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ALMS – Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma
Jeff Giangrande – Stretching The Envelope
Gary Horrocks caught up with ACEMCO team owner Jeff Giangrande at Infineon Raceway – to discuss where the team are with the Saleen S7-R, and where they are heading.

dailysportscar.comIt was just a year ago that Jeff Giangrande, owner of ACEMCO Motorsports, got his first taste of a Saleen S7 on a race track, as he was given a few laps around the Infineon track, courtesy of Terry Borcheller. The seed for the pairing had been planted earlier than that though.

“Saleen first approached us at Le Mans last year when we were running the Ferrari,” commented Jeff.

That got the ball rolling, and through the summer, ACEMCO worked on the program, finally “pulling the trigger” on the deal, which was announced to the public at the Laguna Seca race last fall.

“What we are running now is in reality the next evolution of the S7R. We own chassis numbers 29 and 31 (Janos – take note) and these are the first cars built by Saleen in California. They have incorporated many changes in the car in this next evolution, especially in the suspension.”

Some of the changes are such that the suspension components are no longer interchangeable with the older variations of the car. Unfortunately, as the world saw, the car was not truly ready to run when the season started at Sebring.

“We simply got the cars late. There was some planned early testing to take place in California, but that went down the tubes. We did an initial shakedown in January, but our planned test in February was rained out. In essence, we arrived at Sebring the week before the race with an un-tested racecar, and it showed.”

The initial announcement stated that the team would not be at Le Mans this year, as it would instead concentrate on the development of the Saleen. Even though the S7R has been racing since 2001, Jeff Giangrande feels that the car is “in a time warp in terms of development. We have picked up the gauntlet. The package has great potential and it is our job to work with it, to push it along. Our plan is to continue developing the car and to run a single car in the full season next year, and to also go to Le Mans too.

dailysportscar.com“Do I wish we were farther along now? Yes, I do, but we realized it was a steep mountain. We have made good progress, but then again, so has Corvette. Corvette has been developing their car for five years, and here we are, a privateer team, taking on the might of GM, one of the largest companies in the world. First, we need to work on reliability, and then we can concentrate on the pace.”

Instead of taking the challenge of the Ferraris from last year lying down, the Corvettes really “upped the game in GTS. We had heard stories of their pace throughout testing, but you can never tell from those sessions. Then we arrived at Sebring and saw their speed.”

Pirelli had a new tire construction that was about 1.5 seconds faster at Sebring, but the reliability just wasn’t there for them to run it in the race. “Pirelli continues to work on the tires, and we hope to hear within the next week or son on the availability of a new tire for us.”

Even though ACEMCO does not feel that it has developed the Saleen to its potential, it is already faster than a Saleen has ever been at Mid Ohio, despite smaller restrictors and wings. “ The last time a Saleen ran at Mid Ohio, which was in 2002, its fastest lap was in the 1:22 range. We ran 1:19-1:18 just a few weeks ago.”

The recent tight schedule has meant that the team must make do, for now, with what they have. “Since Mid Ohio, there just hasn’t been much time to make progress. We have development pieces ready to go, but we just don’t have the time to try them out.”

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One recent change has been the switch to an Elan motor, instead of the Saleen developed V8. “Saleen is a small company. They have 65 orders for S7s to fill. They are opening up a plant in Michigan to produce the new GT-40 for Ford. There is just no time or resources right now. Elan has a lot of time and experience with Ford based motors and we feel that they have the resources to help us close the gap. We still have the same motor in the car that we ran at Mid Ohio and Lime Rock, but further development is ongoing. Even with this, we still feel that the Corvette still has a significant power advantage. They have more power, more torque and better drivability.”

dailysportscar.comRight now, GTS may have lost some luster, without any Ferrari presence, but it appears “more manufacturers are interested in racing what they make. I don’t know about what is happening in the prototype classes as far as new cars, but it appears that we will be getting more cars in the production based classes soon. Even though they are as expensive to run as a prototype, the manufacturers appear to be interested. Having the Lamborghini in GTS is great. They are beautiful cars, but they still need to be sorted out. It would be great to see the Ferraris back though. We need more cars in GTS right now.”

The transition from GT last year to GTS this year also works with Jeff’s business plans. “In GTS, we now have more latitude to make changes than we did in GT. We are allowed to do more development and we can show our engineering expertise in a better way. It is a lot more work than running a GT car, but it all helps promote our manufacturing capabilities.”

“I was a fan of racing in the’60s. I remember reading in Road & Track about Le Mans and Sebring, but school and business came first. I finally decided that now is the time to get involved. I’m competitive, like everyone in this business is. I like to stretch the envelope. That is the fun of it. I like the idea of a small privateer team competing against a large company. When we beat them, it will be a very sweet victory.”

Note, Jeff did not say if. He said when. That would be very sweet indeed.
Gary Horrocks

 

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