Let’s face it 2010 was one strange year. From politics to pop culture, news media running off the rails, oil spills, home foreclosures, Toyota recalls and a World Series with two teams to which oddsmakers never gave a serious thought. For much of the motorsport world, the script pretty much followed the events of the year. Formula One has been colored red courtesy of the Bull; the team has the personnel, talent and the equipment. Still, you can drive a Ferrari or a McLaren, while one only drinks a Red Bull. Change is gonna come, but maybe not in the way most thought. Tradition can also be a generational state of mind.
The high end in sports prototype racing belongs exclusively to the diesel club of Audi and Peugeot. The Lord of the Rings had things its own way for several years with the R10, and the replacement R15 won Sebring straight out of the box in 2009. Peugeot sharpened its claws and rebounded for a win at Le Mans and then capped last year off with a bizarre win at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans when the leading Audi spun off a wet track under yellow. Ingolstadt skipped taking the R15 to Sebring to start 2010, instead taking its time to further develop the car for the duel at La Sarthe with a few Le Mans Series races thrown in to keep things honest. Peugeot did take Sebring but it wasn’t as easy as it should have been. A mixture of LMP1 entrants kept things interesting, including a strong run by the Aston Martin Lola piloted by fan favorite Adrian Fernandez.
Le Mans was simply a shocker to most observers. The complete mechanical collapse of the Peugeot lion on its home circuit was unthinkable, and the surprised but hey, we’ll take it Audi team departed with the knowledge that the R15 will join its R8 and R10 brethren as a victor. Then the dueling diesel manufacturers each sent a pair to the Colonies to do battle at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans. The Audi A-team of Kristensen, Capello and McNish was in contention for, if not the win, a solid Second, only to suffer one of the more bizarre incidents of recent memory. On one of the many restarts, Dindo Capello, out in front of the Peugeot duo, had the liner of his helmet come loose and his Nomex balaclava collapse over his eyes to force a pit stop. It was enough of an out-of-synch moment that the record-setting trio had to settle for Third behind the lions. So what did Allan McNish think about the season?
AM: I suppose in a way 2010 was a bit frustrating. We started the season with the R15, a win, and an injection of enthusiasm. At Spa and Petit, Tom, Dindo and I were fighting for victory with Peugeot before ultimately finishing disappointing Thirds. In Silverstone I gave the R15 its first ever pole, and was surprised when I heard that particular fact, but after 15 laps I was walking back to the pits with my first memory of an Audi car stopping in a race due to reliability.
Le Mans, we were the leading Audi and just hanging on to the Peugeot when Tom had the incident with Andy. Right then I thought that was a podium gonenever did I think That’s a victory gone. But as it turned out, our pit stop was the deciding factor in my third win at Le Mans or another third-place trophy. Personally I had good races, was able to mix it up with the Peugeots and give them something to think about. I enjoyed that, but ultimately we could have had a bit more out of the year.
The high point was the pole at Silverstone by half a second from my teammate and one second from Peugeot with three laps good enough for pole. There was nothing more to come from that car that day. The low point was stopping directly outside my sponsor suite at Silverstone after 15 laps and a diff failure. Most unexpected was the Audi One, Two, Three at Le Mans with not one car having a reliability problem, and it being the fastest Le Mans in history. Not many people would have predicted that one after Wednesday’s qualifying. And then there was Petit Le Mansnot many people would have predicted what happened to us there either.
A similar Season of Strangeness affected other teams in the other classes as well. Consider the case of Alex Job Racing, whose team and drivers was profiled in a previous installment of Sport (Aug. ’10). After either winning the GTC class or at least making a visit to the podium for each race, the owner of two of the Porsches campaigned by Job unexpectedly pulled out of the series after the Utah round. The weirdness in play is that the cars’ owner was leading the Drivers and Team championship chases, and simply walked away from what appeared to be a title shot. Usually a team folds because of poor performance, not the opposite. Alex Job Racing finished the season with its third and sole remaining car with mixed results.
ALMS head honcho Scott Atherton felt his race series had the winning ticket in 2010. He may have a point, citing coverage from the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, along with the increased interest from the auto related suspects. Considering the state of the national economy, the ALMS did increase attendance across the board with a particularly large turnout for Petit Le Mans. Sports car racing is one of the better bargains for the fan dollar and Atherton must be given credit for being in this for the long term. However, holding the public’s attention comes back to what you are offering up. Petit Le Mans saw many acts of a final drama involving multiple championships that were to be decided, in addition to the diesel giants of Audi and Peugeot on display in the motorsport version of the Roman Coliseum. So the question now becomes, what are you going to do for me next year?
The LMPC class is basically a matched set of underpowered open prototypes that offer the top flight visuals of the LMP class with budget restraints that could make it more economical than running a car in the GT class, depending on skill and luck. It was disconcerting at times to see an LMPC car and a Ferrari 430 side by side on a straight, unable to make progress until braking, where the lighter prototype had an advantage.
The season from the LMPC entrants all season was Give us more power.
Well-known Porsche restorer and racer Kevin Jeannette had his hands full in LMPC, managing an effort that included his son Gunnar. Jeannette had a few issues regarding the changing rules platform (I’m shocked, shocked) that helped out the eventual winning team for the LMPC title. Still, his good nature through all of this means his team will most likely be back. Here’s his view of the season.
