TEAM NEWS: AFTER SEBRING FRUSTRATIONS, ST. PETERSBURG ONE-TWO FINISH, PORSCHE RS SPYDER TEAMS SETTLE IN FOR TOUGH COMPETITION STARTS WITH LONG BEACH THIS WEEKEND
Photo by John Thawley Porsche 911 GT3 RSR teams contending with break-in of new Type 997 model plus a maturing Ferrari competitor
LONG BEACH, Calif. - April 12 - After only two of 12 events completed for the 2007 American Le Mans Series championship chase, Porsche Motorsport North America President Uwe Brettel feels like he has been through the emotional rollercoaster of an entire season already. The Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 prototypes and the GT2 class Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs have both had to pit on the first lap, and led the races on the last lap - sometimes the same car during the same event. He hopes Saturday's 100-minute race at the 1.968-mile street course for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will less eventful for Porsche entrants in both classes.
"Starting the season with new cars in both the LMP2 and GT2 - and having the first four races on the schedule be a 12-hour event and three street races - have challenged the Porsche race teams like no other year since the beginning of the American Le Mans Series," said Brettel, whose organization provides both parts support and technical help to all Porsche customers in ALMS.
"We have seen the RS Spyder teams finish one-two in class - the Penske Motorsports entries at St. Petersburg - and drop back because of bad luck and mechanical problems - like both Penske and Dyson Racing at Sebring. We had the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR lose to the Ferrari at Sebring by less than a foot, and the Rahal Letterman Racing Porsche, headed for a second-place finish - crash at St. Petersburg with nine minutes to go," Brettel added.
Brettel also indicated that both the 2007 Porsche RS Spyder and the 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR race cars are different enough from last year's models that it has take teams a few races to get used to their new racers. The latest version of the racing 911 is based on the 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 RS street car - sharing few parts from its predecessor, while the new aerodynamics on the 2007 RS Spyder have presented new challenges for those entrants.
In LMP2 two weeks ago through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, the number seven Penske Motorsports Porsche RS Spyder grabbed the pole position for the race overall as Romain Dumas took the top grid spot for him and his teammate Timo Bernhard. Starting next to him with the team number six RS Spyder of Ryan Briscoe and co-driver Sascha Maassen, and things looked good for the yellow DHL-sponsored prototypes. But a premature green flag fouled up the start, an accident, a flat tire, and overheating put both cars well back in the pack before the race was 30 minutes old. It took a Herculean effort by all four drivers, plus some creative pit strategy and misfortune encountered by the competition to bring the cars home first and second in class (third and fourth overall). The victory offset their third and eighth place finishes at Sebring, with Dumas and Bernhard now leading the LMP2 drivers points (with a second and a third place finish) and the Maassen/Briscoe win putting back in contention for the title pursuit. Porsche and Acura are tied for the LMP2 manufacturers title chase with 39 points apiece.
The Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyders were fifth and sixth in class at Sebring, but were very competitive at St. Petersburg, with the number 16 Andy Wallace/Butch Leitzinger racer leading the LMP2 class with only 30 minutes to go when a suspension bolt broke, causing the car to mishandle. Late-race yellow flags enabled the car to maintain its top five position even though it never returned to the circuit, finishing fifth in class. The team number 20 Chris Dyson/Guy Smith suffered multiple indignities, including several contact incidents, a spin, and finally, with ten minutes to go, it was pushed off the track by a GT2 car. Dyson/Smith finished sixth in LMP2 - same positions as Sebring.
GT2 - Porsche teams seek first season's win
In GT2, St. Petersburg found the same Ferrari and same Porsche finishing in the same positions as they did at Sebring, but they arrived there in much different fashion. The number 45 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister/Johannes van Overbeek finished second in class at St. Pete, a lap behind the winning number 61 Ferrari. The two cars had a last-lap battle at Sebring that ended in a photo-finish.
As already mentioned, the number 18 Rahal Letterman Racing Porsche ran a flawless event with Ralf Kelleners and Tom Milner, Jr. at the wheel, and was headed for a second-place finish in class when Milner lost control of the car and crashed with just nine minutes left in the event, putting the team back to eighth place. The Tafel Racing Porsche of Robin Liddell/Wolf Henzler grabbed an early lead in class, but problems with their fuel rig put the team out of contention, finishing fifth.
The Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR family of race cars has won the American Le Mans Series' GT/GT2 drivers and manufacturers class championship every year but one since the series inception in 1999. Last year was no exception, as Jorg Bergmeister won the championship, and with the aid of his co-driver Patrick Long and his Petersen/White Lightning Porsche 911
GT3 RSR, helped Porsche win the manufacturers title.
Other Porsche entries at Long Beach include the second Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche will be driven by Darren Law (USA) and Patrick Long (USA), while the new Boston-based Team Trans Sport Racing entry of Tim Pappas (USA) and Terry Brocheller (USA) will run its third race ever. The second Tafel Racing Porsche of team owner Jim Tafel (USA) and Dominik Farnbacher (Germany) round out the Porsche GT2 entries.