Monday
Apr022007

TEAM NEWS: Penske Perfect At St. Pete

Photo by John Thawley ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 31, 2007) -- After starting the Acura Sports Car Challenge on the front row, the Porsche RS Spyders prepared by Penske Motorsports found themselves in the pits early, laps down and faced with the prospect of a dismal finish, but at the checkered flag they were first and second in the LMP2 Class and third and fourth overall.

France's Romain Dumas and Germany's Timo Bernhard started on the pole, sharing the front row with Australia's Ryan Briscoe and Belgium's Sascha Maassen. However, the green flag to start the race dropped well before the cars reached the starting line, and one of the LMP1 prototypes rammed into the back of Dumas' Porsche RS Spyder, causing body damage and a flat tire. Although the LMP1 driver was penalized for his action, it put the pole-sitting Porsche back in the pack, two laps down.

The Briscoe/Maassen car had similar bad luck in the early going, as it sucked up carbon fiber pieces from the incident at the race's start, clogging the air intake and causing the oil, coolant and brakes to run very hot. Then Briscoe came together with another LMP2 and the officials handed him a stop-and-go penalty. The car incurred yet another penalty when a crew member had goggles up during a pit stop. Sixty minutes into the 2-hour, 45-minute event, Briscoe and Maassen were sixth in class and Dumas and Bernhard were seventh. The team then calculated their fuel stops, driver changes, and tire changes so they could maximize their on-track time and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the yellow flags to secure the one-two finish.

"That's the great thing about endurance racing," said team owner Roger Penske, who called the strategy on the radio for the class-winning car. "You can make mistakes and survive racing incidents, your fault or not, and catch the leaders with good driving, smart driving, and quick pit work. I am very proud of our Penske Motorsports crew, especially after the disappointing results from Sebring."

Porsche and Acura are now tied for the lead in the LMP2 class with 39 points each. Dumas and Bernhard, who finished second in class and fourth overall at St. Petersburg, lead the LMP2 driver standings with 35 points, three points ahead of the nearest competitors. Briscoe and Maassen, who won the LMP2 Class and finished third overall, are close behind with 29 points. With the winners getting 20 points at each American Le Mans Series event, the championship chase should go down to the last event.

"To score my first American Le Mans Series win [by] overcoming all the problems that faced us at the beginning of the race made this victory very special," Briscoe said. "I thought everyone would be very cautious and have a clean start on this street course, but the early green flag caused many of the competitors to head for the same patch of concrete, and there was not enough room for everyone."

After an eighth-place finish at Sebring, Maassen's focus was on the point standings, where he and Briscoe are now back in contention for the championship, and Porsche is now tied for the manufacturer's lead.

"We will be fighting for every point right to the end of the season," said Maassen, the defending LMP2 champion who scored his 27th class win at St. Petersburg.

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