, when the two top-flight classes are effectively
high-speed parade laps for Audi and Corvette. I'm quite sure that
Wolfgang Ulrich and Doug Fehan (managers for Audi and Corvette,
respectively) would much rather have bragging rights to having beaten a
real opponent on race day, rather than just having to settle for what
amounts to an automatic win for showing up.
These teams are just too good for that. 

That said, the Corvette Racing
team didn't disappoint, turning lap after lap at competition-level
speeds. The win for the #4 team of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin, and
Max Papis was an emotional one for Papis, who was both celebrating the
joy of his new-born child with wife Tatiana, as well as mourning the
loss of his father, who died last December. Max dedicated his win to
the memory of his father. 

The race-end duel between
Porsche ace J�rg Bergmeister and winner Jaime Melo might not have been
foreseen in the earlier hours, when Melo did an outstanding job of
bringing his Risi Ferrari out of a turn 17 spin that by all rights
should have ended up in a tire wall. Melo recovered with nary a
scratch, and drove on. Late in the race, with Melo in the lead, Flying
Lizard Bergmeister turned up the volume on his Porsche 997, punched his
way ahead like a 12-pound fist, and challenged for the lead in the
final minutes. On the very last lap, heading under the bridge in turn
17, Bergmeister briefly edged ahead. Melo drove Bergmeister nearly to
the wall, on the way to making the pass and taking the checkered flag.
While the pass was certainly controversial, the finish was one of the
most exciting of any class finish, in any ALMS race I've seen.

Peter's earlier comment that
with no real competition in GT1, ALMS should allow the Corvettes to run
wide-open with no air restrictors - is an idea whose time is now. The
Corvettes are without a doubt THE biggest fan-favorite out on the
track, and if they can't have any competition in their own class, why
not let 'em chase down some unrestricted Audis? Until some bigger guns
show up to expand the P1/GT1-series ranks, to hell with class
designations: Let's see some flat-out racing at its finest.

On the advancing-technology
front, ALMS announced last week that it will phase-in use of ethanol
across all classes, starting this year and increasing as time goes on.
In addition, various alternative fuels are being examined for use in
the cars - including bio-diesel for the Audi TDI entries (and any other
teams coming into the series running diesels, which would certainly be
welcomed). As diverse as the cars and teams are in ALMS, we may soon
see competition among the very fuels powering those cars, as well.

Racing was always about
innovation, and the track as a rolling testbed for what we see on the
street later. That hasn't been the case so much in recent years, but
that backwards trend is set to change. Be it hydrogen, ethanol,
bio-diesel, or Mr. Fusion, in 2007 we're seeing something we've needed
for a very long time: The idea that auto racing not just can be, but
MUST be a leader in developing new technologies that will find their
way into mainstream use. Open-wheel racing is going all-ethanol now,
and the American Le Mans Series is going big with it now too.

Peter is all about it with the
Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation. It's exciting to see all of this
coming together right now - and while I can't say exactly what's around
the corner, I believe with some degree of certainty that the future of
motorsports will look a lot different than the gasoline-engined life we
know today. 

I got the sense, listening to
Scott Atherton speak about the emerging technologies for fueling the
cars in ALMS, that the series is developing both a vision and a
message. It has its ties to the ACO with the 24 Heures du Mans, but now
the ALMS has its raison d'etre.




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