My Take on Grand Am at Road Atlanta and ALMS at Long Beach

Both Grand Am and the ALMS were in action this weekend with Grand Am racing for the first time at Road Atlanta and the ALMS racing in support of IndyCar at Long Beach.  I had the opportunity for once to watch both races and enjoyed every minute of it.  Given that the races were held on very different courses, the races were themselves were very different and on this weekend I have to say that I enjoyed the ALMS race more.

Grand Am Visual Studio Ultimate Grand Prix of Atlanta

Before I get into the Grand Am race itself, I have to admit I was very disappointed by the series’ decision on Friday not to qualify in the rain.  They race in the rain, so why not practice and qualify in the rain? It seemed that I’m not alone in my opinion, I also saw some drivers expressing that opinion on Twitter.

The Daytona Prototype class saw a dominant performance by the Ganassi car; they started on pole but were never really seriously challenged, winning their second race of the season.  Despite that performance, there are a few things to discuss. So far this season, I’ve been really impressed by Memo Rojas in the Ganassi car; he seems to have upped his game over the off season; he’s driving harder and making less mistakes than he has in previous seasons. In an interview during the race, Patrick Long said he urged DP drivers to be careful passing GT cars at Road Atlanta based on his experience driving the Porsche LMP2 car there a few years back; it appears that the DP drivers heeded his warning because they exercised some restraint and patience and we didn’t really see a lot of the prototype on GT “assaults” that seem to have become common in sports car racing over the last few seasons.   Finally, I would love to see what Brendon Hartley could do in the second Starworks car with a proper co-driver, it really seems that Scott Mayer is holding him back.   There are two DP incidents worth noting.  The first took place in the pits when one of the Action Express cars was released from a pit stop while the 8 Star car was entering it’s pit box; the resulting crash sent the Action Express car into the end of the wall in the pit wall opening between the two pit boxes; luckily none of the 8 Star crew were near the end of the wall to be injured.  The second incident involved the Mike Shank car and the Wayne Taylor Racing car with Max Angelelli driving; Angelelli for once was on the receiving end for once of a hard pass with contact that sent him off course to lose fourth place.

The GT class also saw a repeat winner; the Stevenson Camaro won their second race of the season. The GT race was fairly uneventful as well, although there was some early bumping and banging from the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari which the Magnus Porsche came out on the short end of.  The Stevenson Camaro wasn’t the fastest car at Road Atlanta but their strategy and consistency put them on top when it mattered most.  A very late pass from Patrick Long put the Park Place Porsche ahead of the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari to round out the podium. It was good to see the Brumos Porsche lead some laps during the race and come in fourth in their final race of 2013.  Due to their inability to find a sponsor, they won’t be completing the season; it is going to be strange not to see that iconic white, red, and blue car on the track.

Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach

In contrast to the restraint and patience shown by many in the Grand Am race, there was a lack of it in the ALMS race at Long Beach.  There was a lot of contact (not just in the ALMS race but in IndyCar practice and qualifying as well!) and numerous penalties handed out including multiple penalties for avoidable contact.

The P1 Class was a race of strategy.  The Dyson car made a strong start, challenging the Rebellion car into the first turn but that was their highpoint of the race.  They were quickly caught up and passed by Muscle Milk and eventually crashed out.  Muscle Milk then took advantage of an early full course yellow to pit for a driver change and fuel.  When both Rebellion and Muscle Milk pitted at the same time late in the race, the Muscle Milk car only needed a half tank of fuel while Rebellion had to do a driver change and take a full load of fuel.  Muscle Milk of course came out first and over the rest of the race, Klaus Graf did a much better job of getting through traffic than Heidfeld did in the Rebellion car.   The result was a comfortable victory for Muscle Milk.

In P2, ESM took both the win and second place over Level 5.  The two Level 5 cars were faster but events and mistakes by the team cost them in the end.  Some of Level 5’s problems weren’t their fault but some of them were self inflicted.  On the other hand, ESM kept their nose clean and even though they weren’t as fast as Level 5, they got the job done.  Early in the race Franchitti in the 552 was spun by a PC car and later Scott Tucker made contact with the wall turning into the corner damaging the left front enough to stop for repairs.  The 551 car of Briscoe and  Tucker suffered several problems including pit penalties that kept them out of contention.

In GT, it seemed that the Vipers were going to dominate the weekend; they qualified first and third and led much of the race.  In the end, driver error by Farnbacher late in the race gave the lead to Auberlen in the 55 BMW who scored the first win in ALMS for BMW Z4.  The 56 BMW Z4 finished second in GT to make it a 1-2 for the Z4 in it’s first ALMS season.  Falken had a promising race but they were on the receiving and giving end of contact and a rare late error by Wolf Hentzler and the resulting penalty took them out of contention.  Risi took a penalty early in the race when Beretta made an overly optimistic move into the hairpin that spun one of the Vipers and bumped the Falken Porsche.  The Corvettes never really came to the front in qualifying or the race but finished in solid fourth and fifth place after drama free runs.

There was so much going on that to be honest, I didn’ t really pay much attention to the PC and GTC classes.  It was worth noting that the PC cars performed quite well at Long Beach, the naturally aspirated Chevy V8s were a great engine for the course; the torque made them quicker out of the corners than the P2 cars.

Overall, it was a pretty good day of Sports Car racing.  It would have been nicer to see some closer racing at Road Atlanta, but I think the inexperience of the teams with it being the series first visit there was the cause; if they had raced there before I think we would have seen a better race.  It would have been nicer to see a cleaner race at Long Beach but to an extent that is the nature of a street course; IndyCar saw it’s share of problems during practice and qualifying as well.  If IndyCar practice and qualifying and the ALMS race are any indicators, we could see a lot of yellows and busy stewards during today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.


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