August Editorial
Spa and Sears Point in one weekend – a weekend to remember for the likes of us.

There were both parallels and vast differences in the running, attendance and coverage of the two events, suggesting that sportscar / GT racing, in its similar and dissimilar forms, in such different parts of the planet, is largely on the right track, at least as far as these two series are concerned.

The obvious similarity between the two races is that a good little ‘un beat the big ‘uns in both events – but in very different ways. Stephane Ortelli showed his perception of what it takes to win by suggesting to Marc Lieb weeks in advance that the Freisinger 911 could win the race overall. Lieb didn’t believe him of course, but Ortelli / Lieb / Dumas in the terrible conditions, with the traction of a GT3-RS and the preparation of Manfred Freisinger, were a match for anyone, at least when the track was at its wettest.

Freisinger is making a habit of performances like this. It was his car, with Ortelli / Dumas / Collard, that took third overall last year – first in N-GT. He didn’t have a happy Petit Le Mans (in a last minute entry), and didn’t enter Daytona this year, but had that fine second at Le Mans in 2002 – and wasn’t invited back.

But three 24 hour races in a year and two wins and a second is a phenomenal record – which coincidentally matches the wins of Kevin Buckler (Le Mans and Daytona – in the latter, beating the bigger cars too). Meanwhile Alex Job was cleaning up again in the ALMS, at Sears Point, this team actually being unbeaten in any competition so far this year. Manfred can’t claim that accolade – but his team was described as “totally, totally in control” by their Dunlop engineer. Has Ortelli taken on the team manager role here? Ah, Andrew Cotton explains that Norbert Singer was on the pit wall throughout the 24-hours, and Lieb credited the win to his tactics. While others pitted under the single safety car (rather than Spa's usual two), they were held at the end of the pit lane until the car came round again, losing an entire lap unless they timed it right. And Singer did.

The weather may have made the Spa race for the Porsche entrants, but what a shame for the fans. The crowd looked huge at the start(s), but surely many of them would have sought shelter at home in the prevailing evening conditions.

Meanwhile, in California we had the ‘little ‘uns’ come good for the first time – and suggestions that the weather kept the crowd away, because it was too hot, because there was no shade.

If fans thought about going and then didn’t, they missed an absolute corker. Come on, hands up if you didn’t believe the blue and white MG-Lolas could pull it off. But they did, on sheer pace. Weaver against Werner: hmm, James has been up for a chance like this for about nine months. Fantastic stuff – throughout the field too. Putting some of the quick cars at the back was an exciting move, wasn’t it? And it never ceases to amaze how few examples of contact there are in these events, although inevitably there is contact – as Herbert and Magnussen could attest.

TV coverage. Does either series do itself justice at the moment? There have been a fair few moans about the Infineon Raceway coverage, while in Europe, the Proximus 24 Hours seemed to take second place to whatever else was going on. Schedules that suggest “we’ll show you the start of the race live” and then don’t just antagonise – but what’s new?

But we do have Hindhaugh and Martyn live, at every ALMS race: what a credit to sportscar racing those two are, and what a fantastic service. And live timing too. That should have been the case for the 24 hour race, but having worked perfectly throughout Thursday and Friday and half an hour into the race…it never worked again.

We had our problems too – perhaps the same problem, bandwidth. We were effectively ‘down’ for five hours on Saturday evening, for which we apologise. But at least we got it fixed.

It’s at moments like that when we tend to realise how immediate this internet thing is – and how much we miss it when it doesn’t work. When you’re not at the race, watching it unfold lap by lap – whether ALMS or FIA GT - is very much ‘anorak behaviour’, but still absolutely fascinating, whether over two and three quarter hours or 24.

Besides the vast differences in the length of these events that give us so much pleasure, there is a great gulf in the way some aspects of the races are run. The pit-lane at ALMS events is very much a ‘no-go’ area for anyone who doesn’t need to be there: it is supervised ruthlessly, and quite right too. Spa was somewhat different. There were far too many people in the pit-lane for safety anyway, and with balconies above, we’ve heard tales of various objects arriving in pit-lane from above: yes, cigarette ends, an umbrella and even a beer glass – which broke of course. The circuit is fabulous, but dangerous enough anyway, and such casual control of a volatile area could lead to a disaster.

Lastly, a word about those who suffered the real misfortunes, at Spa and Sears Point. Mike Hezemans ploughing into the tyre wall at Eau Rouge, Bas Leinders crashing on his second ever lap in a GT car and being summarily dismissed, JC-W rolling the repaired Lister, while pushing on with no wipers, Duncan Dayton and Jon Field ending up with a trashed 675 car after hitting a stationary Porsche – and Martin Short, also not making the start (well, just about then) after an engine failure. Plus a good number of others too. Fortunately, that perennial optimism of racers means they’ll all be back.
Malcolm Cracknell

(We've missed a couple of editorials - June and July - but just like the buses, two suddenly come along at once.)

 

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