ALMS – International Sports Car Racing Weekend at Circuit of the Americas

ALMS-GridWalk

Editor’s Note: Regular contributor, John Olsakovsky, was at the Circuit of the Americas for the ALMS weekend and gives us his thoughts on the experience and a recap of the racing action.


I thoroughly love working from home. It affords me flexibility to attend practice and qualifying sessions on Fridays while still on the clock, which exactly how I worked this past weekend to see ALMS & WEC race at CotA. All went well until a customer’s server crashed about 4:00 pm Friday afternoon, but that’s another story. Mother Nature nearly led me to eschew Friday activities in favor for my warm and dry home. For some reason, that day was the day that ended a long-standing drought in East and Central Texas and playing GTA V on my sofa is a lot more fun than driving two and a half hours in a monsoon… Except that I’m working, remember?

DeltaWingGarageAlas, a break in the weather prompted me to leave, giving me an ETA at the track about noon and the rains kept all but the most hardcore fans from the track. Some sessions were delayed a bit, but ALMS still got in their qualifying session, everyone running rain tires and sliding around. To be fair, watching drivers push cars to the limit in wet conditions is fascinating to watch, with cars spraying rooster tails behind them. Qualifying didn’t yield anything unexpected: The Muscle Milk/Pickett Racing team with Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf setting a blistering lap time, five seconds faster than second position!


ALMS Class Pole Winners

Class Team Car Drivers
LMP1 Muscle Milk/Pickett HPD ARX-03c K.Graf/L.Luhr
LMP2 Level 5 Motorsport HPD ARX-03b S.Tucker/M.Franchitti /G.Cosmo
LMPC 8STAR Motorsport ORECA FLM09 M.Schultis/R.van der Zande
GT RLL/BMW Racing BMW Z4 GTE B.Auberlen/J.Hand
GTC Green Hornet Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup B.Keating/D. Faulkner

One downside to watching road racing, is you can only see what is in your area of vision, which is usually a corner or two. The way Circuit of the Americas is configured, there are multiple viewing areas where multiple sections of the track can be clearly seen. As an example, the grandstands in Turn 15 afforded a view of the sharp hairpin that is turn 12 through the entrance to turn 16, as well as the top of the hill and turn 1 beyond it. We were fortunate enough to be on the pedestrian bridge during one session and witnessed Ryan Briscoe lose a wheel from the Level 5 HPD ARX-03b in the esses. He was able to gather it up and despite a near miss from the Delta Wing, limped it back home in one piece, but with no lap time set.

My Friday brought a late-afternoon work situation, so I didn’t stick around for the Porsche GT3 Cup race that afternoon. Besides, I’d met a long-lost friend at the track, and it was the perfect time to catch up and enjoy some local cuisine and nightlife.

Saturday dawned clear and breezy: A perfect morning for racing! Saturday had qualifying for the FIA WEC round, Cooper Tires Prototype Lites and an ALMS warmup/practice session. The WEC qualifying wasn’t any surprise, with the Audis dominating P1, locking the single Toyota out of the front row.


FIA WEC Pole Winners

Class Team Car Drivers
LMP1 Audi Sport Joest Audi R18 e-tron Quattro T.Kristensen/L.Duval/A.McNish
LMP2 G-Drive Racing Oreca 03 – Nissan R.Rusinov/J.Martin/M.Conway
LMGTE Pro Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8 B.Senna/F.Makowiecki
LMGTE Am 8STAR Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia V.Potolicchio/R.Aguas/M.Malucelli

One of the great things about sports car racing is that the drivers, the teams, the cars, the paddock are all very accessible to spectators. I was at Circuit of the Americas for the inaugural Formula One race in November, and there was no spectator access, so this was my first opportunity to get to the “behind the scenes” areas. I’ve been in sports car and IndyCar paddocks before, but seeing an FIA-certified Formula One caliber race garage was very new. It was also very underwhelming, to be honest. If it weren’t for the precision machinery housed within, the garage would look like any other garage.

