Entering the Stretch Run

July 8, 2010

Entering the Stretch Run

July 8, 2010

A pair of Porsches race at Miller Motorsports Park set against a scenic backdrop of the mountains. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

After a nearly two-month break, the 2010 American Le Mans Series season resumes this weekend at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. The first three rounds were spread over three months before the annual recess. Some ALMS teams competed in the ACO-sanctioned 24 Hours of Le Mans, but now the full field is back to begin the busiest stretch of the season, with five races in the next eight weekends.

Miller Motorsports Park, about half an hour southwest of downtown Salt Lake City, presents an intriguing number of challenges to ALMS manufacturers, teams and drivers. The altitude and elevation of the track makes it more difficult to cool engines, brakes, and tires.

It’s a very hot weekend with ambient temperatures likely in between 80 and 90 degrees, which increases tire wear. But in contrast to the previous round in Monterey, Calif. when ambient and track temperatures hovered in the 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit range toward the end of the six-hour race, it shouldn’t be as difficult to generate and keep heat in the tires.

And then there is the sand. Going off course at the 3.048-mile track means cars will drag some amount of sand back onto the racing surface. The desert sand consistently blows on the track, so being able to keep everything clean is the key.

Miller is a very technical circuit with a long front straight and 15 turns, mostly medium to high speed. This year’s race moves to July from May last year, where Simon Pagenaud and Gil de Ferran scored Michelin’s 100th overall win in the 103rd race in the ALMS’ history.

In LMP, Michelin technical partners Patron Highcroft Racing enter Miller with consecutive overall victories in with Pagenaud and David Brabham behind the wheel of the HPD ARX 01-c. They lead the LMP class championship by four points over Klaus Graf in the Muscle Milk Team CytoSport Porsche RS Spyder. Team owner Greg Pickett missed Monterey but will be back in the cockpit with Graf this weekend. Drayson Racing sees Emanuele Pirro filling in for Paul Drayson, who sits out this weekend due to a non-racing injury.

Level 5’s No. 55 car with Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut has won two of the first three rounds in LMPC and enter Monterey with a seven-point lead on the Green Earth Team Gunnar entry driven by Gunnar Jeannette and Elton Julian. Christian Zugel, who has started two of the three races in that car this year, co-drives with Jeannette this weekend. The No. 52 car for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports has a new driver lineup with Alex Figge and Max Hyatt, while the absence of Genoa Racing this weekend leaves the class with five cars.

The GT battle remains incredibly tight. Although Flying Lizard Porsche’s duo of Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long has won consecutive rounds and have a 10-point lead, any of the challengers from Risi Ferrari, Corvette Racing, BMW, or Extreme Speed Ferrari could make a big performance leap. Only several tenths of a second can separate first from tenth in the highly competitive class.

Risi Ferrari runs a second car this weekend for Giancarlo Fisichella, a 14-year veteran of Formula One racing and Toni Vilander, the “rosso” red No. 61 F430 GT. Those two partnered with Jean Alesi at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a similar Ferrari for the European team AF Corse.

The two-hour 45-minute race, the first of five successive races at the standard ALMS race length, will be broadcast live on SPEEDTV, Sunday July 11 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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