Fourth Turn – Road America ALMS

A 90-minute drive from Milwaukee to Road America for the American Le Mans Series Presented By Tequila Patron event brings back memories of this writer’s first trips to the four-mile Elkhart Lake circuit for the June Sprints and RA 500 back in the sixties. The atmosphere around the track is very different from the recent NASCAR Nationwide weekend as an open paddock brings the fans a close-up look at the cars, haulers and drivers who willingly pose for photos and personally hand out signed driver cards. The emphasis seems centered on the exotic Prototype and GT cars of the ALMS rather than the personality-driven world of NASCAR. After the cars are in their pre-race grid positions, fans are invited for a stroll through the grid to take pictures and soak up the race atmosphere over the wall. All-in-all it’s a very impressive and welcoming fan experience that could be embraced by other sanctioning bodies

? The thrilling last lap pass by LMP pole-winner Jonny Cocker of leader Klaus Graf had the fans and media cheering after almost three hours of racing on the 4-mile RA circuit. Cocker’s Lola B09, took Graf’s Porsche RS Spyder at turn 13, erasing an over five- second lead, to win by 1.051 seconds. It was in the post- race interviews that Graf revealed he was saving fuel and slowed coming through the final lap. “I knew he (Cocker) was coming, but I had to save fuel for a long, long time,” said Graf, who along with co-driver Timo Bernhard, held on for second. “We ran out of fuel with a couple hundred yards to go coming up the hill.”

For Cocker and his co-driver/car owner Paul Dryson, it was the team’s first ALMS over-all series win.

The CytoSports Muscle Milk Team Porsche RS Spyder, wrecked by Greg Pickett in practice for the recent ALMS round at Mid-Ohio, was rebuilt in time for Elkhart Lake, but the team competed this weekend without the recovering Pickett. World class pilot Timo Bernhard was hired to team with regular Klaus Graf this weekend, while Romain Dumas will join Graf at Mid-Ohio.

? Considered by ALMS officials to be an “ideal” schedule, the 2011 calendar of ten races was released Sunday morning- earlier than ever before in series history. The biggest surprise of the press conference came when Utah’s Miller Motorsports Park was left off the schedule for the first time since the facility opened in 2006. According to series’ president and CEO Scott Atherton, it was a “mutual decision.” MMP is quite a distance from the Salt Lake City area and the series was, “frustrated by the spectator count,” and they are, “taking a one-year hiatus to see where we are.”

? Other news re the ALMS 2011 schedule includes a “to be announced” Saturday, September 3rd event to be revealed soon, that will likely be run around the harbor in Baltimore, MD in conjunction with the inaugural IRL event in that eastern city. There is also a “to be determined” race on July 3rd that according to Atherton is, “still under development.”

? Three Intercontinental Cup ALMS races are to be run in 2010 at Silverstone in England, the Petite Le Mans at Road Atlanta and in China. Due to international entries at these events, series’ officials anticipate more than fifty cars to participate in Atlanta, sixteen more than an average ALMS weekend. In 2011 Sebring, Spa and Fuji, Japan will be added to the Intercontinental schedule as well.

? ALMS boss Atherton also confirmed that there are no ongoing discussions being held between his series and Daytona’s Rolex Grand Am group regarding a merger of the two premier US road racing series. The two series have very different agendas: ALMS stresses manufacturer support and technical development as it relates to road cars and “green racing,” while Grand Am, in tune with NASCAR’s mantra, is related more to rules control and spec racing to keep costs under control. “I see Jim France (head of the Rolex group) at the ACCUS meetings, and we have a cordial relationship, but there are no ongoing discussions as some have speculated.”

? Road America fans may see their ALMS race lengthened in coming years from its present 2:45 time limit. “We’ve had discussions with RA president George Bruggenthies about this, but darkness becomes an issue for fans, competitors and TV as well,” Atherton added. Mosport, Canada may be another race that is lengthened from its traditional time limit, and the Long Beach, CA event, 100 minutes now, may also run longer next year.

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