KJ: I picked the ALMS LMPC class for 2010 because I figured it was the best offer to race in an unbiased atmosphere! With Christian Zugel as our C driver (the only C driver in our class), and Gunnar Jeannette and Elton Julian, we figured we had a good chance of finding the podium now and again. We were able to score four wins, a pair of Seconds and two Thirds and the only non-podium finish at Petit Le Mans. Just after the Sebring test we found out there was a new rule for the LMPC class. The rule stated that a driver could drive in more than one car and score points. There was a minimum drive time, but you could split the time between the cars you were driving in. Some writers and fans referred to this as the Tucker RuleScott Tucker of Level 5 Motorsports. I guess because he was the only driver to utilize it.
We seemed to stay competitive during the season even with the ambiguous rules and finally tied Tucker’s Level 5 team going into the last race of the season: Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. That’s where our good luck turned to that’s racing luck. We had a problem with a steering rack and after the fix found ourselves out of contention for the win or even the Drivers or Team championships. We did win the IMSA Cup and the Promoters Cup. The team and drivers Gunnar and Elton finished Second and Third in the championship. Gunnar scored a big award from Michelin Tire and will be treated to a stay in Dubai to test some of the world’s fastest supercars for Michelin. All in all we had a great season and would love to be back in the ALMS as long as we don’t have to compete against a rule that lets a driver crash his car and then jump in another to score points. I’m thinking Scott Atherton won’t let this rule remain in 2011.
When the final history is written on the 2010 ALMS season it will be mostly about the class warfare that took place in the GT class. This was a true major league effort from BMW, Corvette, Ferrari and Porsche. Role players included Jaguar and a privateer Ford GT effort, but the action mostly came from factory efforts. On paper, it was the Risi Competizione squad from Houston as the favorite, with a pair of Ferrari F430s, and the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team’s BMW M3 coupes as the main antagonists. Corvette Racing had years of GT1 experience and while the cars were fast, the Pratt brats were still coming to terms with the GT class.
Porsche was expected to be competitive, but experts wondered how much shelf life was left in a bloated, rear-engined 911 (997) body. And history will also show that anyone who underestimates Porsche will get burned. Great teamwork, consistent driving by Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister, along with a masterful strategy by Weissach veteran Roland Kussmaul gave the Drivers championship to the Flying Lizard duo again.
The Manufacturer and Team titles were there for the taking and no one had their act together enough to take charge. It took the Season of Strangeness to make that decision in the closing moments of the final race of the year. How else can we explain the leading Risi Ferrari sputtering out of fuel with both titles in sight; not only to lose the race and give Corvette Racing its first win of the year, but hand the big prizes over to BMW and Rahal Letterman? In a flash, Munich went from Third in points to First to get the Manufacturers trophy and Rahal Letterman the team title. Bobby Rahal was very direct in the post-race press conference: We had, at best, a sixth-place car today. He does plan to keep the trophy, however.
But few people had as good a view of the 2010 season as Johannes van Overbeek aboard the Number 01 Extreme Speed/Tequila Patron Ferrari 430 GT.
ec: A new team and a new season-- the year was strange enough and you had to go through the Year of Learning Dangerously. That about right?
JVO: Having been on the ground floor at Flying Lizard Motorsports, I was very aware of the challenges we faced at Extreme Speed Motorsports as a start-up. The danger in my opinion was looking like fools, which is easier to do now than ever because of the competition. Luckily, we were always fast. When you’re fast it’s hard to look foolish, regardless of how you finish.
ec: You have run a BMW, made a name for yourself in the Porsche GT3 and rounded out the rsum with the Ferrari 430. Impressions on the strengths and weaknesses compared to the Porsche?
JVO: Cars take on the personality of the people who design and build them. Porsche is a fine car, BMW is a fine car, and Ferrari is a fine car. What separates the Ferrari is its soulits eagerness to run and its unapologetic stance on the things it isn’t good at. From the driver’s standpoint, the Ferrari does the job around a racetrack in a more gratifying way. It’s a lovely machine to work with at the limit.
ec: You are part of a highly visible team with a front-line sponsor with considerable exposure and coverage. There were a number of occasions where you were right there with the established factory entries, a fast lap here and there, always threatening but not quite there at the end. Is this a case of a new team and the learning curve?
JVO: Building a team to compete in the ALMS, in GT, is a monumental task, and Scott Sharp did a great job of managing the process. There are so many moving pieces, good people that have to be found and hired, good equipment that needs to be found and bought. Nobody on our team had any experience with Ferraristhe drivers, our engineer Steve Challis (who had never worked on a GT car), and all but two of the mechanics. Putting all of these pieces together for a club race would be hard enough, let alone a full season in one of the most competitive sports car series in the world. We were up against established manufacturer-supported teams like Risi, Corvette and Flying Lizard, which have all won championships in the ALMS. On balance I thought we faired well; we only had one DNF when an oil fitting broke at Sebring, we started on the front row twice, nobody had more fastest race laps, and we finished on the podium, on the lead lap five seconds down, in the second longest and hardest race of the season behind Sebring. We got better as a team with each outing. Are we happy? Of course not.
ec: What’s the scenario for you in 2011?
JVO: I’ll continue to drive in circles.
ec: Looking back at the 2010 ALMS season, what were the highs, the lows, the weird and the truly memorable?
JVO: Highpassing every front-running car at Road America. LOWhaving to pass most of the front-running cars at Road America for a second time because of an ill-timed pit stop. Weirdthe hallucinations I had at Lime Rock when it was 140 degrees inside the car. I started to wonder when they put a left-hand corner off of no-name straight. I’ve never been so hot in my life. Memorablequalifying on the front row at Laguna Seca and being surprised by my kids when I got out of the car.