Team Cytosport opted out of running the first half of the 2008 American Le Mans Series season to instead focus on only one thing: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Team owner/driver Greg Pickett had dreamed of competing in the twice-around-the-clock French classic for years, and he got to soak in the entire experience two weeks ago. But now, the California-based team is ramping up efforts in hopes of making a powerful return to the ALMS – utilizing key ingredients that they think will put them up in contention.
The team returns to the Series with a Lola B06/10 prototype and with drivers Pickett and Klaus Graf – but those are the only major similarities to their rather successful 2007 campaign. Gone is the Lola B06/10 AER chassis that Cytosport took to four podium finishes in five starts last season. That, instead, has been sold to Intersport Racing, which will expand to a two-car effort. Pickett purchased Cytosport’s new Lola chassis from Czech outfit Charouz Racing System, which helped secure their Le Mans entry. Now, with all the pieces in place, Cytosport is bringing the Judd-powered Lola to the U.S. – aiming to be on the grid from Mid-Ohio onwards – and looking to make a splash.
“We kind of waited to see how things came along with John Judd,” Pickett explained. “We had approached him when we came over [to Europe] for the test at Paul Ricard [in March]. We laid out a plan for him to look at – the feasibility of bringing the Judd back over to America with some other things. That worked along, and Jon Field’s plans for a second car worked along. Those all kind of came together at the same time.”
Another element Judd has been working on is the adaptation of Cellulosic E85 to its engines. That’s because Cytosport has committed to running on the “green” fuel, joining the Corvette Racing, Intersport and Drayson-Barwell teams. Pickett calls the switch to E85 a “win-win” for all parties, as it improves performance on the race track while also helping shed light into the environmental crisis.
“We all realize that we need to raise a conscious [on the environment],” Pickett said. “I am very attuned to that. My grandkids lives will be different. It’s a win-win, especially when there’s a potential for performance improvement. To encourage guys to do the right thing – that’s smart all the way around.”
The use of Michelin tires for the remainder of the season will also help the team’s efforts, as its been considered to be the “tire of choice” by many of the Series competitors. But Pickett is most encouraged by the potential of the alternative fuel, especially after seeing Intersport’s impressive run up front in the Utah Grand Prix.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Pickett said of the new package. “John Judd has been hard at work with the E85 and restrictors. You’ve seen the results that Jon Field has made, and that’s something the sanctioning body is cooperating with to try and to try and get us closer to the top prototype cars.”
Pickett believes the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) has been slow to adjust the performance gap between the gasoline and diesel-powered prototypes, as seen in this month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. But over in the States, IMSA, the sanctioning body for the ALMS, has been become more realistic and progressive with performance balancing. Pickett says a lot of that comes down to IMSA’s executive director, Doug Robinson, whose experience in the engineering industry has made a difference on and off the track.
“He wants to have good racing,” Pickett said of Robinson’s vision. “That’s what the fans want. Us mixing it up and racing successfully with the top LMP2 cars makes it a real exciting race for everyone. We’re really looking forward to that.”
Graf also praises the organizers for equally balancing the different types of competition. While E85 produces an advantage in performance, it’s less fuel efficient, resulting in teams having to make more pit stops. Add in the differences in the diesel-powered Audis and E10 fuel most teams use, and it’s often a difficult equation to balance.
“It’s very difficult to keep all the manufacturers happy, but I think IMSA has been able to do that,” Graf said. “A lot of it comes down to Doug Robinson and [Series President and CEO] Scott Atherton. They were able to control the rules so it produces fantastic racing. If they can keep that momentum in the way they give more performance advantages to E85 cars, I think it’s a good mixture.”
Competition is one element Cytosport strives on, and with the possibility of more P1 teams joining the fray in the races to come, a genuine fight for top gasoline-powered honors in P1 could develop by year’s end.
“We’re happy to have more competition,” team manager Jim Dunford said. “To just go out and race a couple of privateer peers and try to reach for the Audi ring is okay, but I think it just makes it better. I’d love to see two or three other solid professional teams in here. It’s better for the sport, period.”
And if IMSA can continue to keep the balance between diesels and gasoline-fueled cars, teams like Cytosport may be able to pull off an upset one day.
“At the end of the day [IMSA] knows that it looks good if [privateers] can race these guys,” Graf added. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that we probably won’t be able to race a Penske Porsche or Audi to the finish, but who cares? We can play, and maybe under the right circumstances, we can make the right decisions and be there [for the win] someday.”