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ALMS – Petit Le Mans – Thursday Morning
A Warm Welcome To Road Atlanta – Then Wet

And suddenly dsc is working on a different time zone from our European readers – so apologies for only getting going on Thursday, now, mid-afternoon EDT, and the for the loss of Wednesday (while the Ed. was flying over, amongst other places, Poughkeepsie – see below).

So we’re trying to catch up with Thursday morning practice action here, and news from Wednesday.

Top of the time sheets this morning was Nic Minassian, with a 1:12.006 in the #88 Creation CA06/H, 70 thousandths faster than the quicker of the Audis, the #2 car.

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Minassian reckons that pole position will be a “mid to low 1:11,” and he clearly believes that he can set that sort of time tomorrow.

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Fastest in the other three classes were Timo Bernhard in #6 Porsche Spyder, Darren Turner in the #007 Aston Martin and Bill Auberlen, very quick in the #21 PTG BMW.

The drama of Wednesday involved Liz Halliday, in her Intersport Lola. A view of the in-car video revealed that a Flying Lizard Porsche ahead backed off (with a dash full of warning lights?) and Liz veered off to the right to miss it, and hit the wall very hard.

“We’re gonna fly if we can get the car back out there,” said Jon Field. “I set a couple of 1:12s in testing last weekend: a 1:12.97 and 1:12.99 on consecutive laps. The car was so good: on the car’s first laps of the test, I set a 1:14 on my first flying lap. It’s really well balanced – but it was at Road America and Mosport.

“We’ve set the car up for good straightaway speed, so we don’t have high downforce, but it will make passing easier.”

But yesterday’s crash meant no Intersport on track today.

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“We’re waiting for a carbon fibre insert piece for the engine mounting. It will arrive tonight, then the glue has got to set, which means taking the engine out again, then we’ll put it back again tomorrow. So we’ll be out for qualifying.”

Harold Primat is happy enough in the Creation – with the exception of his own cockpit comfort. Harold is a very tall chap, and “the cockpit is very small. Yesterday we moved things in the cockpit so I’ve now got more room for my legs, but not for my arms. If I’m comfortable in the car, I’ll do Laguna Seca.

“But the car is quick: yesterday Nic did eight laps and was P4, and today he is P1 so it’s looking good.”

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Harold Primat made an interesting comparison between the Creation and his regular car, the Swiss Spirit Courage.

“The Courage has a wider window where it works well, but when you get the Creation ‘in the window’, the faster you go the more downforce you get and the faster you go. As long as you’re in that window, it’s really fast.

“But I’m happy with what we are doing at Swiss Spirit: there’s a lot we can do on the media side for next year – and we’re looking to use a Ricardo or Xtrac gearbox in 2007. Serge (Saulnier) is also looking hard to find the right person to replace him.”

Which is a reminder that the first images of the Peugeot 908 (Peugeot is Saulnier’s new employer) have been released: we’ll get to those as soon as we can.

Commercial Manager at Creation, Andy Woolgar, is working on some interesting possibilities for 2007, on both sides of the Atlantic, and just announced is a partnership with Milwaukee-based Optima Batteries, “which is initially a North American deal, but we hope it to carry over into Europe for 2007,” says Andy Woolgar.

And as this is being typed, the second session of the day starts – with a brief shower to greet the cars. It didn’t look as though it would be significant…..

Chris Dyson was among several of the regulars to mention how pleased he was that Creation and Zytek are here at Road Atlanta.

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At Zytek, “Stefan is doing his usual job, the other two guys are doing a good job of learning the car,” said Trevor Foster. “Johnny (Mowlem) is getting used to the limits of the car, while leap-frogging with the SPEED Aston Martin, which isn’t easy.

Zytek boss Bill Gibson commented that “my dream is to put together a two car team of petrol-electric hybrids for 2007, and enter the whole Le Mans Series, Le Mans and the last two races of the ALMS. But the whole project depends on us getting the funding to make it happen.”

Eric van de Poele and Didier Theys are as happy to be here as you’d expect, and both were reminiscing about past races at Road Atlanta, notably the first PLM and that dramatic spring 1999 race. Eric vdP only arrived at the track on Saturday morning in 1999 – and he went on to win, in the Rafanelli R&S.

