Two Sides of Traffic

April 17, 2010

Two Sides of Traffic

April 17, 2010

A view of the crowded paddock as 36 cars race this weekend at Long Beach, a track record for ALMS. Photo credit: Rick Dole

Traffic always plays a factor in the American Le Mans Series, but in some respects this weekend’s event at Long Beach is going to be even more of a challenge.

It’s a frantic time period for the 36 cars on the tight and twisty 1.97-mile street circuit, separated in four separate classes. The prototypes are much faster than the GT cars and have to pick-and-choose their places to overtake. How drivers handle the traffic and make the passes will determine who wins.

“I think the traffic will help us,” said pole sitter Adrian Fernandez, who co-drives the V12 powered Lola Aston Martin for Aston Martin Racing. “We were very quick through the corners last year in the LMP2 cars and not so fast on the straights, so in the traffic now we’ll have a bit of an advantage.”

David Brabham, whose Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01c just missed the overall pole, discussed the challenges on this track.

“So much of it is experience,” Brabham said. “There was one lap I did and completely almost lost it out of turn 9. You’re on the edge here making passes more than usual.”

The GT field boasts the largest number of cars in class, 12. Their race within a race is still intense, although it is not for overall honors. These cars still have to race each other but also yield when the quicker prototypes come through.

The closely bunched 12-car GT field includes top teams from Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Ford, and Jaguar. Bill Auberlen, driver of the No. 92 Rahal Letterman BMW M3, said the 10-car GT Challenge class cars pose the largest obstacle because the lighter Porsche GT3 Cup cars can run faster on the straights and are fighting among themselves.

“We can out-drag them out of the corner, but they catch up on the straights,” Auberlen said.

He added a lot of people will be using the 10 GTC cars here “as picks.” Auberlen starts sixth in class.

Both of the Challenge classes, LMPC and GTC, make their Long Beach debuts, and the pace differential is quite substantial.

“There’s a lot of new drivers, it’s obviously a full field, Tom (Papadopoulos) has never been at Long Beach, and this is all new to the team,” said Eric Wildt, marketing manager for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, an LMP Challenge team making its debut this weekend.

The team has experience at the circuit from Formula Atlantic competition but will have to fight its way through the field from the 26th overall starting position, seventh in class.

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