Gordon Kirby – The US Scene

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Fighting fit in the ALMS

As spec-car racing has swept across America and the world, infecting every corner of the sport, the American Le Mans Series stands out as a breath of fresh air. The ALMS has been bold enough to go against the tide, offering a package of equivalency formulas and different classes that produce an interesting variety of cars with a whiff of innovation. The series is comprised almost entirely of factory-backed teams from Audi, Porsche, Acura and Mazda, and even though there are rarely more than a dozen competitive LMP1 and LMP2 cars with a spread of GT1 and GT2 cars making up the field, the mixture of different machinery with a wide range in performance seems to have served the ALMS well. 

Most ALMS races attract pretty good crowds and the series is much more popular both at the gate and on television than the rival Grand-Am series. In fact, the ALMS has become America’s most successful road racing series, anchored by the classic Sebring 12 Hours, America’s oldest road race. There’s also the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October and the series draws well in its appearances at other fine North American road courses such as Elkhart Lake, Mosport, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock. In recent years, the ALMS has been added to the card at established street races such as Long Beach, St Petersburg and Belle Isle in Detroit, so there are quite a few good venues and many good drivers, but no big names or superstars. The ALMS is all about the cars and the manufacturers who fuel, fund and market the series. 

The big difference between the ALMS and Grand-Am is that the former embraces a more open rulebook and manufacturer-backed teams engaged in ongoing technical development, whereas Grand-Am is aimed at private teams competing in a NASCAR-owned and operated environment of strictly-defined, similar-looking cars. 

For quite a few years Audi dominated the ALMS, providing the series’ primary draw with its twin-turbo R8 LMP1 Le Mans sports cars. Over six straight years from 2000-05 Audi swept the ALMS championship with its R8 before switching in 2006 to its ground-breaking turbo diesel R10. The new car brought Audi two more ALMS titles but a serious challenger finally arrived two years ago in the shape of the Penske/Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 cars. Smaller, lighter and less powerful than the Audis, the Penske/Porsches soon proved capable of racing fender-to-fender with the R10s, particularly on the street circuits and shorter, tighter tracks that predominate in America. 

Honda also entered the ALMS last year with its Acura brand, running three cars in the LMP2 category with three different teams – Andretti-Green, Fernández Racing and Highcroft Racing. A fourth Acura team, run by owner/driver Gil de Ferran, joins the party this year and a twin-turbo V8 LMP1 car is being built by Honda Performance Development in California. Nick Wirth is the designer of the new Acura LMP1 car which will race next year. Expect Acura to race at Le Mans eventually depending, of course, on how the ACO’s rules shake out over the next few years. 

The Penske/Porsches really came on strong last year using their lighter weight, better fuel mileage and sometimes better pit strategy to win no fewer than eight races. This year the Penske operation is joined by Rob Dyson’s pair of RS Spyders so that Porsche has four strong car and driver combinations. Indeed, the new season couldn’t have started much better as one of the Penske Porsches driven by Romain Dumas/Timo Bernhard/Emmanuel Collard won the 12 Hours with one of Dyson’s Porsches taking second after Adrian Fernández’s Acura LMP2 car was disqualified for failing its airbox leak test. Sebring was billed as a preview of Le Mans with an epic battle expected between the Audi R10s and a single Peugeot 908, but both Audis and the Peugeot ran into unexpected troubles on the rough, old airport circuit, allowing the Penske/Porsche to score a faultless win. 

Audi’s factory team will focus on racing in Europe this year to combat the challenge from Peugeot so that the Florida-based Champion Racing team will again shoulder Audi’s American effort in the ALMS. It will be interesting to see if the Champion team will be able to contend with the Penske Porsches. Audi’s Allan McNish will race rarely in America this year, but he sees a serious threat from the Penske Spyders.
“We saw Penske and Porsche step up last year and raise the bar, and Acura had to follow,” McNish says. “Porsche have improved their downforce from last year and between that and their fuel advantage, they will be very hard to beat. The Porsches are good in every situation. 

“We already had the bar at a pretty high level and now the last shake of the dice is about pitstops and strategy. It’s not so much about how quick the car is, but on everybody thinking at the right time, getting their focus right and doing the job one hundred per cent. You can’t leave anything unturned. 

“The Porsches are a little slower than us in qualifying but their race pace is very similar to ours,” McNish adds. “Also, the LMP2 cars’ fuel capacity mean they can run longer than us on a tank of fuel which can add up to three pitstops less over the course of a 12-hour race. So that’s a definite advantage.” 

This year’s Sebring victory was the first in 20 years for Porsche at the Florida airfield track. It also marked Roger Penske’s first Sebring win and the first time any team owner has won both the Daytona 500 NASCAR classic and Sebring, let alone doing it in the same year. After winning eight races last year, the Penske/Porsche combination has replaced Audi as the ALMS’s new pace-setter.

*****

NASCAR converts struggle for form

Life in NASCAR is proving rough for the flock of former open-wheel racers who recently made the move to the lucrative Sprint Cup series. Juan Pablo Montoya led the charge last year and continues to be the best newcomer, but his progress seems to have stalled. Juan Pablo has become a regular top 20 runner but not much more.

Rookies Sam Hornish, Dario Franchitti (pictured crashing), and Patrick Carpentier are simply struggling to qualify. Hornish was still in the top 35 in the points after five races, thereby assuring himself a place in the starting field for the rest of the year, but Franchitti and Carpentier have in consequence dropped out of that group. 

They now face the same problem as A J  Allmendinger in 2007. To make a race they’ve got to qualify in the top 10. Like A J, who has been replaced by veteran Mike Skinner, Dario and Patrick face a kind of stock car oblivion they hadn’t anticipated. 

*****

Historic rahal win boosts unified IRL

Nobody in the IRL could have dreamed of a better result. In a difficult wet-to-dry race, Graham Rahal scored an excellent victory on his Indycar series debut at St Petersburg. At 19 years and three months Bobby’s son becomes the youngest driver in history to win an Indycar race, joining Marco Andretti as the only teenager to do so. To have a young American with an established name emerge as a leading star is a great shot in the arm for the unified but struggling IRL. 

Graham is a mature young man with a big future. Two years ago he finished a fighting second in the Atlantic series, before stepping up to Champ Car last season. He was teamed with Sébastien Bourdais at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, where Justin Wilson is now the team leader. 

Most of the ex-Champ Car teams were much more competitive on St Pete’s street circuit than at the season-opener on the Homestead-Miami oval. Five of the top 10 qualifiers were ex-Champ Car drivers, and Wilson led the race for a time. In the closing laps Rahal looked like a veteran, pulling away from Hélio Castroneves. An articulate, confident home-brewed new star has emerged, and that’s great for the IRL.

Related articles

Related products