With a 1,000-mile or 10-hour curfew, the Petit Le Mans on October 19 has all the earmarks of an endurance race. Only, the 16th running of the race at Road Atlanta isn't an endurance race in the real sense. Despite the race's length, the competition forces every teams' hand to put in an all-out, full-speed performance. The same can be aid for every long distance race held in the United States nowadays, where the drives have to perform all out throughout the event or risk being left too far behind to make a difference in the end.
Stuart based Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) knows what it takes to win the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and the two-car team looks put all six drivers on the podium this weekend. There are two goals for the final race of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón (ALMS) season – an ESM one-two finish and the P2 championship title for Scott Sharp.
"“This is the last ALMS race ever. I think it is exciting for all of us," Sharp added. "I look at it positively. Petit Le Mans is not going away; we are going back there next year. But for me, all of my memories there, when I first came back to the ALMS after IndyCar, it was the first race I went to. Walking into the paddock and seeing the popularity and the enormity of sports cars, all the teams, all the manufacturers, all the drivers, the pre-grid – I hadn’t seen as packed a pre-grid in many years anywhere. It is such a special event and hope it carries on that way.”
Sharp stands alone in second place in the standings, just six points out of first place. Anything can happen during the 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans; with extra points and a championship on the line, ESM is focused and determined to leave Petit with another first-place finish.
One year ago, the No. 01 team of Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Toni Vilander dominated the GT class and won the event with an impressive 30-second lead on the rest of the GT field.
Sharp will co-drive the No. 01 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b with Atlanta native Anthony Lazzaro and two-time ALMS champion David Brabham. All three drivers have found success at Road Atlanta over the years.
Lazzaro competed in the first Petit Le Mans and has two victories at the Atlanta-based track. In 1993, Lazzaro won the season opening Oldsmobile Pro Series race and the season ending Van Diemen Formula Ford race. Lazzaro has four podium finishes at Petit: two runner-up finishes (2000, 2006) and two third-place finishes (2001, 2003).
Brabham also has plenty of success at Petit Le Mans. The Australian - one of ALMS’ founding drivers - has two wins (1999 – an overall win – and 2010) at the American classic. The two-time champion returns to ESM to help his 2009 ALMS P1 co-champion Sharp earn the P2 championship this season. The last time Brabham drove for ESM was at the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring, where he helped ESM earn a fifth-place finish.
“I know Atlanta well and I had a great race in 1999 at the second Petit Le Mans, so it is a special place for me" Brabham commented. "I know we have a very strong driver lineup, so it gives us and the team a great shot at winning. It will be the last race of the ALMS – a series I have spent the last 12 years of my life racing. I feel privileged to be doing the last one."
Rob Bell will co-drive the No. 02 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b with Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek. Bell, the two-time Le Mans Series champion (2007, 2008), returns to ESM for the first time since 2011, where he competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans in a GT-class Ferrari.
As a two-time Petit Le Mans (2007, 2012) class winner, van Overbeek looks to add another Road Atlanta win behind the wheel of the No. 02 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development (HPD) ARX-03b with co-driver Ed Brown. Both Brown and van Overbeek list the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit as one of their favorites in the series.
“I think heading into this race it is sad that it is the end of an era of the ALMS, and what a great thing it was over the years – from the prototype situation and how the GT racing became so huge.," Brown added. "Then there is the optimism about the future and what the new series is going to bring. There will be sadness but there will also be excitement to see what is going to happen next year.
With the addition of Rob Bell, the No. 02 is primed and ready to finish on the podium. Brown and Bell have co-driven at Petit before during the 2011 event and finished 10th in class. The two-time Le Mans Series GT2 champion makes his P2 debut this weekend.
“This will be my fourth Petit Le Mans," added two-time Le Mans Series champion Rob Bell. "It’s a fantastic event and as it’s always the last race of the season, it always has an added bite. As championships go down to the wire there is usually more at stake, more pressure and I get a buzz out of being in that environment."
On the GT side of the paddock, Bryan Sellers will be making his seventh-career start in the ultra-competitive GT class of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) presented by Tequila Patrón driving the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Sellers and teammates Wolf Henzler (Germany) and Nick Tandy (United Kingdom), will have to be relentless on the Falken Tire Porsche in the season and series' finale at Sellers' 'home' track.
