Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sebring Postscript

Whale that certainly seemed like a very exciting race... As we were left watching a titanic scrum between the Audi R15 TDI and Peugeot 908 HDI, with the Scottish “Terrier” Alan McNish putting on a masterful driving clinique... With the Hamburgular giving him fits, along with Frank Montagny.

Although this year’s field was down quite a bit in terms of numbers, with a scant 26 entrants, nonetheless it was a very good grid, with the most interesting battles occurring in the “Big” Prototypes, nee LMP1 and the GT2 category. As you’re probably aware of by now, LMP1 saw the battle of three factory backed opponents: Acura, Audi and Peugeot, with a varying effect of machinery, as each took a different approach to their interpretations of the rules.

As previously mentioned, having made the jump up to LMP1 this season, Acura went with the radical approach of producing a chassis with all four wheels being the same size, i.e.; rear tyres on the front wheel hubs. And the chassis design was carried out by Wirth Research in the UK, being 100% digital. As in the entire car never set foot in a wind tunnel, instead being designed by Computational Fluid Dynamics, (CFD) which is quite the rage in Formula 1 at the moment.

And if you’re thinking the name Wirth sounds familiar, you’re correct as in Nick Wirth, ex-Formula One team boss of the ill fated Simtek Grand Prix.

Interestingly, it was noted that the larger front wheels give an additional 10% contact patch area which increases cornering ability along with overall agility. As Acura sought to make up for its lack of straight-line grunt from its 4.0 liter normally aspirated gasoline powered V-8 Lump vs. the competition’s 5.5 liter twin turbo diesels.

Audi once again was debuting a brand new chassis at Sebring, with it’s sleeker, nimbler R15 V-10 twin turbo hoping to emulate the previous R8 and R10’s winning ways, while Peugeot was back again with an updated version of its closed coupe 908 HDI V-12 twin turbo, which is now in its third season of competition.

Quote of the Weekend:“Mika drove like a Grandma!”
From GT2 class winner Mika Salo, as apparently the Finn still isn’t best friends with double F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, as the Mika bros. along with J.J. Letho and Kimi Raikkonen all contested this year’s Artic Rally, which reportedly “The Iceman” rammed his car into a steel pole in Parc Ferme at the events finish...

Salo, who is apparently only contesting the one ALMS event this year and will be replaced by Pierre Kaffer, as lead driver Jaime Melo’s season long teammate, reportedly is working hard on a RASSCAR deal... I tell yuh, what’s up with the Stock car stuff, eh? As it ain’t been NO bed ‘O roses for Sam Hornish Jr. and a slew of other Open Wheel racers...

And with Risi Competizione’s Melo having trouble with his immigration visa; “PAPERS? I DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ PAPERS!” Y’all knew that was coming, right? The team elected to start the beautiful rosso F430GT from the rear of the grid in order to enable Melo (who’s still recovering from a broken foot) to race during the night portion of the event.

Yet, after the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari started dead last, it crossed the chequered flag two laps ahead of the class runner-up; the Advanced Engineering Ferrari 430GT shared by Luis Companc, Mathias Russo, and Gianmaria Bruni, capping Scuderia Ferrari’s 18th class victory at Sebring...

Mika Salo:
"The most difficult win is always when you're leading by miles because it's easy to screw up,"

"But a win is always a win. So we will take it."

And in typical Sebring fashion, various debutantes ran afoul of the Florida cement mixer track, as both Acura ARX-02a Prototypes failed to finish, although Scott Dixon had grabbed the overall pole position for De Ferran Motorsports, before suspension troubles and a fuel leak forced their retirement, while the Highcroft boys suffered a driveline failure.

And all of the Acura LMP1 runners were apparently feeling the effects of the increased G loadings of their respective mounts, as Dario Franchitti supposedly had a leg cramp from the repeated strain of 4G’s during cornering and braking, as David Brabham had earlier reiterated how everybody had had to step up their training regimen...

Yet, once again the Audi won upon debuting a new racecar, as the perfectly scripted 100th American Le Mans Series event was this year’s Mobil 1 12hrs event, with McNish being simply untouchable in the closing hour of the race, putting some three seconds of a lap gap upon eventual runner-up Montagny, Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin.

The victory was McNish’s third, while Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen notched their fourth and fifth wins at the fabled track respectively. With “Mr. Le Mans” (Kristensen) now having added the title of Mr. Sebring to his CV, having broken his tie with ex-teammate Frank Biela for outright victories...

But, apparently Dixon and Franchitti were no worse for the wear, as the TCGR duo posted the first and fourth fastest lap times at the following day’s test at Barber Motorsports Park, while Sebastian Bourdais was busy winging his way Down Under for this weekend’s upcoming Australian Grand Prix.

And for those of you north of the border (Meesh) pondering Bobby Rahal’s BMW M3’s GT2 debut, one car wouldn’t turn over at the start of the race, prior to retiring with mechanical gremlins, while Dorsey Schrader gave a much more accurate assessment of the sister car’s engine going “Kablamoe” vs. Rahal’s comment of something happening to the oil tank. (But I’m pretty certain these cars will become competitive shortly, as they’ve got four really good drivers and BMW likes to win...)