Click above for a high-res gallery of the ALMS race on the streets of Long Beach
The grid seemed a bit bare at the Long beach ALMS race with the Audi and Porsche prototypes missing from the field, but there was still plenty to look forward to for the third race of the 2009 season. For starters, spectators were treated to the final GT1 appearance of the Corvette C6.R in the United States. After competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Corvette Racing will retire the GT1 cars, ending what will be remembered as a dominant era in motorsports. Corvetter Racing will return in August to take on the highly-competitive GT2 field. Porsche, BMW, Panoz and the rest will surely be ready for them, but in the meantime, the Vette drivers focused on treating everyone to a fierce battle here in Long Beach. Follow the jump to find out whether the Highcroft Racing Acura could make it two in a row, how the Corvettes ended their historic run, and if anyone could topple the pole-sitting Ferrari in GT2.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
AT LONG LAST FOR DE FERRAN
De Ferran, Pagenaud lead Acura 1-2-3 finish in Long Beach
Gil de Ferran finally got his win at Long Beach, and de Ferran Motorsports took its first victory in the American Le Mans Series on Saturday as de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud won at the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach. de Ferran and his Acura ARX-02a beat Patrón Highcroft Racing's David Brabham across the finish line on Shoreline Drive under yellow.
There was both joy and relief in the de Ferran camp. In its rookie season in 2008, the team finished on the P2 podium three times including a runner-up finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to close the season. The team jumped up to P1 with Patrón Highcroft to start the season.
"To be here at the top of the podium is a fantastic accomplishment for a team like ours," de Ferran said. "We've been existence for less than a year. It was great to happen here. I came close here a few times so to finally get one is really special. We will probably have some champagne tonight. It's a special moment. Since we started work in late February of last year, it has been nonstop work. It's a well deserved prize for everyone. It is great that we could accomplish a victory after being so close so many times."
The race's lone caution came out with less than five minutes left when Boris Said's LG Motorsports Corvette C6 erupted in flames just past the start-finish line.
de Ferran last won a race in 2003 in his final IndyCar race at Texas, and he had never won at Long Beach before Saturday before starting on pole three times in CART. The defining moment Saturday came in pit lane when the Patrón Highcroft car was penalized 20 seconds for a pit stop violation.
Pagenaud moved from second to first at the green flag and led 18 laps before Sharp retook the lead while at the same time clipping the back of the young Frenchman (Pagenaud admitted it was his mistake). Sharp held the lead until he pitted to hand the car over the Brabham. That's when officials assessed the penalty.
"I was struggling with pickup and grip for some reason," said Pagenaud, who pitted two minutes later. "I had a really bad exit at Turn 8 and that's where Scott got me back. I decided to move over to get around a GT2 car in the braking zone but he was already here. As soon as I felt the touch, I moved back over. It didn't cause any problem."
de Ferran re-entered the race with an 18-second lead over Brabham and maintained his gap through traffic and trouble.
"When I jumped in the car, I had no idea where I was - in the lead or in second," de Ferran said. "My focus was to put in a really good out lap and put myself into a rhythm. I was really happy with it and the team told me I had about an 18-second gap to Brabham. He wasn't really catching me when we were in free air and basically I was managing that gap. Three or four laps before the yellow I saw three and four GT2 cars that looked like they were trying to take each other out and I thought, 'Oh God, not now.' But I got through and could do 14s pretty easily. I could see far enough ahead that there was no more traffic."
Brabham and Scott Sharp did maintain their LMP1 championship lead with a runner-up finish that goes along with an overall win two weeks ago at St. Petersburg.
Intersport Racing's AER-powered Lola B06/10 of Clint Field, Jon Field and Chapman Ducote finished third in class.
Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz earned their third straight LMP2 victory for Lowe's Fernandez Racing as Acura swept the two prototype classes for the second straight race. The Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b finished five seconds ahead of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith in the first of Dyson Racing's Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes.
Smith led in class early before the pit stop cycle. That wasn't exactly bad news for Diaz and Fernandez as they were able to go longer on their first tank of E10. Diaz had given the team a comfortable gap when Fernandez got in the car with 40 minutes remaining.
"We knew the Dyson guys would be faster on the straights, and they were 8 or 9 mph quicker there," Diaz said. "Our team did a great job though of setting our car up for the race. After Guy passed me, I tried to save as much fuel as I could while staying close to him."
Fernandez did have a close call when Said's Corvette collided with Joey Hand's BMW M3 entering Turn 8, right in front of Fernandez. The Acura came to a stop as the BMW tried to restart. In the end, the incident cost Fernandez 12 seconds but not the lead.
"When you see something like that happen, you have to stay calm and not do anything stupid," Fernandez said. "I actually forgot I had a reverse gear. It was a good thing because it is a very fragile move and I didn't know what was happening behind me. Thankfully the BMW moved on. At that point I was glad I had the advantage. We could have lost the lead there. It was a matter then of keeping our distance to the Dysons."
The second Dyson car of Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti finished third in class.
Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin will go down in the record books as the winners of the final GT1 race for Corvette Racing in the American Le Mans Series. The duo won at Long Beach for the second time in three years in their Corvette C6.R.