“I’ve already done more laps than I did last year! We’re still adapting the car, but it’s reacting well to the changes.”

Didier Theys: “It’s like a first race for us. We had hoped to do a full two days of testing in Germany, but we lost a heat exchanger, the weather was very hot, and the car was overheating, so we only did 50 to 60 laps (of the Lausitzring) in total. We’re looking at the whole length of the race, so reliability is very important to us – and anyway the AER gets a larger restrictor here than in the Le Mans Series, but for us there’s no change.”

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Working with Markus Hotz at Horag Racing was none other than Kevin Doran. His team is testing its Grand Am cars “twice a month for the rest of the year – but he also had some very interesting ALMS news.

“I may be back with a GT2 car: we’ve got a customer who has signed up with us for 2007, for us to design and build the cars – although not necessarily for us to enter them for the races, although we hope to be running them. It looks as though IMSA and the ACO are happy for us to be running these cars for the first time….”

Intriguing: Kevin Doran was unable to name the manufacturer… Tennessee anyone? Or something else?

Tim Greaves is partnering Gunnar van der Steur and Ben Devlin in the Kumho-shod Radical SR9 here, but has some SR1 news too.

“We (Radical) are seriously considering a P1 version of our car, and we’ve had the first design review. It’s definitely achievable by the Ricard test in March next year. We’re now considering the commercial considerations of the project. We’ve got customers who want to do it.”

Regarding the VdS Radivcal here, “we’ve had a problem with a damaged boost pipe, but it so happened that the guys flying from the UK had a spare with them, which they got to us last night. We did some installation laps this morning, but we should be good to go this afternoon.

“We’re still finding a good set-up for the Kumhos, and we need a good run on them (to do that).

Paul Thomas and Les White are here, from Team Bruichladdich Radical, “to help out as part of Radical’s support, at the team’s first race.”

At Dyson Racing, only four drivers were present this morning: Guy Smith had gone to see a dentist. “The only time he could fit me in was during this morning’s session, so Chris did all the running.” A root canal problem, which sounds worse than it seemed to be.

Guy Smith has a ‘phone with him all the time, because his wife Alicia could be giving birth to their first child any day now, although Guy is impressing on her the importance of giving birth between PLM and Laguna.

Dyson Racing drivers (generally) made the point that the team found a good base set-up at Salt Lake, and they’ve changed the car very little since then.

“Chris is very good at set-up work and makes sure we always look at performance for the race,” explained Guy Smith. “So our performance usually gets better as the race progresses, which is always a good thing.”

“Since Salt Lake City, we’ve not looked back,” added James Weaver.

Randall Kelsey was interested t learn that the Ed’s flight yesterday took the BA 777 right over Poughkeepsie – so that I couldn’t even see the famous town immediately below. But I could describe the island just upstream in the Hudson River, which is next to a river bank town called Hyde Park, where President Roosevelt lived.

“The engine in #20 wasn’t making the power it should yesterday, but we’ve found some debris in a fuel cell,” said Randall Kelsey, getting back on topic.

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So among the GTs, it was the two Aston Martin DBR9s heading the GT1 sheet, with the Tomas Enge / Darren Turner 007 turning a 1:18.738. The fastest of the Corvettes was the #4, which turned a 1:19.567.

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In GT2, the PTG BMWs held the top and bottom times. The #21 M3, driven by Bill Auberlen / Joey Hand / Boris Said turned a 1:23.339 in the later part of the session. Earlier in the session, it was the Petersen White Lightning Porsche heading the class times.

The results of the latest series of competition adjustments is somewhat inconclusive, but early indications make it appear that the Aston Martins may have the upper hand. Johnny O’Connell, who did not get into his #3 Corvette in the morning session was feeling frustrated. “I can’t even keep up with the regulation changes. I’m just a driver and my job is to get the best out of the car, what ever the regulations are. It’s frustrating for us though. From my perspective, there have been times when the regulations were quite good and the racing was close, but here, I don’t know quite yet. The Astons have been here testing for a few days, so they are dialed in, but from what I can tell, they haven’t yet reached the times they achieved in that testing.”

