Saturday, October 19, 2013

2013 ALMS Petit LeMans LMP2 preview

This season, the LMP2 class should have been called the Honda P2 Class. With the 2 teams involved using the exact same hardware, it has made the class essentially a spec category. The proper upgrades and bespoke tires, would make these cars as good or better than any LMP2 chassis in Europe (see Starworks Motorsport's 2012 WEC resume). While it's only 2 teams competing, one needs to only look at the resources available to them to realize that this is in fact a battle among 2 stellar competitors.

Extreme Speed Motorsports #02; Ed Brown, Johannes van Overkeek, Rob Bell. We can't remember the last time we saw Rob Bell's name in a prototype entry. More like never. But they must have been really enamored by him during their Ferrari days, when he drove one of their cars. By driving this car during this season, Johannes Van Overbeek has crafted a new repertoire in his racing abilities. Next season he might become a hot commodity if a team elects to run a P2 car instead of a DP and wanted an American driver to complement its lineup.

Level 5 Motorsports #552; Guy Cosmo, Jonny Kane, Peter Dumbreck. This is really the best lineup in LMP2 at Petit LeMans. You will only see such all-pro LMP2 lineups in the ALMS/USCC. The WEC, ELMS and AsLMS wouldn't have accepted such an entry. Get these guys a P1 car and they can run with the big boys. But we ranked them next to last because they will be taking their marching orders from the lead #551 car. Their main role would be to help make sure the lead car occupies one of the top 2 positions. The team owner Scott Tucker has to finish 1rst or 2nd to win the title if the ESM #01 car is running in one of those spots.

Level 5 Motorsports #551. Scott Tucker, Ryan Briscoe, Marino Franchitti. This is the lead car, for Level 5. Scott Tucker might only drive enough to clinch his minimum drive time and then let the pros slug it out.

Extreme Speed Motorsports #01; Scott Sharp, Anthony Lazzaro, David Brabham. This car has a stronger lineup than Level 5's lead car. We would have given the #552 the upper hand but it's not racing for its own gain. Scott Sharp's only memo to his co-drivers should be; don't crash, save fuel and go for the win.

2013 ALMS Petit LeMans LMPC preview

If you took a good look at all the classes, you would notice that the teams in the Prototype Challenge class are generally less well known than some of the GTC teams. A few of the GTC teams are actually former heavyweights, and are very well known and regarded around the world. With their relatively "bland" reputations, it is quite fitting that the LMPC teams run in the newest class in American LeMans Series.

BAR1 Motorsports #7; Tomy Drissi, Rusty Mitchell, James French. This car's livery makes it a star even more than its drivers. If a casual fan does not know about the drivers, at the end of the race they will definitely remember the car's livery. Tomy Drissi has delighted us all with his ever changing movie advertisements on the car throughout the season.

Performance Tech Motorsports #18; Tristan Nunez, Charlie Shears. It seems we know much less about this team than any other team on the grid. But we can say that Tristan Nunez is the big gun here. Yet he can't match the artillery some of the other teams are packing.

RSR Racing #9; Bruno Junqueira, Duncan Ende, Gustavo Menezes. Just seeing Bruno Junqueira's name, we should really rate them higher, but they were out for a race, they sold the car, and are actually leasing it from their buyer. So it might not be a full fledged effort in our opinion.

BAR1 Motorsports #8; Kyle Marcelli, Chris Cumming, Stefan Johansson. Kyle Marcelli used to be the darling of this class a couple years ago. Johnny O'Connell was asked sometime last year why Marcelli was no longer as dominant as he once was, and he answered sarcastically. But he basically said the competition has become tougher. Marcelli is still among the highest rated drivers here, and Stefan Johansson being added for this race makes the team a bit stronger.

8Star Motorsports #25, Sean Rayhall, Oswaldo Negri. If we were in the ELMS or the WEC, they wouldn't quite meet the requirements to be in this class. In Europe all classes except LMP1 and GTE Pro require an amateur driver. The two drivers here can be considered professionals. So why aren't they rated higher, since they are rather well financed? We don't think they will run trouble free or a flawless race. The car is new to the team and to the drivers.

PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports #52; Mike Guasch, David Cheng, Dane Cameron. They don't really have to win it, They will most likely run a measured race as a proper championship hopeful should. But with Dane Cameron in tow, they can turn up the wick if needed.

CORE Autosport #05; Jonathan Bennett, Tom Kimber-Smith, Mark Wilkins. Their GTE entry is not the most competitive in its class, but Porsche picked this team to run their USCC factory entry for a reason. They are consummate professionals. Jon Bennett, the boss, has a chance at the championship. The whole team will be motivated to get him the hardware, and to also prove that they deserved to be Porsche North America's selection as factory GTLM team in the USCC next year.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 ALMS Petit LeMans GTE preview

Team West/Alex Job Racing #23; Bill Sweedler, Leh Keen, Eric Lux. It really says something that the best team in our GTC preview is ranked last in our GTE review. Indeed, aside from this squad all the other teams here, have at least 1 full time factory driver and also get factory support. A few of them are really full fledged factory squads.

Paul Miller Racing #48; Bryce Miller, Marco Holzer, Emmanuel Collard. Before we took a good look at the massive crash at VIR we automatically assumed it was another amateur driver getting inthe way of a factory driver. Alas we were wrong it was the factory driver's fault. Marco Holzer probably expected the season to go a lot smoother than it has been. Now he might just be bidding his time waiting for the full fledged 2-car factory effort in the USCC next year.

Team Falken Tire #17; Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Nick Tandy. We really felt bad for them when they were taken out at Baltimore. They might have won it again or at least been on the podium. Unlike the Core Autosport team, they did not purchase a new RSR chassis but went back to using their 2010 car, which is simply uncompetitive now. The good news is that, they have a lineup that's as good as anyone else's. All they have to do is squeeze every inch of performance out of the car and run a perfect race, just like they did at Sebring to capture 3rd place. But that was with a new 997 chassis.

Core Autosport #06; Patrick Long, Colin Braun, Michael Christensen. Yes he is Danish but he is not related to Tom Christenssen. But if he is driving for this Porsche backed team he might be on his way to becoming a factory driver. Seeing Colin Braun doing well in GT machinery is no surprise. We think we could have advised him that the Endurance path would be more successfull than Nascar for him. The guy was a rising star in Grand-Am and then at the 24hr of LeMans. But the lure of NASCAR's millions pryed him away from sportscars. He might be auditioning for a Porsche factory role next year. The rock solid Patrick Long is always a good addition to any team. But we would much rather have had him as one of the 4 full time LMP1 drivers already announced. Solid lineup, but the car is basically the same since 2007.

BMW Team RLL #55; Maxime Martin, Uwe Alzen, Jorg Muller. Uwe Alzen and Jorg Muller drove here last year, but Maxime has never been here. In contrast, Maxime knows this car very well but this is the first time Uwe and Jorg will be driving the GT2/GTE version of the BMW Z4. All 3 of these guys are professionals of the highest rank, but so are the guys in the other teams. And there are others who know their cars and the track by heart. We think the only reason for Bobby Rahal going with this lineup is to have a clear lead car which will be the #56 with their lone championship hopeful in it. They do not want any intra-squad battles during the race.

SRT Motorsports #93; Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer, Tommy Kendall. Solid season, and solid lineup. But as it stands, we simply tend to rate the crew of the #91 car higher on the scale. We personally think the lineups should be mixed a bit more.

SRT Motorsports #91; Dominik Farnbacher, Marc Goossens, Ryan Dalziel. On the official ALMS entry list, Ryan Dalziel is entered under Starworks Motorsports in LMPC. Starworks' entry has since been withdrawn. But did they withdraw because they could not get him to race for them? We'll never know for sure. But in any case it's worth noting that there are several professional drivers out of a ride who would love to be racing here. Yet Ryan Dalziel possibly had to very good opportunities. It speaks of his talents. This car also has Riley Technologies' own in-house hot-shoe Marc Goossens, and Dominik Farnbacher has driven several GT cars all equally well.

