It's on to Le Mans for ALMS' Best
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Posted 28 May 2007 - 04:10 PM
With the first five rounds of the American Le Mans Series now in the books, it's time to focus on the greatest race in the world - the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Twelve teams from the American Le Mans Series, including two entries from Panoz, will participate in the 75th running of the most important race in the world and the ultimate test of driver and technology.
Since its foundation in 1999, American Le Mans Series teams have dominated the 24 Hours by taking six overall wins and 20 class titles at Le Mans - a winning percentage of more than 60 percent. Teams from the Series and Panoz have won three class titles in each of the last three runnings and five times in the last eight seasons.
In 2006 it was Audi, Corvette Racing and Panoz's Team LNT that took home class wins with the Audi R10 TDI making history by becoming the first diesel-powered car to win overall. Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner took a four-lap victory with the sister car of Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen finishing third.
For the first time since 2002, Audi will field three factory cars with last year's six drivers being joined by three-time American Le Mans Series champion Lucas Luhr, past Series winner Mike Rockenfeller and Alexander Premat in the third R10.
"Le Mans is the main point in our season," said Capello, a two-time race winner and three-time pole sitter. "We worked all winter and worked until just one month ago to prepare for this great race. Audi will put 100 percent of the effort to try once more to win. It's still one of the greatest races in the world, one of those two or three races that count in motorsports history."
Just as dominant as Audi has been Corvette Racing. With three straight victories in GT1 and five class wins since 2001, the six-time American Le Mans Series class champion will send two of its Corvette C6.Rs back to France. Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin will go for their fourth straight class win with Max Papis. Jan Magnussen, the Ollie's teammate from 2004-06, will join Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell. They won together in 2001 and 2002.
O'Connell said the team is bracing for what he calls the team's toughest challenge since 2000. Aston Martin Racing's two Aston Martin DBR9s, which competed against the Corvettes last year in the American Le Mans Series, will provide the main opposition. Series regulars David Brabham, Tomas Enge and Darren Turner will drive the factory entries. There also are other DBR9s as well as cars from Saleen, Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The GT2 class has seen domination by Panoz and the American Le Mans Series each year since 2001. Last year Team LNT made Panoz a winner for the first time at Le Mans with a thrilling run that saw the Panoz Esperante GTLM take the lead in the final hour. Two of the front-engine, V8-powered cars from LNT will be entered for this year's running.
Risi Competizione, leading the American Le Mans Series' GT2 championship after five rounds, has two Ferrari F430 GTs entered. Mika Salo, Jaime Melo and Johnny Mowlem will reprise their winning roles from Sebring in the lead car with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Colin Braun entered in the second car.
Flying Lizard Motorsports returns to Le Mans for the third straight season. The California-based team was third in its Le Mans debut in 2005 and will contest this year with a new Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (Type 997). It was the No. 45 Lizard car that finished just 0.202 seconds behind the winning Risi Ferrari at Sebring, the closest finish in the race's 55-year history.
"The American Le Mans Series is the most competitive class for these types of cars in the world," said Lizard driver Johannes van Overbeek. "If you look at the results and who has won in the last few years, it's been largely dominated by American teams. Whether you look at qualifying, race pace or pit stops, the teams that compete in the Series and compete at Le Mans are always at the head of the grid."
Other Series drivers competing at Le Mans include Romain Dumas (Pescarolo) and Stefan Johansson (Zytek) in P1; Adrian Fernandez (Zytek), Robin Liddell (Team Bruichladdich Radical) and Andy Wallace (RML) in LMP2; Liz Halliday (Team Modena in GT1); and Patrick Long (IMSA Performance Matmut) and Tom Milner (Team LNT) in GT2.
The 75th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. ET) on Saturday, June 16 from the Circuit de la Sarthe. SPEED will provide 17.5 hours of coverage in North America starting at 8:30 a.m. on June 16. MotorsTV will air week-long coverage throughout Europe. Live coverage can be found on Radio Le Mans through americanlemans.com.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 7 at Lime Rock Park. CBS Sports will televise the race at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 8. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage at americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA Live Timing & Scoring.
Source: American Le Mans Series
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