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ALMS – Road America 500 – Following Road America From Afar
The Ed. was stuck at dsc HQ for the seventh round of the ALMS, but thanks To Tom Kjos, Motors TV, the Radio Web, Live Timing & Scoring, the images of Regis Lefebure and James Davies, rapid despatch of the results of each practice and qualifying session and a barrage of press material, it was sometimes possible to be one up on even Butch Leitzinger as regards the supply of information and knowledge. Tom Kjos regularly comments on viewing the Rolex 24 from afar, so here are a few thoughts on following the latest round of the ALMS from a distance.

During qualifying on Saturday, it actually seemed as though followers of Live Timing knew more, sooner, than did John Hindhaugh. Heaven knows how the Radio Web is converted into Hindhaugh and Tyler coming out of a pair of speakers 4,000 miles away, but on Saturday afternoon, their commentary was delayed by a short period, such that the latest fast times popped up on the Live Timing display before Hindy rejoiced in the latest quick lap of Elkhart Lake.

So there was Butch looking as though he’d just sewn up pole position, and it sounded as though Hindhaugh didn’t know it yet. He must have done of course, it was a simple delay getting the signal across the Atlantic – but it was a pleasant feeling, if you assumed he didn’t yet know what had happened.

Butch certainly didn’t know what he’d just done – although Radio Web listeners did know, thanks to the service cutting in on father Bob Leitzinger’s radio messages to his son – which it turned out Butch couldn’t hear. So when Bob told the world that Butch was on the pole (by a substantial margin), everyone knew except Butch. The driver had to wait until he pitted, to be told face to face. On such a long lap, he pointed out that it’s hard to second guess your lap time. Graham Tyler caught up with the pole man almost immediately he vacated the car, and polite fellow that he is, Butch thanked James Weaver and Peter Weston for giving him such a perfectly set up car.

Andy Wallace pitched in with praise for the man in the black helmet, reckoning that he could have gone a touch quicker than his own 1:52.7, but wouldn’t have beaten Butch’s best.

“Hopefully we won’t screw up like we did at Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock,” pitched in Rob Dyson. “Pay day is on Sunday.”

Sadly, it didn’t turn out like that. “We’ll get to the bottom of this problem,” said Dyson Snr. on Sunday afternoon.

Dyson PR man Steve Potter’s post race release included these comments: ‘The two leading candidates (as the cause of the header failures on both cars) are mechanical interference between the suspension’s lower control arm when the fuel tank is full and the car is running at low ride height, or pressure pulses from newly developed pit lane speed control software.’

Meanwhile, Champion Racing had been having a completely opposite type of race meeting from Dyson Racing: poor handling on Friday and Saturday, then a very good car for the race. Tom Kjos’s race report included the nugget of information that the team had found a cracked rear anti-roll bar on Saturday night. Come the warm-up, Lehto and Werner had an Audi they could go racing with.

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The Motors TV coverage (via SPEED) caught all the lap 1 (Turn 1) drama, as JJ thought about having a go at Chris Dyson, thought again, ducked back in, and the slight hesitation caused Jon Field to inadvertently tap the Audi into a spin. Thankfully, the Intersport man wasn’t penalised, but JJ was now right at the back. What the SPEED coverage missed was JJ picking off the GT and GTS cars – so quickly that by lap 4 he was in fourth place, and haring after Dyson and Field. The cameras did catch the Turn 5 moment as Field passed Dyson, and Lehto inadvertently tapped the #20 Lola. And the same corner as Field spun on his own, and Lehto moved into second. It was stunning progress, and there was more to come.

“The car was not handling all that well,” said Butch Leitzinger, of his #16 Lola. “It was understeering going in (to the corner) and oversteering coming out. It was pretty uncomfortable.”

‘The team was prepared to make adjustments in tire pressure, which Leitzinger was confident would have dealt with the problem,’ it said in Steve Potter’s post-race release. Poor Butch didn’t have a chance to find out.

