Six Hours of Madness at Monterey

May 19, 2010

Six Hours of Madness at Monterey

May 19, 2010

Simon Pagenaud in the Highcroft Racing HPD ARX 01-c at Long Beach. Photo credit: Rick Dole

After a month since the thrilling conclusion of the last round in Long Beach, the American Le Mans Series returns to California for the third round of the 2010 championship in scenic Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Formerly the last round of the championship, the Monterey event moves from October to May this year, and expands from four to six hours in distance. The longer length rewards the competitors with more points than a standard event for the last time until the season finale, October’s Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

Winners will take home 25 points, with second place 21, then 18-15-13-11-9-8-7-6. Ordinarily the points structure is 20 for a win, 16 for second, 13 for third, then 10-8-6-4-3-2-1.

The race starts in the heat of the afternoon at 2:30 p.m., but runs into the evening. Strategy as well as negotiating the 35 cars entered will pay dividends for the four class winners, at a race that typically features a large number of cautions.

Laguna Seca’s 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course isn’t the easiest circuit to pass on, but does have one of the signature corners in North America where many a move can be made. The legendary Corkscrew awaits competitors at the top of the hill, with an almighty plunge through the left-hander, then back right, another left as you continue to drop.

The class championships could not be any tighter after the first two events. Michelin teams are tied for the lead in the LMP, GT, and LMPC classes. The class winners at Sebring and Long Beach occupy each of the top positions.

No driver is hotter in sports car competition than Simon Pagenaud, who comes to Laguna Seca fresh off back-to-back victories. The talented Frenchman, driving the Patron Highcroft Racing HPD, made a last lap pass of Adrian Fernandez in the Aston Martin Racing Lola on the streets of Long Beach for the overall triumph. He also won earlier this month in a Le Mans Series event at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, as a tune-up for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving one of the factory Peugeot 908 HDi FAP diesels.

Pagenaud, along with Highcroft co-driver David Brabham, enter Monterey tied for the LMP class championship lead with Sebring class winners Muscle Milk Team Cytosport, Greg Pickett and Klaus Graf in a Porsche RS Spyder.

The Risi Ferrari, Corvette and Flying Lizard Porsche run in tandem at Long Beach. Photo credit: Rick Dole

The GT class enters in a similar manner, with both winners from the first two rounds equal on points heading into Monterey. The Risi Ferrari of Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni are square on 40 points with the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche of Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long. But with two podiums in the first two events, Bill Auberlen and Tommy Milner in the No. 92 Rahal Letterman BMW are just one point adrift.

And in LMPC, Level 5’s Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut are equal with Green Earth Team Gunnar’s Gunnar Jeannette and Elton Julian.

The 35 cars entered feature 6 apiece in LMP and LMPC, 13 in GT and 10 in GTC. Most of the field (21 of 35) has third drivers entered for the longer distance. Interestingly, all 6 LMP entries have a third driver entered while only 3 of the 13 GT cars do.

Flying Lizard has drafted in factory Porsche pilot Timo Bernhard to pair with team owner Seth Neiman and Darren Law in the No. 44 car, while Risi Ferrari has its second car with Krohn Racing here this weekend, the lime green No. 61. The No. 11 Primetime LMPC car was withdrawn and drivers Kyle Marcelli and Tom Weickardt join Tom Sutherland in the No. 36 Genoa Racing entry.

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