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Mazda takes it first ALMS pole at Monterey

SALINAS, California -- Guy Smith wanted one more shot at a clean qualifying lap after he heard over the radio that he was 1.3 seconds behind the leader. He said after earning the pole position "I was thinking 'That's going to be a lot to overcome'. So I composed myself, and put down a whole lap. It was great when they told me I was P1," he said. It was the first pole for the Mazda team in the ALMS series and also the first non Michelin pole winner since 2004. Second fastest was the the Acura ARX-01c with David Brabham at the wheel nearly seven tenths of a second behind the leader. Third was the Porsche RS Spyder Muscle Milk Car driven by Klaus Graf. Graf was eight tenths of a second behind Brabham. However, the Honda was placed last on the grid by officials since all of the drivers did not participate in either of the two official test sessions on Friday. In the GT2 class it was a pair of Ferarri 430 GTs that danced to the fast music with Jaime Melo taking the top time and Johannes van Overbeek in the second position. Third place went to the ZR1 Corvette with Oliver Gavin at the wheel. The Vette was just a blink of the eye slower than the second place Ferarri and it points to the fact the FGT2 class is about as competitive as you can get without having a spec class. In the Saturday morning test session Marino Franchitti posted the best time in the Acura and Chris Dyson was second fastest in the Mazda. In perhaps a surprise to some the Drayson Lola Judd was third fastest with Emaneule Pirro, the former Audi factory driver on pace with the top two cars about half a second slower than Franchitti. The Drayson team will look for a little vindication on the Monterey track after it had qualified last fall in the top three and then was involved in an early race shunt that put the team out of the race. Owner Paul Drayson, after some pre-qualifying pit drama,  bettered his personal best of the weekend and earned the sixth fastest time of the session. However, due to the moving of the No.1 Highcroft Racing entry to the back of the grid, Drayson will take the green flag fifth, inside of Row Three.

Corvette celebrates 50 years of racing at Le Mans


A bevy of Vettes line up at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway as a part of the 50th year anniversary celebration of the Corvette racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Photo by Dave R. Johnson.

SALINA, California -- In 1960 Corvette made its first appearance at the famed 24 hours of Le Mans and came out as a class winner and was eighth overall. This weekend at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway as a part of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Cheverolet will celebrate that 50th anniversary of the American muscle car that has this year will saddle up for the 50th year of competition at the storied track. As a part of the celebration there will be a special display of cars and drivers from the last 50 years will also be on hand to reminisce on the history of the car at Le Mans -- and most certainly also at Laguna Seca. For complete coverage of 50th anniversary of the Corvette racing at Le Mans see this article in Sports Car Digets.

Monterey last test before 24 hours of Le Mans

In a stirring race victory, the Patron sponsored Acura came from behind with a late race charge to take the checkered flag at the Long Beach ALMS event. Photo by Dave R. Johnson.

SALINAS, CA -- Teams from the American Le Mans Series will start their final preparation for the 24 hours of Le Mans  this week as they ready for the six hour Monterey  race presented by Patron. The race will give several France focused teams the opportunity for one last major test before heading to Circuit de la Sarthe. Absent from this race will be both the Peugeot and Audi team who have used Le Mans series events in Europe for their preparation -- but that does not mean that the race will be any less important, or exciting, at least if results from the two events are any indication. At the top of the list is the Patron sponsored Accura team that was the winner last time out (Long Beach) with an exciting come-from-behind charge late in the race over the  factory-sponsored Aston-Martin. Driven by David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud with assistance from Marino Franchitti for the longer endurance events like Monterey (and we assume Le Mans), 2010 will mark the first entry for the team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans so gaining experience with the team will be critical. The team will be running in the LMP2 class at Le Mans where they will be the sole American entry. David Brabham, a member of the winning Peugeot team at last year's 24 Hour race, will lead the effort at Le Mans -- but the team needs to show consistency with its effort at Monterey and be able to carry its effort from Monterey to France. The Drayson team, which has shown outstanding team at times, will look to excise the demons of the last six months where it has run with the leaders but for a number of reasons has not been able to finish strong. For example at Sebring this year, the Drayson team was running as high a second, sandwiched between the two factory Peugeots. But then a myriad of mechanical issues hit the team virtually eliminating them from the checkered flag or a podium finish. In GT2, which has been a total dogfight in the ALMS series, the same should be true at Le Mans and several of the American team will need a strong showing at Monterey in order to head across the pond with a positive mental attitude -- starting perhaps with the Corvette team -- the defending GT1 champs who at mid season in 2009 stepped down to the GT2 class. The 'Vette with Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnusson driver was eighth in class at Sebring (15th overall) and second in class at Long Beach (and 10th overall) but have not been able to best either the Porsche or the Ferrari with regularity -- and last year at Monterey crashed hard on the last lap on the last straightaway while racing for the lead while dicing with the Porsche. Another team that needs a strong performance in preparation for Le Mans is Paul Gentolozzi's Jaguar entry. The team has had a number of teething issues in its initial ALMS events and a strong performance at Monterey would help set the table for their participation at Le Mans. The Ferrari 430 GT of Jaime Mello was the class winner at Sebring but was fourth in class at Long Beach and as the defending GT2 Le Mans Champion, would like to come to France with a win in their belts. So the race at this historic track is important to many team for many reasons -- but of course the most important reason is simply that it is a race and the idea is to win it.
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