Johnny O'Connell passed class pole-winner Beretta at the start but pitted after just 18 minutes with a left-rear tire puncture. That moved Beretta back into the lead until the team's lone pit stop to change over to Gavin. O'Connell still had to make another stop to get Jan Magnussen in the car but it turned into a moot point when an undiagnosed driveline issue brought the car to a halt in Turn 1 at the one-hour mark.
"Today was bizarre," Gavin said. "It was a strange race in the way it all played out. Olivier had a tough stint because he was on a soft tire, and it was clear he was going to have trouble with it after Johnny pitted early with a puncture. We went to a medium (compound) and I was reeling in the other car before they had a problem."
The race marked the end of an era in Corvette Racing. The 24 Hours of Le Mans will mark the final GT1 race for the team, which has won there five times since 2001. August will see the debut of Corvette Racing's GT2 entry, a mighty challenge that will see the Series' most decorated team face off against Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar, Panoz and others.
"We all are proud to be part of this team," Beretta said. "It is very impressive and it's the best GT1 car in the world. Corvette Racing has been developing this car since 1999. Even if there were 10 GT1 cars here, I think it would be difficult to beat Corvette. Why we are going to switch is that we want to race against competition and face this new challenge. It will be hard at the beginning."
Flying Lizard Motorsports' Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister won in GT2 for the second straight race with a victory over Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer. The Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR took victory two weeks ago at St. Petersburg and held off a hard-charging Ferrari, which started from the rear of the grid.
Long drove the opening stint and ran nose-to-tail with leader Wolf Henzler in the Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche for the better part of 45 minutes. Long inherited the lead when Henzler's car ran into a broken but repairable suspension issue.
"The objective was to get a gap to the other manufacturers, and I think we achieved that," Long said. "The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR had the legs here this week. It was a little tough to be patient. We think we could have run out front but bided our time. I knew I had to keep him under pressure in case something like that happened."
Bergmeister took over at the 1:05 mark, handing the lead to Kaffer. But Kaffer pitted three minutes later and handed off to Melo, which gave Bergmeister a nearly 40-second lead.
"The only thing I could do wrong was mess everything up because we had such a big lead," Bergmeister said. "At St. Petersburg it was more difficult because we had a two-lap lead. Here it was just 30 seconds so I couldn't just cruise around."
Dirk Müller and Tommy Milner placed third in class for BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team. They put their BMW M3 on the podium for the second straight race.
The winners of the MICHELIN Green X Challenge were the same as the race winners. The de Ferran Acura claimed the prototype trophy while the Flying Lizard Porsche was the winning GT entry. The awards go each race to the prototype and GT entries that go the farthest and the fastest with the least amount of environmental impact.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix from Miller Motorsports Park. The race is scheduled for 1 p.m. MDT on Sunday, May 17. SPEED will broadcast the race starting at 10 p.m. ET on the same day. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing and Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com. You can also follow the Series on Twitter.
Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach
Long Beach street circuit, Long Beach, Calif.
1. (2) Simon Pagenaud, France; Gil de Ferran, Brazil; Acura ARX-02a (1, P1), 76.
2. (1) Scott Sharp, Jupiter, FL; David Brabham, Australia; Acura ARX-02a (2, P1), 76.
3. (3) Luis Diaz, Mexico; Adrian Fernandez, Mexico; Acura ARX-01B (1, P2), 75.
4. (4) Guy Smith, England; Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Lola B09 86 Mazda (2, P2), 75.
5. (5) Butch Leitzinger, State College, PA; Marino Franchitti, Scotland; Lola B09 86 Mazda (3, P2), 74.
6. (8) Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Oliver Gavin, England; Corvette C6.R (1, GT1), 73.
7. (6) Jon Field, Dublin, OH; Clint Field, Dublin, OH; Chapman Ducote, Miami, FL; Lola B06/10 AER (3, P1), 71.
8. (11) Patrick Long, Oak Park, CA; Jörg Bergmeister, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (1, GT2), 71.
9. (21) Pierre Kaffer, Germany; Jaime Melo, Brazil; Ferrari F430 GT (2, GT2), 71.
10. (12) Tom Milner, Leesburg, VA; Dirk Mueller, Germany; BMW E92 M3 (3, GT2), 70.
11. (14) Richard Westbrook, England; Johannes Stuck, Austria; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (4, GT2), 70.
12. (19) Seth Neiman, Burlingame, CA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (5, GT2), 70.
13. (20) Ian James, England; Dominik Farnbacher, Germany; Panoz Esperante GTLM Ford (6, GT2), 69.
14. (18) Joel Feinberg, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Chris Hall, Daytona, FL; Dodge Viper Comp Coupe (7, GT2), 68.
15. (7) Michael Lewis, San Diego, CA; Bryan Willman, Kirkland, WA; Lola B06/10 AER (4, P1), 67.
16. (13) Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, CA; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; BMW E92 M3 (8, GT2), 67.
17. (15) David Murry, Cumming, GA; David Robertson, Ray, MI; Doran Ford GT MK 7 (9, GT2), 67.
18. (10) Wolf Henzler, Germany; Dirk Werner, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (10, GT2), 67.
19. (17) Lou Gigliotti, Dallas, TX; Boris Said, Carlsbad, CA; Chevrolet Riley Corvette C6 (11, GT2), 64.
20. (16) Bryan Sellers, Centerville, OH; Dominic Cicero, Portland, OR; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (12, GT2), 43, Transmisson.
21. (9) Johnny O'Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Corvette C6.R (2, GT1), 42.