Tuesday
May202008

Chasing the Checkers: Utah Edition

Photo Credit: John ThawleyIn every American Le Mans Series race, a number of teams run noteworthy races, but their trials and tribulations often get buried behind the headlines. Podium finishers receive the limelight of attention, as they not only celebrate on stage, but also on the front page of race reports. Trackbytes.com introduces a new post-race feature, taking a look at the teams below the podium, yet still chasing that same checkered flag.

 

While Acura landed on the overall podium Sunday in the Utah Grand Prix, it was the manufacturer’s newest team, de Ferran Motorsports, celebrating its fine third-place debut. The flagship three outfits of Lowe’s Fernandez Racing, Andretti Green Racing and Patron Highcroft Racing all finished outside of the top-three for a variety of reasons.

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photo by: John Thawley
Patron Highcroft Racing’s Scott Sharp tangled with Christian Fittipaldi in the Andretti Green Racing machine on lap 17, sending the Duncan Dayton-led crew behind the wall to make repairs to left rear of the Acura ARX-01b. Sharp entered Turn 1 and spun around, collecting Fittipaldi who had nowhere to go. Fittipaldi suffered less damage to his XM Satellite Radio-sponsored car, but later received a stop-and-go penalty for entering a closed pit.

“What a shame,” a disappointed Sharp said after the race. “I slid down underneath the Dyson car on the restart. Everything was fine. Then, all of a sudden, ‘snap.’ I think I had a little help there. Then Christian [Fittipaldi] came around, and I was hoping he was going to miss me, but he happened to hit me at an angle that just clobbered the rear suspension. It’s a real shame. The guys have done an amazing hustle job all week. So, even though we were relegated to just running for points, thanks to their efforts, at least we were be able to score some.”

Indeed, the Highcroft crew got co-driver David Brabham back out to complete the race, albeit 26 laps down and ninth in the LMP2 category. Fittipaldi and Bryan Herta’s day fared better, as the duo finished eighth overall. Fittipaldi started the race from the rear of the field due to changing tires from qualifying, but got collected in Sharp’s spin while moving up the field.
 
“When the Highcroft car spun, [Christian] couldn’t avoid it and we got some damage to our XM Acura,” Herta explained. “We finished the race with some suspension damage but, at least, we finished today. This new Acura has a lot of potential and we’ll be in the hunt very soon with the car. We just need a little luck to put the XM car back on the podium.”

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photo by: John Thawley
The Lowe’s Fernandez Acura of Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez enjoyed a slid run up front, with Diaz leading 23 laps of the race overall. However, Fernandez and the No. 20 Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyder of Butch Leitzinger collided on lap 47, causing front nose damage to the Acura. Leitzinger spun and rejoined in front of the Lowe’s machine, leaving Fernandez nowhere else to go.

“I think we had the car to win today,” Fernandez said after the race. “Luis proved it and I was out there running pretty easily… Once we damaged the dive plane, we had a lot of push in the car. Towards the end, the car was better but it was a little too late. Luis did a tremendous job. We just have to keep doing this and one day we will get our race. It was a frustrating end.”

The No. 15 Acura finished fifth in class and overall, a decent result, but not representative of what it could have been. A breakthrough first win could be around the corner for this team.

Dyson Racing flew under the radar for some of the race but ended up with a solid fourth place result for its No. 20 Porsche RS Spyder of Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti. Leitzinger enjoyed a trouble-free run, except for his off-course excursion resulting in contact from the Fernandez Acura. Once behind the wheel, Franchitti moved the car back up and finished one spot away from the podium in third.

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photo by: John Thawley
The team’s sister car of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith started from the rear, having changed tires after qualifying. The No. 20 machine finished sixth overall and in LMP2. After a spectacular runs at Sebring and St. Petersburg but disappointing finishes at Long Beach, the Poughkeepsie, NY-based team has ended the spring season stretch on a high.

“This was a race of spirited driving,” stated Dyson. “Butch put on a great show for the fans. We were consistently up front this weekend and look forward to showcasing more of that spirit as we head to round five at our home track at Lime Rock on July 12.”

In GT2, there were many stories to talk about, most notably the one that could have been. The Farnbacher Loles Porsche of Dirk Werner and Marc Basseng proved to be one of the contenders in practice and qualifying, setting quick times. Race day brought more of the same, with the car up as high as second. Trying to make it on only one pit stop, Werner was forced to pit with two minutes remaining for a splash-and-dash, losing second position and crossing the line in fourth. However, the car was later excluded from the results because the fuel cell capacity was over the series limit.

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photo by: John Thawley
“This was a breakthrough weekend for us in the ALMS,” team owner Gregory Loles said. “The car had the fastest race lap and our program has reached a level where we’re competing for the top step of the podium. Unfortunately, an oversight during the measurement process allowed our fuel cell to have a meaningless overcapacity - in fact, the car was unable to make it to the end without a stop for fuel. It detracted from a strong weekend and took away a well-earned fourth-place result. Clearly, our car is in position for class wins and I’m confident we will be competitive at every event.”

