A look at the American Le Mans Series 2012
Following the first round at Sebring (in conjunction with the FIA WEC) the American Le Mans Series moves on to Long Beach this week. We take this opportunity to look at changes within the ALMS and what we can expect from this year with our friend Graham Goodwin from Dailysportscar.com.
The ALMS has had some trials and tribulations in recent times, but in 2012 it has emerged triumphant, if just a little lower key, than in previous years. This is a direct result of the global economy and a retrenchment of the factory programmes that graced the American tracks for much of the past decade.
That’s not to say though that there’s nothing to see, move along there! But before we get to the runners and riders let’s take a look at the health of the ALMS itself.
Sports car fans are blessed with access to the paddock and their racing heroes, and nowhere in the world is this taken to the hearts of a Series and its competitors as much as in the ALMS. The Series have worked pretty tirelessly to make their offering as open, fan friendly and easy to follow as possible and it shows – A loyal fanbase and a party atmosphere abound at the races, which in 2012 again visits some of the best road circuits and street tracks in north America.
On track there promises to be close competition in each of the 5 classes, where there are subtle differences from the ACO rules norm.
The premier LMP1 class starts 2012 with just two cars, and likely will only grow just a little as the season progresses, but the season long pair are a mouthwatering prospect – Dyson Racing and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing both bring new machinery to the fight – and if the new Mazda powered Lola for the Poughkeepsie based squad and the Honda powered HPD for Greg Pickett’s outfit dole out even a fraction of the entertainment the two teams provided with their 2011 machinery it would be worth watching as a standalone slugfest event!
Happily though they won’t have to – LMP2 sees a resurgence of interest in America with four cars starting the year and several more promised as the season moves forward.
Level 5 Motorsport bring two new HPDs to the fray with a pair of newcomer teams to the class looking to humble the established class benchmark – Black Swan field a gorgeous HPD powered Lola Coupe, certain to be a fan favourite on looks alone, whilst ex-Indycar outfit Conquest Racing field a new Morgan OAK Judd in an attempt to put a different chassis, and a different engine in the mix. With class numbers here looking to double (or better) LMP2 might get a substantial following as the year progresses.
LMPC was seen a couple of years ago as a grid filler, but the ALMS style offering is simply nothing of the sort. The cars are beautifully prepared and presented and the approach by all puts many more established endurance racing players to shame – Season entries are looking like double figures here and the racing, if 2011 is anything to go by, will be astonishingly close, throw a metaphorical blanket over the cars or the points table and you’ll cover most of the field!
GTC was another class introduced by the ALMS to help grid numbers when the factory programmes dried up but again it has forged its own place in the Series proper – Top GT teams have responded well to the opportunity to field cup class Porsches in this one make race within a multi class field and when teams with the heritage of Alex Job racing and TRG come tooled up you can be sure of a fight!
Last, but oh so very much not least, is the GT class (Not GTE – just GT!). The ALMS has opted not to follow the ACO lead with Pro and Am sub classes for the ex GT2 machines and the rewards in 2012 have been great – In terms of variety and quality there is simply nothing to match this field in endurance racing at this level.
Corvette Racing bring factory muscle and credibility to the full ALMS with an international star studded line-up, BMW’s only GT racing effort worldwide at this level can be found stateside too with RLL’s pair of M3 GT2s. Porsche sees a trio of teams with four brand new 2012 spec GT3 RSR’s, fan favourites Flying Lizards, the gorgeous liveried Falken Tire Racing team and 2011 GT new boys Paul Miller Racing – There are tyre wars here too with all three teams sporting different makes of rubber. Ferrari are here too with the beautifully liveried Extreme Speed Motorsport 458s and there are other entries in prospect as the season progresses with the brand new SRT Viper effort promising a two car factory effort post Le Mans, Aston Martin Racing fielding their brand new Gulf liveried Vantage at the first three rounds plus an Alex Job prepared Lotus Evora arriving soon too!
So where can you catch up with the action – Well presuming that you’ve already heard of (and hopefully experienced) the world famous 12 Hours of Sebring, in 2012 a joint race between the ALMS and FIA World Endurance Championship fields, the next option to experience some ALMS action is another classic, April sees a sprint race around the streets of Long Beach California, in the shadow of the old Queen Mary and with the new look Indycar Series on the bill too – LA, Sunshine and motorsport – a bewitching cocktail.
And the classic tracks keep on coming the following month as May sees the series visit Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, close to the rather lovely Monterey, again in California and an easy drive from San Francisco. The Corkscrew is one of THE classic corners in motorsport and, however daunting it looks and feels on your Playstation it delivers rather more thrills (and sometimes spills!) in reality.
Lime Rock in July is a purists favourite, a staple on the ALMS calendar and rightly so, a classic American road course with character to burn! Towards the end of the same month comes the ALMS’s one trip ‘abroad’ to Mosport, yet another circuit with history, and yet another circuit with a fan following in the tens of thousands – ALMS races tend to be better populated on the spectator banks than your average Euro offering.
August sees another pair of classic tracks, Mid Ohio another fan favourite before the daddy of them all, Road America, a track on the motorsport bucket list of many and where somehow the sum of the parts adds up to so much more than it should, fabulous setting, quick, technical, challenging and always very, very entertaining.
Baltimore was a surprise hit in its debut year in 2011 and the race is back again, with the added benefit once again of an Indycar race to enjoy too over the weekend around the streets of downtown Baltimore. A new (and long awaited) addition to the ALMS calendar is Virginia International Raceway, a very pretty track that promises to hold new challenges for the very mixed grid.
Finally there is Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta – It may be outside the World Endurance championship calendar this season but that’s the global series' loss – A great race, a great crowd and a world class circuit with unrivalled viewing – great turns, the usual fabulous fan access and a grid that promises a potential European based booster or two from Europe plus, perhaps, the Nissan Deltawing!
All in all the 2012 style ALMS has plenty to savour – go get yourself a piece!
March 17 - Sebring (USA) View our Sebring report here
April 14 - Long Beach (USA) with Indycar
May 12 - Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (USA)
July 7 - Lime Rock Park (USA)
July 21 - Mosport (CDN)
August 4 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (USA)
August 18 - Road America (USA)
September 1 - Baltimore (USA) with Indycar
Septemeber 15 - Virginia International Raceway (USA)
October 20 - Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta (USA)
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