Enthusiast's Guide To The American Le Mans Series

 

Spring is finally here and the racing season has begun. We would all be fooling ourselves if we admitted that we knew everything about all the racing series. In an effort to reduce confusion and hopefully bring some clarity, we will continue our series of articles covering the various road racing series in U.S. and the world. Feedback is always appreciated; let us know what you want to see or if we missed something. The second round is all about the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. The opening round is this Saturday at Sebring International Raceway for the 60th running of the 12 hours of Sebring.

History:

The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) is run under sanction by the International Motor Sports Association. With its first full season all the way back in 1999, the ALMS started a program for innovation in sports car racing. Basing their rulebook off of the rules required at the 24 hours of Le Mans, the ALMS takes a few liberties in the name of technology and “green” initiatives, dubbing themselves the “World Leader in Green Racing”. Racing predominately in the United States, they have been known to race overseas from time to time, the 2000 race in Adelaide, Australia for example, and there is usually at least one race per year in Canada.

Current Season:

The 2012 ALMS season consists of a 10 race schedule of multi-class endurance-style sports car races. Five classes contest at each event, each slightly faster than the last. This selection of classes adds another twist to each event with the faster cars having to pick their way through the slower cars, while the slower cars must watch their mirrors to avoid collision with a quicker car.

There are five classes in the ALMS currently; LMP1, LMP2, LMPC, GTE, and GTC.

LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype 1) class is predominately reserved for closed top prototype racers.  Though open tops are allowed, they are no longer en vogue. Since the 2007 debut of the Audi R10, the class has been outright dominated by diesel powered cars from Audi and Peugeot. While Audi has decided to show its face at the WEC round at Sebring next weekend, they have opted out of running an entire season of ALMS again for the third season in a row. Peugeot has never run a full season of ALMS, and as of this year, they have discontinued their sportscar program altogether.

The team to look for this season in ALMS are the returning Dyson Mazda Lola, the only team to run a full season LMP1 program in 2011, are now back with Lola’s brand new B12/60 chassis. Then again, the ever-competitive Muscle Milk team are ditching their aging Aston Martin chassis for a brand new HPD (Honda performance development) ARX-01A.

LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) is an interesting class. Last season, there was not a single full-season competitor, however, Scott Tucker’s Level 5 Racing has announced they will be in for the year, full stop. Though this class’ competitors have less overall power than the “P1” cars, they are lighter and more nimble, therefore potentially quicker at shorter, tighter circuits. For that reason, the cars were severely castrated last season, and have been dramatically slowed as to keep a distance between the two prototype classes. Another full season entry has recently been announced in Black Swan Racing with a Lola/HPD competitor.

LMPC (Le Mans Prototype Challenge) is a spec class for open topped chassis supplied by Oreca, which are powered by a specified Chevrolet V8 engine. This class was introduced in 2010, and has proven to be quite competitive, usually drawing at least 5 cars per race. Due to the relatively inexpensive cost of entry to the class, it is a very good way to get started in international endurance racing. This class, along with the GTC class has allowed for full grids, even in economically depressed times. As the cost of entry and running costs are comparatively low, LMPC grids have grown quite quickly. This season, look for a brand new entry from Dempsey Racing (yes, that Dempsey), and the Rocket Sports Racing team has moved from a GTE Jaguar program to an LMPC. Either team could storm out of the gate, but keep an eye on the seasoned Pickett Racing and CORE Autosport, as they are anything but long shots for the title.

The GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) class is the faster of two street car based specification classes in which recognizable sports cars compete. This year the class will be contested by the Porsche GT3 RSR, the Ferrari 458 Italia, the BMW M3 GTR, and the Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1. All four cars competed in the 2011 championship, and all four are represented by factory supported efforts. New rules for this season allow Porsche and Corvette an additionally wider track over last season, and both new cars are visually stunning because of it. BMW took the win at the 2011 12 hours of Sebring, but that was a year ago, and it would not be wise to bet against any of the other three teams.

(Grand Touring Challenge) class is similar to the LMPC class in that it is a spec class that is less expensive to run, but with limited cars. This year, as last, is limited to Porsche’s GT3 Cup car. It is approximately 200 pounds heavier than the GT3 RSR in GTE. Where the GTE cars consistently reach speeds in excess of 180 miles per hour, the GTC cars struggle to touch 150 mph. For the last few years, I would have said Black Swan Racing is the one to look for. BSR has been the class of the GTC field since it started, and have decided that it’s time to move on. In the absence of the Swans, Alex Job, NGT, and GMG should step in to make things even more exciting, and of course, The Racer’s Group will always be near the front.

How to watch:

In 2011, the ALMS moved its programming away from a standard format on television to a 100% live programming schedule broadcast over several venues. In 2010, the American Le Mans series had a contract with SPEED to broadcast the majority of its races live with ABC showing the remainder on a tape delayed basis. The programming schedule worked, for the most part, however the series was expanding and wanted to reach more viewers than SPEED channel would allow them to reach.

Last year, IMSA had struck a deal with the ABC network of channels to show completely live coverage throughESPN3.com, including qualifying. This level of access and coverage is unprecedented for the fan, while proving that the ALMS is a forward thinking brand. ESPN3.com also shows all of its programming on Microsoft’s X-Box Live network. In addition to the live coverage, ABC and ESPN are showing tape delayed “race recaps” on the day after the races for the casual fan. While the series took a lot of criticism for the move, the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring saw record levels of viewership, more than tripling the number of viewers in the event’s previous record year of 2009.

If last season was any indication, the ALMS should be on an exploding wave of growth continuing through this year. While the prototype field was, admittedly, lacking last season, the GT battles were an absolute smash. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the 2011 Long Beach Grand Prix event was some of the best racing to which I have ever born witness. North American sports car racing is back with a vengeance and it doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon!

Schedule:

Race 1 – Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Sebring, FL. March 17th

Race 2 – American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, Long Beach, CA. April 14th

Race 3 – American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron, Monterey, CA. May 12th

Race 4 – American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix, Lakeville, CT. July 7th

Race 5 – Mobil 1 presents Grand Prix of Mosport, Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. July 22nd

Race 6 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge, Lexington, OH. August 4th

Race 7 – Road Race Showcase, Elkhart Lake, WI. August 18th

Race 8 – Baltimore Grand Prix, Baltimore, MD. September 2nd

Race 9 – American Le Mans Series at VIR, Danville, Va. September 15th

Race 10 – Petit Le Mans, Braselton, GA. October 20th

[Photos:  AmericanLeMans.com]

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