Risi Competizione #62; Olivier Beretta, Matteo Malucelli, Robin Liddell. Given their pace at VIR, they have certainly found something on the car. Well it's rather that they have been given something - a more generous restrictor. In truth the Ferrari F458 is really the best GT car around. Ferrari has built a car as fast as any here, but it sips much less fuel. That prompted the ACO to cut down the fuel tank size of all GTE F458's. Despite their car's pace, Beretta is no longer the driver he once was, and Malucelli has proven to be crash prone. There was a time when Robin Lidell too had a penchant for wanting to match his car's paint job with the walls. This is a very fast car so they could end up on the podium by just running at a predetermined and constant pace. If they were to go all out for the win and managed not to hit anything, the others would have trouble keeping up with them.

BMW Team RLL #56, Dirk Muller, John Edwards, Bill Auberlen. With this lineup there will not be any more intramural face-offs between the team's entrenched veterans, mainly Dirk Muller and Bill Auberlen. It was hidden from the laymen but clear as daylight to the connoisseur throughtout the season. Add in superfast "young gun" John edwards (someone get him in Indy or F1) and if the right circumstances produce themselves this team could win it.

Corvette Racing #4; Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Richard Westbrook. This is really the best lineup up in the GTE class. Last year at Petit, since this car was already champion, the team was pushing for the #3 to win so Jan Magnussen could keep his seasonal win streak alive. It didn't work. Since the #3 car is leading the championship this year, the Corvette brain trust will once again brief this car on its role. But in our humble opinion, the team had a role in the #3 car, rather than this one being the championship leader. They will only be allowed to shine if the #3 car hits trouble.

Corvette Racing #3; Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor. This car is leading the ALMS championship, and all the team's favors are being bestowed on them. Don't forget this is also Dan Binks, the team's lead crew chief's car. Barring anything taking it out of the race, or a mechanical failure, the sister car will play the super sidekick to help this car get the victory.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2013 ALMS Petit LeMans GTC preview

This is not a predicted finish, since anything can and does happen. But this is rather an assessment of each team's strength.

TRG #68; no drivers listed. We scoured everywhere in an attempt to find who the drivers might be but nothing has turned up.

NGT Motorsport #31; Christina Nielsen, Angel Benitez, Nicola Armindo. Nicola Armindo is probably looking forward to have a good showing for the team. He raced with them at Lime Rock in very humid conditions. During the race, his cool-suit system stopped working and he had to pit to be taken out of the car with severe heat exhaustion. Christina Nielsen is racing in the U.S for her first time ever. She has never raced alongside prototypes in her career. So it will be quite an experience for her.

Dempsey Racing #27; Patrick Dempsey, Andy Lally, Joe Foster. With Andy Lally racing full time with this team, we expected stronger results. We're aware that race results in endurance racing does not depend on one driver only. But qualifying does, yet Andy Lally has not been a regular pole position threat during those flat-out jaunts. Perhaps the team has not quite mastered the prepping of this entry level GT3 car just yet.

Flying Lizard Motorsports #44; Seth Neiman, Dion von Moltke, Bret Sandberg. One of the highlights of the season for the whole team and in truth for the ALMS, was when Dion von Moltke drove to victory in Baltimore. His co-driver Seth Neiman is the team owner (very special day indeed), and that was his first race win in a LeMans badged event. Given Seth's investment in the sport over the years, we were genuinely happy for him. We doubt the same "special" circumstances that allowed them to win in Baltimore will repeat themselves here.

Dempsey Racing #10; Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Darren Law. Not quite the star power in the sister #27 car, but they make up for that with more racing pedigree. The #27 car has essentially one professional driver (Andy Lally), while this car has 2 of them flanking Charlie Putman.

JDX Racing #11; Mike Hedlund, Jan Heylen, Jon Fogarty. The best car livery in the ALMS. But they just seem to be a step behind the real powerhouse teams in GTC. Jan Heylend and Jon Fogarty can be plenty fast, but in these races, it's more than just the drivers.

