Up to the Challenge
Up to the Challenge
Racing identical cars with single specification engines, tires and fuels means that competitors in the two American Le Mans Series Challenge classes: Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Challenge (GTC) are equally matched on their respective class technical fronts. The races are always tight and the slightest mistake can prove costly, with team and driver performance the keys to success.
With two races remaining in the final season of the American Le Mans Series, the championship fights remain wide open in both classes. Rather than narrow the fight, the latest race at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) left some of the top teams reeling.
But in racing, one team’s misfortune means success for another, and can provide the momentum to close out the season with conviction here at VIR and at the season ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Here and now at Virginia International Raceway, four teams are a real threat to make the championship theirs. Here’s who to watch this weekend at Virginia in PC and GTC.
The PC Title Contenders
Racing in identical Chevrolet powered open cockpit Oreca Prototypes, the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and CORE autosport teams have emerged at the top of the hill.
PR1 arrived at COTA in second place, just eight points adrift of CORE autosport and had the tough task of chasing down the CORE car of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett.
Dug in for the fight, the paddock was surprised when CORE autosport announced they were moving PC driver championship leading Colin Braun up to the GT class, effectively surrendering his stake in the championship. That left PR1 Mathiasen’s Mike Guasch poised to take the driver championship lead.
Taking the victory at COTA was BAR1 Motorsports with Canadian drivers Chris Cumming and Kyle Marcelli. Guasch and co-driver Dane Cameron finished in second to vault Guasch to the top spot in the championship.
Still, CORE team owner Jon Bennett is confident that his team won’t miss a beat with their late season driver swap. “We’re very fortunate to have a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner in Tom Kimber-Smith at our fingertips. He’s been a part of our family for quite a while and his transition back into the PC car has been seamless.”
Having won the PC series championships two times on the trot, CORE has the chance to leapfrog PR1. Maximum effort at VIR will undoubtedly be offered by the veteran team, but they will require help along the way if they are to become three-time champions.
The GTC Title Contenders
Porsche 911 GT3 Cups are the exclusive weapon in the GT Challenge class and few wield the Porsche swords better than long-time Porsche campaigners and current championship leaders from the Alex Job Racing and Flying Lizard Motorsports squads.
The race at COTA was an anomaly as both failed to make the podium. Now the two teams are pushing for strong bounce back runs here at VIR as they try to pull clear of the third place NGT Motorsport and COTA-winning The Racers Group squads.
With three team victories for the two-car squad in 2013, it is the Lizards who lead the team championship heading to VIR while Alex Job Racing drivers Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen lead Lizard’s Nelson Canache Jr. and Spencer Pumpelly by just four points with two races remaining.
MacNeil still considers his Alex Job Racing team the favorite to take the race and the championship. “We are still leading the championship, which is huge and we will take the fight to VIR where we won last year.”
Special note must be made of the emergence of Dempsey Del Piero Racing in GTC competition. Patrick Dempsey’s continued climb combined with strong performances by ace Andy Lally produced a podium finish at COTA and has Dempsey now fourth in the driver championship standings.