"There is nothing quite like racing at a home event," stated Sellers. "This event is even more special, I get to stay at my own house and sleep in my own bed. I like the fact that my family and friends can come and support me and enjoy a little bit of what I get to do everyday."
At 2.54-miles in length, the distance around Road Atlanta's 12-turn course is less than the distance to the paddock from Sellers' home in Braselton. The track's high-speed straights and flowing turns manufacture speed. The intensity of the competition -including multiple factory efforts - has created an environment in which every lap must be driven with precision and outright speed. Any mistake, on track or in pit lane, can be the difference between winning and losing. Falken used the track several times earlier this year to test new tire compounds and constructions. However, all of that knowledge was accumulated using the 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR that was destroyed in the opening moments of the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Now using a fusion of its two-time race-winning 2010 911 GT3 RSR with components of the 2012, the team will be maximizing track time in the multiple "promoter" test days which began at the North Georgia track on Sunday to help minimize any deficit on race day.
In the only two ALMS races of the season greater than three-hours in length, Team Falken Tire has enjoyed two podium finishes. At the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (Fla.), the trio of Sellers, Henzler and Tandy finished third. The regular-season duo of Sellers and Henzler bettered that at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. with a second-place result in a four-hour race. The two endurance events account for the team's best results of the season. Overall, Sellers has captured three ALMS GT victories since 2010 with Team Falken Tire.
"We have historically been good in endurance races," Sellers stated. "The longer the races the more important execution and team work becomes. The Team Falken Tire guys have been great in the pits all year. In an endurance race, the number of stops are increased meaning the overall time in the pits is increased. The less time you can spend in the pits the more successful you are. In Sebring we spent 20 seconds less than all other GT cars in the pits and that was a large reason we were able to get our podium result there."
Since becoming a works driver for Falken Tire in 2009, Sellers has raced a nearly identical paint schemes in each event. However, the familiar and popular livery of the Japanese tire brand will be replaced with a fan-designed look for the first time ever. Replacing the blue and teal corporate colors will be a black on grey scheme that features a camouflage pattern and a nose using an open shark jaw reminiscent of World War II fighter aircraft. The design, crafted by Belgium's Kevin Neuville and voted on by fans at the Falken Facebook page, was the result of a joint competition by Falken Tire, Microsoft and Turn 10 for its Forza Motorsport Xbox 360 game.
"It will be strange crawling into the Falken Tire Porsche without the normal teal and blue scheme, it has become such a fan favorite over the years," stated Sellers. "This new scheme is great through. It really allows the fans to be involved with our program on a new level that has not been achieved by us before. I hope it is a representation of how much our fans mean to us."
The Petit Le Mans will mark the end of the 15-year run of the ALMS. The series, which used the first Petit Le Mans in 1998 to catapult its inaugural season in 1999, will unite with the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in 2014 to create the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The first race of the season will be the January 25-26 Rolex 24 At Daytona (Fla.). The season will close, as many of the ALMS seasons have, here at Road Atlanta on October 4, 2014 with the 17th annual Petit Le Mans.
"I will be very sad to see the ALMS come to a close," Sellers lamented. "I feel like I have grown up in the series and made my home here for a lot of years. It has been a place that I have looked forward to racing, and more importantly, a place I have looked forward to spending my time with friends. It has been an honor for me to be involved with a part of what is sure to become a positive part of sports car history. We have had a couple years where we have been close to a podium at Petit, and to finally get one in the final ALMS race would be great. It would be very special."
Live coverage of qualifying for all ALMS classes can be found at the Series' web site on Friday, October 18 at 1:50 p.m. EDT. Live streaming of the race can be found on ALMS.com beginning at 11:30 a.m., Saturday while a combination of FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2 will provide live race coverage throughout the day on Saturday. An encore presentation of the event can be seen on Sunday, October 20 at 4:00 p.m. EDT on FOX Sports 1. Full international coverage, as well as live in-car camera footage, will be available real time at www.ALMS.com. Live timing and scoring of all sessions, including qualifying and the race, are also found on the Series' official web site.
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