Monday, October 23, 2006

Laguna Seca ALMS report

This weekend's trip to the ALMS finale at Laguna Seca as everything I hoped it would be: great cars, good weather, very close racing and a large (but not too large) crowd of enthusiastic fans.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the weekend was meeting the guys from the Creation team. I've always been a big fan of the plucky British team, and the Discovery documentary about them further proved the point. So after practice I followed the car back to their garage, and found team owner Mike Jankowski gesturing onlookers into the garage. This was highly unusual - in the high-powered world of prototype racing, there's always a (small) barrier between the cars and the people. So I got a nice close look at the car, and then got talking with Mike, a very friendly and likeable chap. Later on I met driver "Quick" Nic Minassian, and had a chat with Ian Smith, the chief engineer. Even later still, the small, low-budget team beat the multi-million dollar Audis to the front row of the grid, alongside fellow small British team Zytek. This was extremely satisfying to watch!

Raceday was busy, but nothing like the outrageous crowds that Laguna sees for MotoGP. Prior to the race, the grid was opened up to spectators, and we were lucky enough to be right next to the pits. The second car along was the Creation and my father and partner got to meet Mike and see the blue rocket up-close. The ALMS' tagline is "for the fans" and this race meeting really proved it: mandatory autograph sessions for all drivers, open paddock, the grid walk and the fantastic Radio Le Mans commentary made for a great day's racing.

A number of awkwardly-timed safety car periods conspired to make the race itself exceptionally tight, the first one prior to the leaders lapping any cars. The first few laps were thus completely irrelevant, and ensured a carbon copy second start. As the race progressed it was interesting to see the see-saw between those on a conventional strategy (Zytek, Audi #2 and Creation) and those who pitted early (both Porsches and Audi #1). The race unfolded clearly, and I had none of the confusion that often accompanies long races such as this. Perhaps the radio commentary helped in this regard, or perhaps it was because we were sitting above the pit exit and could see who pitted when and whether they lost laps or not.

By the time we got to the final stints, the #2 Audi had a healthy lead over the Creation, which had to do a final splash-and-dash stop and lost second as a result. Audi's stingy fuel consumption once again bought them victory (as did two penalties for the Zytek which was the fastest car out there). I believe that Creation might have been in a stronger position had Jamie Campbell-Walter been the second driver instead of Harold Primat, but his funding no doubt allowed the event to happen for them, so I can't complain too much.

Bring on 2007! After a number of races with small grids in 2006, next year should be bigger, closer and more exciting, as proved by the final two races of the year, both of which looked much healthier.


patrick said...

Sounds like a good weekend - don't know how it is in the US, but here in Europe, sportscar racing could really do with some promotion - I expect even a lot of casual motorsports fans don't really know there's anything but Le Mans.

I really must get myself to an LMES meet next year - especially if Audi deign to turn up with their silent diesel.Its a bit of a trek for me, but I used to love watching the group c cars in the late 80s.

James - said...

Americans don't know about Le Mans. It is all NASCAR here. YeHaw!

BTW, I just added you to the motorcycle blog aggregator. Check it out in my link. See you on BARF.