Flying Lizard Motorsports #45; Nelson Canache Jr., Spencer Pumpelly, Madison Snow. Madison Snow's Mom and Dad won the inaugural GTC championship in 2009. The class was made of real amateurs then. Today Melanie and Martin would have trouble finishing halfway down the order in the championship without an FIA Platinum rated driver at their side. The class now boasts some of the world's best Porsche drivers. Madison Snow being included on a lineup that still has a very faint hope of a drivers' crown, and team championship, speaks of his growing abilities.

TRG #68; Ben Keating, Damien Faulkner, Craig Stanton. They have won the past 2 races, and really seem to have a good momentum going. But it's easier to perform when there's nothing on the line. If those wins came earlier in the season, they would now be aiming for the championship. They will be going all out for the win here. However now that they have won 2 races in a row, the other top teams have become wary of them, and their own expectations have grown.

NGT Motorsport #30; Henrique Cisneros, Jakub Giermaziak, Mario Farnbacher. The team will be rocked by the passing away of Sean Edwards in Australia. He was not scheduled to race at Petit LeMans, but he had been their best driver during the year. You will be missed Sean...

The younger Farnbacher was very fast during last year's Petit LeMans. And this year he will be even more knowledgeable about the track. Because they're in the title chase they might settle for simply finishing ahead of the #22 Alex Job Car. We're not sure if the lack of continuity in the driver lineup is doing them any favors.

Alex Job Racing #22; Cooper Macneil, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sebastian Bleekemolen. Just the team's name rings bells about their know-how. The crew around this car is one of the best. The driving squad complements itself very well also. Can you tell? This is the strongest squad here. But again like the #30 NGT car, they only have to beat their championship contending rivals. They won't necessarily be racing to win, but it can happen as the result of a fabulous race.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Team feud at Extreme Speed Motorsports

During the Grand Prix of Baltimore it was revealed that Guy Cosmo was no longer with Scott Sharp's Extreme Speed Motorsports squad. Meanwhile Level5 Motorsports' team manager said on TV that he found out through Twitter that Guy Cosmo was available and  he was then able to strike a deal for him to be racing for them till the end of the season.

Nothing has been said publicly regarding Guy Cosmo's defection from ESM.

It's not a secret at all that Cosmo has been the pace setter in the team. In fact we mentioned a while back that a Cosmo/Van Overbeek tag-team would be a potent duo for the team, and a lineup capable of challenging factory GTE teams.

In 2012 at Petit LeMans, Guy Cosmo clinched the pole position in GTE for ESM. Their sister #01 car was second in qualifying at the hands of Toni Vilander. When you can beat an Ferrari factory driver in a machine he knows in and out, you are an elite driver. The 01 car's lineup of Van Overbeek, Sharp and Vilander won the 2012 edition of Petit LeMans. That win has been the team's biggest achievement so far. But the team's best driver did not share in the success.

Since Guy Cosmo was not part of the winning trio at Petit LeMans last year, that left him out as the only professional driver in the team not to have achieved any significant success with the Patron backed squad. Ed Brown mainly races for sport and recreation.

This year the team is campaigning Honda LMP2 prototypes. Scott Sharp was the 2009 LMP1 driver's champion. In FIA speak, he would be rated a platinum driver. Before this year, Johannes Van Overbeek had never raced prototypes before. But as the season has moved along, his prototype driving skills has made him the second best driver in the team behind only Guy Cosmo.

So what caused the rift between Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo?

Here's what we think happened...this is only speculation from our part; with a drivers' title on the line, and wide open for the taking, it's possible that Guy Cosmo who was co-driving the #01 car with Scott Sharp (his boss), made a request asking his boss to allow him to partner with Johannes Van Overbeek to make a full on assault on the driver's crown.

Considering that Scott Sharp is an SCCA, Trans-Am, Indycar, and ALMS Champion, not to mention the team owner, it would seem a bit out of place to say he is an obstacle to the team achieving a driver's championship. But the undiluted fact is that, between the 4 regular drivers, Scott Sharp in the 3rd best driver in the team, only ahead of Ed Brown.

This season could have been an opportunity for Guy Cosmo to salvage some success, from all the time he has spent paying his dues with the ESM team. Next year it will be a bit harder to achieve, because there will be more contenders vying for the crown.