It didn’t last for many laps, but the dice between Lehto, Dyson and Field was a mini-classic. On such a track, mixing it with the lapped cars could have had any of several outcomes – real suck in your breath stuff at these speeds, on this circuit, and a very different spectacle from similar racing at Silverstone a week before. The GP track has been neutered by all the remorseless (F1) changes over the years. In contrast, Elkhart Lake is still a fantastic circuit, and SPEED and Motors captured the excitement as these three charged along: Lehto and Field, what a fearless pair. With (what we later discovered to be) his ill-handling car, Chris Dyson was probably wise not to use his straight line speed advantage to mix it with these two – and then all too soon he pitted anyway.

The cameras caught the Lehto chase of Leitzinger, although in the frequent ad. breaks on SPEED, the English commentator called the Finn JJ Letho every time – and persisted in calling the red LMP2 car (and its creator) Courage (as in lots of courage), rather than the French pronunciation. Yves Currage and Currage LMP2 do grate on the fourth hearing….. more so on the fourteenth.

Butch’s retirement was the signal to return to the PC, and the Radio Web / Live Timing combination. PC and satellite TV are in different rooms here, and sometimes it isn’t worth the scorn of an unsympathetic partner to run a cable right through the house: I did for Sebring, and enjoyed information overload almost throughout the race. “Yes dear, I will empty the bin, but not right now….”

“All you’re interested in is racing.”

“When it’s going on now, yes, I am.” How do you explain that you don’t want to miss the incident that might determine the outcome of the race? dsc apologises for missing that incident: the Ed. was emptying the rubbish bin……

Tom Kjos included the moment in his race report that seemed to determine the 1-2-3 in GT. Timo Bernhard ('one on one' at the post-race press conference): “When we first got the green on the restart, it was really, really close with the 45 (Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche GT3 RSR). He got right beside me, but I was able to hold him off. As we went through four (which is the sweeping, shallow turn that makes up the downhill “straight” before the very slow turn five), I was able to pass some other cars, and the #31 (Petersen Motorsports) car followed me through (for second place).”

Craig Stanton seemed to have the measure of Johannes van Overbeek over the remaining laps, so where to look now for some drama? Tim Sugden was chasing Patrick Long for fourth, and I was reminded of a comment one driver made after the Silverstone 1000 Kms. Long had started off a stint there at breakneck pace, but seemed to use up his tyres in the process, falling back into the clutches of a rival. Surely there weren’t enough laps left for a set of Michelins to go past their best? Then Long set a 2:17 lap (reason unknown), and Sugden was only three seconds behind – maybe we would have a race to the flag after all? But no, Patrick Long settled back into 2:12s, and the gap stabilised at three seconds. The race ran its course, and other than the opening period – and that fantastic circuit – it was the least eventful of the ALMS season. They can’t all be classics of course, but even the limited ALMS field has still conjured up some absolutely brilliant racing of late.

The LMP2 win by the Courage was more than noteworthy of course, but what a pity that this race was the one in which the Intersport B2K / 40 was halted by a silly throttle cable. The French constructor does seem to have mastered the art of keeping the turbo four running sweetly, whether it be for two and three quarter hours or five and a half. Perhaps the larger LMP2 restrictors help? Was the Courage a real rocketship along Road America’s straights?

dailysportscar.comSPEED had caught three significant GT moments early on. David Murry led from the go, but got involved with the Belloc Viper and spun to the back. Jorg Bergmeister then led, but tinkered with the dirt at Turn 5, delayed just enough for Marc Lieb to pass him. Then Lieb touched a kerb, breaking a rear suspension arm and spinning violently from high speed – an incident that could so easily have taken out both AJR Porsches.

Having abandoned the TV coverage, how spectacular were Jean-Philippe Belloc’s tyre failures on the Viper? Very, from Hindy’s commentary.

It’s cruel isn’t it, how ill luck seems to follow certain entries? If there is any justice, Tom Weickardt will have a run to remember at PLM: we hope he does. Jon Field and Duncan Dayton have shown admirable persistence, and received their reward. ACEMCO will be carrying out a nine hour endurance test at Mid-Ohio shortly, a sure sign that this team is still firmly committed to extracting the most from the Saleen-Pirelli combination – something they’ve been doing all year anyway.

Now, who’s going to be present at Road Atlanta next month? Wherever you're 'watching' from, the supply of information will once again be superb.
MC

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