With top drivers, crews, engineers and factory entries from BMW, SRT Viper, and Corvette, plus top independent teams from Porsche and Ferrari, the American Le Mans Series GT class is rightfully considered to be the most competitive class in international motorsports.
In the past six seasons, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Corvette have all claimed ALMS championships and the mid-season 2012 return of SRT Viper with a full factory program has ratcheted the competition up yet again.
Like comedy, success in racing, especially in the production based GT class is often a matter of timing. When a new car is introduced, it begins a cycle of development and refinement as teams seek out every possible gain, eliminate weakness exposed in real world competition and improve both speed and reliability.
Since its launch in the then GT2 class (now GT) in mid-season 2009 after it had effectively chased away the competition in the more powerful GT1 class, Corvette Racing has trotted that familiar path with its C6.R cars.
After single victories in each of the first three seasons, Corvette exploded onto the front line in 2012 as the pairing of American Tommy Milner and Britain’s Oliver Gavin teamed for four wins on the way to the 2012 championship.
That momentum continues in 2013 as Milner and Gavin currently lead the ALMS GT championships and have already posted a pair of wins. But before they break out the victory tequila, they have some powerful competition.
After being snake bit throughout the 2012 season, their Corvette Racing teammates Jan Magnussen of Denmark and Spain’s Antonio Garcia have been on the move with victories at Monterey and most recently at Baltimore. That has vaulted the #3 Corvette to within 2 points of the championship lead.
Fronting up with fresh models in 2013 is the BMW Team RLL led by Bobby Rahal. The 2010 and 2011 series champions with M3s, they are already double winners in 2013 with a new Z4 GTE that debuted just seven races ago.
SRT Motorsports returned to ALMS competition in mid-season 2012 after a decade long hiatus and has also made rapid progress up the grid. The SRT Vipers have claimed three 2013 class poles and a big win at the most recent road course, Road America. That success has earned the first badge of success, a recent balance of performance adjustment requiring them to add 55 pounds.
The 2013 ALMS season has not been kind to long time sportscar stalwart and many time champion Porsche. Despite a three-pronged effort with CORE autosport, Falken and Paul Miller Racing teams, Porsche enters COTA still seeking its first win of the ALMS season.
Porsche’s loyalists and teams eagerly await the ALMS debut of the new Porsche 991s that finished 1-2 in class at June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The factory Porsche 991s will compete here in Sunday’s World Endurance Championship race.
For Ferrari it has been a different story, with the snake bites that seemed to hit the #3 Corvette team in 2012 now striking the Prancing Horse. Following a pair of wins, including the 2012 season finale at Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans by the Extreme Speed Motorsports team, Ferrari seemed poised for a championship run in 2013 as the ultra-successful Houston-based Risi Competizione Ferrari squad made its return.
While ESM moved to the P2 prototype class, the AJR/West Racing squad arrived. Meanwhile, Risi led into the final hour in the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring, but since then a series of racing misfortunes has plagued the team.
Extending the Cycle
As a race car model enters its final year, fewer areas for improvement remain. A model left in the fray just a bit too long often sees results decline as focus shifts to developing the successor. So, after just three victories in its first two and one half seasons, how to explain Corvette Racing’s eight victories in the last sixteen ALMS races?
The answer is simply finding the peak and executing in flawless fashion until help, in the form of the next generation Corvette C7.R, arrives.
So, while it fights off BMW, SRT Viper, Ferrari and Porsche for the 2013 ALMS manufacturer, team and driver championships, Corvette is already embarking on its next step, developing the successor, the new 2014 Corvette Stingray based C7.R.
When the American Le Mans Series takes to the grid next Saturday here at Circuit of The Americas, there will be many questions:
- Can Houston’s ultra-successful Risi Competizione rebound from a frustrating season with a win here in Texas?
- Will Porsche rally for another win in the final season for the current car?
- Will the SRT Vipers shrug off the extra weight and continue their impressive mid-season run?
- Does BMW Team RLL continue its exceptional first season development pace?
- Can Corvette continue its success as it simultaneously races its current C6.R model and develops its sleek new C7.R for 2014?
There is only one answer, and with race laps typically within a few tenths of a second from first to tenth, this has the makings of a classic race.