We're not sure whether such a discourse actually occurred at Extreme Speed Motorsports. But this is the best reason we can of think of, as to why Guy Cosmo left.

When the mood was a lot lighter

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Indycar: Houston races

Last weekend Indycar had a double  header at the Reliant Park complex in Houston. We are very opinionated about all street courses and ovals being off the Indycar schedule, so surprisingly, this is a street course we liked at first glance. The road was wider than expected on a street course. It was a refreshing sight compared to Baltimore and Long Beach, but we still had issues with the layout.

It seems the track designers seemed to want to create unnecessary "troubles" by installing corner-pinching curbs at every corner. Curbs were installed so that they pinched the cars' racing line at the corners. Not that we're expert race track designers, but the competitors should have been given more room to manoeuver at the corners, instead of installing those unneeded curbs. They do more harm than good. There was even a quick left-right complex, where there was only one racing line through. In a series where cars have similar speeds, it should be a requirement that tracks are designed to accommodate 2-3 cars running side by side EVERYWHERE.

A big crash such as Dario Franchitti's are the events that make us cringe at the sight of a street course. It reminded us once again that it's always a good bet something will go wrong during the event. Indycars should take the safety issue a lot more seriously than it is currently doing.


Scott Dixon won race 1 at Houston and was 2nd in race 2. His championship challenger Helio Castroneves, finished 18th and then 23rd in race 2. Huge contrast. Given that the remaining race is an oval, Dixon looks to be able to make the most of the opportunity. The driver makes less of a difference on ovals. Ganassi racing has won 4 of the past five Indycar driver championships. We don't see them screwing this opportunity unless something out of the ordinary were to happen. For Castroneves to pull through, he will need Scott Dixon to have car trouble for .

On our end, we're still holding out hope for a driver's title for The Captain, Roger Penske.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Project "Penske Title"

With only 3 races at 2 venues remaining in the Indycar season, despite Helio Castroneves' leading the championship battle so far, the Penske camp has proven to all in motorsports that it's really not over.

Team Penske's other driver Will Power, has come up second in the championship chase in 2010, 2011, and 2012. This year Power has not even figured at all as a championship contender.  Is he burned out?

In previous years despite Power being the clear championship contender during the twilight of the season,  his teammates were always still after their own personal gain. The intramural squabble has always left the Verizon sponsored driver lacking in points to the eventual championship winner.

But this is 2013. And if there was a time to cheer for a large team with a disproportionate amount of resources, it is now. Roger Penske as the team owner deserves a championship. Chevrolet coming back to the series, was in part due to a team of Penske Racing's caliber campaigning their engines. That in turn has encouraged the development of the engines which in turn is good competition for the series' fans.

There are many other fringe benefits to the series' other teams that Penske has helped bring along. The popularity of Penske's drivers gives exposure to the series. Penske brings to the series another marketing dimension that Andretti and Ganassi have simply not tapped or been able to match.

So how can the Penske team assure itself of a driver championship at the end of the season? It's simple but not easy.

1- Will Power has to become Helio's wingman. He does not challenge him for position, and if he's a ahead he yields his positon to him.
2- Helio should not be racing to win. He should run a strategic race. Theoretically, he only has to finish right behind the highest finishing championship contender in each race.
3- No crashes. No description needed. We need to send a formal appeal to Indycar to make the last race of the season a road course. Ovals are very crash prone. It's never fun when a contender is taken out in a crash he might not have a chance to avoid.
4- Roger Penske should give a Dad to Son advice to Jay Penske, and instruct him to advise his drivers (Bourdais and Saavedra) not to fight too hard when a certain 3-time Indy 500 winner drives by them.

Drivers such as Sebastian Bourdais, Marco Andretti and Even Justin Wilson could still be on a mission for their first win of the season. The driver who has been on a hot tear lately is Simon Pagenaud, and he is set to go for the maximum points in each outing.

Penske racing has enough brain trust behind the pit wall to come up with all the strategies to get Helio the title, so long as he drives to his and his car's abilitities. Another missed opportunity would be very incomprehensible.