One team that took advantage of Farnbacher Loles’ late pit stop was Tafel Racing, which elevated the No. 71 Ferrari up a third place finish, its third consecutive podium for Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher. Farnbacher ran as high as second in the first half of the race, and Muller came from sixth to third in his stint. The result, though, dropped Muller and Farnbacher to second in the drivers’ standings, now trailing Flying Lizard Motorsport’s Jorg Bergmeister and Johannes van Overbeek by one point.

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photo by: John Thawley
“The car felt very good,” Farnbacher said. “We were lacking a little in horsepower compared to the other cars. We also had a little issue with [tire rubber] pickup. After the two safety car periods I needed a few laps to get the pickup down and it cost us quite a bit of time. All-in-all we did no mistakes. The car was running great. Dirk was driving a phenomenal stint at the end. It was so close at the end that it was heart-beating action. We are happy. We collected some points and I am looking forward to Lime Rock.”

Tafel Racing’s No. 73 car, which rejoined the series for the first time since Sebring, crashed out near the one-hour mark with Alex Figge behind the wheel. Team owner Jim Tafel didn’t turn a lap in the race.

After three rather disappointing runs, LG Motorsports turned its season around with a sixth place finish for its Riley Corvette C6. The Lou Gigliotti-owned team switched from Kumho to Dunlop tires for this weekend’s race, as well as leaning out its Riley Technologies-built chassis. SPEED World Challenge ace Eric Curran joined Gigliotti behind the wheel, making an instant impression on the race. Curran got the No. 28 car up to as high as third early on, showing the car’s potential on the wide-open circuit. He completed a double stint before handing over to Gigliotti to complete the race.

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photo by: John Thawley
“I love racing in this Series,” Curran said. “This is great. I don’t have any issues with the racers in this Series. The LG Motorsports Corvette with more chassis tuning and prep time can be a front-runner.”

Once in the car, Gigliotti overcame two incidents, including getting rammed by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Jamie Melo, to finish sixth in class.

“Eric did a great job. The Dunlop tires did a great job,” Gigliotti said. “We’ve been working so hard and we’re really excited. If we can do some more work and keep Eric in the car, we can make a dent in this Series.”

Hometown heroes Corsa Motorsports headed into the race with high hopes after scoring two fourth-place finishes on the streets of St. Petersburg and Long Beach. But things didn’t go their way in Sunday’s race as the Steve Pruitt-owned team suffered from three on-track incidents and a delay in the pits. First, driver Gunanr Jeannette pitted with a slow-leaking Dunlop tire. Then, at the 55-minute mark, Jeannette was hit from behind by the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari. The driver’s side door did not open when Jeannette handed over to co-driver Johnny Mowlem. This caused a delay in the pits as the team was forced to fix the problem. Mowlem rejoined in 12th and climbed back up the running order but went off-course late in the race, resulting in ninth place.

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photo by: John Thawley
“I got a run on [the No. 28] when he lost air as the Audi was rounding him,” Mowlem explained of the last incident. “I managed to get by him, and gave him room heading into the apex. He went in hard with me and hit me in the rear. It put me in the gravel. If I could have gotten out of the [gravel] pit, we could have finished the race, but I was in too deep.”

VICI Racing was another GT2 team that ended its day with disappointment. Running two Porsches for the first time, the team was also hit with an uphill battle competing against the Michelin-shod cars. While making constant progress, the Kumho tires were still not up to par. Both cars also faced its fare share of pit road penalties, but stayed inside the top-10 in class for most of the race. The No. 5 entry of Craig Stanton and Nathan Swartzbaugh had a late-race off-course excursion and the sister No. 18 entry of brothers Nicky and Francesco Pastorelli and Ruben Carrapatoso dropped out with gearbox failure. The cars were classified ninth and 10th in class in the finishing order.

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photo by: John Thawley
“We had quite a difficult race with a number of set backs, but I’m pleased that both cars made it onto the final results and that we were able to step up to running two cars with just a few minor gliches,” said technical director Roland Wall. “However what was most pleasing for me was the progress we made with the tire development program; Kumho have worked very hard and we are now starting to see the results. Now we all have to focus on the next race and move forward. It’s going to be a long, tough season but I know we are perfectly positioned make the step up.”

Three GT2 drivers also took part in Satuday’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, all having mixed results. Darren Law co-drove his Brumos Racing Porsche Riley Daytona Prototype to a fifth place finish. On Sunday, he shared the No. 44 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche with Seth Neiman, completing the race sixth in class.

Farnbacher Loles’ Dirk Werner ran well in both races, but was taken out of contention on Saturday after leading much of in GT. The Porsche GT3 Cup finished 12th in class. Wermer and co-driver Marc Basseng had a strong race in Utah, but was disqualified for having too large of a fuel tank.

Craig Stanton, the third “double-duty” driver, was aboard a TRG Porsche at Laguna Seca, finishing a solid eighth in class before his ninth place result in Utah with Nathan Swartzbaugh.

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