ALMS-GridWalk

One thing the ALMS teams do is bring out models to draw fans to their car, their drivers and their brand during the Grid Walk. You can get right next to the cars, talk to the drivers and crews, take pictures and video, photobomb the ESPN camera crew or whatever you want. I happened to be by the Delta Wing as Katherine Legge was getting her helmet on and strapping into the cockpit. Oddly, she was the only driver getting into the car during the grid walk, but it was neat to see a driver go through their pre-race routine.

The race was a fast one, with no full-course cautions. Muscle Milk/Pickett proved that their qualifying speed in the wet was no fluke, and went to dominate the LMP1 class and overall, earning their seventh consecutive victory. Granted, there’s only one other car in the LMP1 class.

The real battle was in GT, with one car each from Corvette Racing and SRT Vipers and one of Rahal’s BMW Z4’s duking it out for the podium all race long. At times, the 91 Viper would get close enough to challenge for a podium, as well as Rahals other BMW. Early on, RLL used the strategy of using both cars to draft together on CotA’s long straightaways, as it seemed it was the only way they could match the straight line speeds of the big American muscle. As an aside, the sound of a Corvettes, an Aston Martin and a Viper in close proximity and running at full song creates a sound that can only described as gloriously brutal.

ALMS Results
LMP1
1. Muscle Milk/Pickett 2. Dyson Racing
LMP2
1. Level 5 Motorsport 2. Level 5 Motorsport 3. Extreme Speed Motorsports
LMPC
1. BAR1 Motorsports 2. PR1 Motorsports 3. Core Motorsport
GT
1. Corvette Racing 2. SRT Viper Racing 3. RLL/BMW Racing
GTC
1. Green Hornet Racing 2. NGT Motorsport 3. Dempsey Racing

One of the great things about multi-class sports car racing is different cars with different speeds and handling characteristics on track at all times. The drivers have to be aware of not only who they are contending with for position within their class, but also faster and/or slower cars that must pass or be passed. It certainly ratchets up the excitement level for spectators.

After a nearly sleepless night thanks to an incident involving a cat and an air mattress, Sunday looked beautiful, as did the nearest Starbucks. After watching the first half of the Formula One race from Singapore, the track awaited. Six hours of racing was to be had!

I read a tweet before the race Sunday morning that Anthony Davidson’s wife gave birth to their second child. He was able to participate via video call during the birth, and he had that much extra motivation going into the race Sunday. If only the Toyotas had as much motivation, they might have had a higher spot on the podium. The race in LMP1 was all Audi, as expected, with the #1 Audi having to settle for the bottom rung of the podium after early incidents requiring long repair times.

The GT classes were all Aston Martin. The GTE Pro Aston blew out the rest of the class by three laps, and two GTE Am Astons duked it out to finish 1.5 seconds apart and one lap ahead of the third-place Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Sadly, I bonked about two-thirds of the way into the race. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted, and I still faced two and a half hours of driving back home. Fortunately, I could stream Radio Le Mans for the last segment of the race, and I enjoyed as I drove home.

FIA WEC Results
LMP1
1. Audi Sport Joest 2. Toyota Racing 3. Audi Sport Joest
LMP2
1. G-Drive Racing 2. Pecom Racing 3. Lotus Racing
GTE Pro
1. Aston Martin Racing 2. AF Corse Ferrari 3. AF Corse Ferrari
GTE Am
1. Aston Martin Racing 2. Aston Martin Racing 3. IMSA Performance Matmut

Circuit of the Americas is a top-notch facility. It’s a lot more enjoyable now that some grass has taken root and there’s not a hundred thousand others crammed around you. Having time and room to wander the facility a bit, there are great spots to relax and picnic, take photos, enjoy the atmosphere or even take a nap. All the drivers who have turned laps here say the track is fun and challenging, with different sections requiring different types of finesse.

Over all, it was a great weekend. For those that care to follow along on my adventures as a race fan, follow me on Twitter @JohnTheRaceFan. I’ll tweet photos and live stuff from races, as well as news articles that are of interest to me across the spectrum of motorsports, often with smart-ass commentary.