On a more positive note, Johnny just spent a few days at the Nurburgring, the real full 14 plus mile Nurburgring, where he was driving a street Z06 Corvette. “It’s an amazing place. I’ve only driven there once before, and that was at a much more sedate pace. Let me tell you, photos and videos do not do the place justice. The elevation changes are much more intense in person. It was a blast.” Johnny was scheduled to return in October to attempt to set the lap record for a street car, but a scheduled testing session for the C6.R has forced this to be rescheduled.

Bill Auberlen was quite satisfied to see his BMW topping the charts in GT2 for this session, but he isn’t quite sure how long it will be there. “We’ve been testing here for a few days, so we’re pretty much up to speed. I’m sort of surprised about the straightline speed of the other cars out there. They’re not quite where I’d thought they would be, at least yet. I’m not sure we really have much more speed in the car, so what we’re going for now is drivability. We want to make the car fast, but we are more concerned about making the car fast over a longer duration and making it comfortable for the driver to keep it fast.”

Bill pointed out the fact that they are running a diffuser here this weekend. “We’ve developed and looked at many things to get our car faster, and the diffuser is one of those things. We presented it to the ALMS, but they rejected it, saying it was not allowed in the regulations. We’ve looked at many things, like superchargers, dropping in the old V8, even putting the M5 motor into the car, but none of these were options that BMW liked. We need to have some success for BMW to consider returning, so we tried the diffuser. After being told no by ALMS, I went to Alwin Springer of Porsche. He had no problem with it and said that no Porsche teams would have a problem with it either. It’s important for there to be competition in the class.”

As far as next year for Bill and BMW, who knows. “I’ve been telling everybody different stories, because it seems like everybody is asking me the same question. At this point, I honestly don’t know what will happen. I’ve been speaking with BMW about another contract, and I hope it happens. If not, I guess it could be considered the end of an era.” And the same holds true for Tom Milner and PTG.

For Flying Lizards, this race is important, but not as important as the possibilities of winning the Drivers Championship for Johannes van Overbeek and also the Teams Championship, where they are in a tight battle with Risi. They realize they need to do well in the race to win the championships, especially the team championship where the margin is only 2 points. The Lizards are also due to have an announcement concerning their future plans on Friday, right after the annual ALMS press conference. Concerning the track and the cars, Darren Law said that “the track was in pretty good condition and that the cars were getting there. The possibility of some rain tonight could change all of that though.”

Robin Liddell at AJR had “oversteer in the fast corners. We were 1.5 seconds off the Petersen car yesterday, but much closer, only three tenths today. We’re gauging ourselves against the #31 car, because this track plays far more to the Ferraris’ strengths than it does to the Porsches’."

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Alex Job was accepting of the changes made for his team, courtesy of Porsche. “It’s good for Rocky, but not as good for us. It was a Porsche decision and I’m OK with it. It’s been a bit of a struggle this year, and with us being out of the points, I guess it makes sense. We have good drivers here for this race, but we don’t have a lot of experience together. The car wasn’t too good on Wednesday, but it was better this morning, with Robin (Liddell) getting it up to 5th fastest. Come the race, we won’t be the fastest, like we are used to, but hopefully we’ll be around as the race develops.” Alex expects Rockenfeller to be back in their car at Laguna, where he will be partnered by Marcel Tieman.

Ralf Kelleners: “In comparison to the older Ferrari 360, the 430 just does everything a little better. The chassis is and was the strong point of the 360 and is still for this car. In the 360, the motor was ****, and in the 430, it is acceptable. We are still losing out down the straights, but the car is good enough to make up for the lack of power.”

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In a reversal of roles, Dario Franchitti was here at the track to watch his brother Marino Franchitti. Marino: “Yeah, it would good to be able to race with him next season, but we’ll have to see what happens. I have no idea where I might end up. For now it’s good to be back with Risi, even if it is only for this race. Quite a few of the guys are still around from when I drove with them before, so that really helps. The car is obviously good (second in class in the morning session) and I’m looking forward to a good race. “

So the afternoon session began with a light sprinkle, then the sun came out – then it came over very dark, and the rain came down in torrents. The session was red-flagged at 33 minutes elapsed. Approaching 16.00 local time, it is still pouring down.
GH & MC

This was the scene on Tuesday evening, at the Aston Martin dealership in Atlanta. Just practising getaways after pit stops?

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