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Long Beach Diary:
The Real ALMS Season Opener

Long Beach, Calif., April 14 In reality, the real season opener for the American Le Mans Series is Long Beach.

Sebring is always an anomaly. Even more so this year when Sebring is part of the International Le Mans Cup. Sebring always attracts extra entries and one-off efforts, but as part of the ILMC schedule, it seemed to go overboard this year.

A total of 56 cars took the green flag in Florida. There were 11 LMP1 cars and 24 GT cars (when you also count the Le Mans only class of GTE-AM). The prototypes saw Audi and Peugeot along with the HPD Acuras.

Long Beach will not see that at all. No Audis. No Peugeots. No HPD effort. Thus leaving us with a class that at best can fill up the front row.

That's right, just two LMP1s are entered at Long Beach. To make matters worse, the ALMS was forced to kowtow to the French, and split LMP into 1 and 2, after successfully combining them last season. That leaves another mighty two LMP2 cars, and both are from the same team -- Level 5 Motorsports.

Granted, Level 5 probably would not have moved up to the prototype class from the spec LMPC if there was only one "unlimited" prototype class. Yet, something is very wrong when a class cannot even fill up a podium, and one of the class battles is merely an intra-team battle. Can you say Corvette GT1 all over again?

No disrespect to the Muscle Milk (Aston Martin) and Dyson Racing (Mazda) teams -- they did upset the big boys during the course of 2010 -- who have remained dedicated to this form of racing, but let's face it, these are not the big boys of North America prototype racing.

Without Honda and Patron support, there will be no Highcroft Racing. Without Audi support, there will be no R15 cars. And Peugeot always seems to disappear from these shores after Sebring. The highest form of sports car racing in this country is in desperate need of some fixes.

The GT class, even more so than last year, will come to the rescue. Fourteen cars are entered which includes Corvettes, Porsches, BMWs, Ferraris, Jaguars, and even a Lamborghini. So, while it may be fun to watch the occasional sleek, super fast prototype zip around Long Beach, the real competition resides in GT which promises to be fierce.

There are still the spec classes, six cars in LMPC and seven in GTC, but they are often overlooked for valid reasons.

All told, 31 cars are scheduled to take the green flag at Long Beach, though most likely we'll lose a car or two in practice and qualifying. On a tight, narrow street course, 31 cars may seem like 56 at Sebring, and quite frankly may be all the track can handle, but it doesn't excuse where those entries are coming from.

Long Beach will tell the story of what to expect in the 2011 ALMS season a lot more accurately than Sebring did. Sadly, part of that story may not be very happy.

Red, White, and Blue in Indy Lights In the past, Indy Lights has not exactly been a bastion of American talent. JR Hildebrand being one of the exceptions in recent years as the champion in 2009.

This year, however, sees a great duo in the series -- former teammates on the Team USA Scholarship, Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, teammates once again on Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

After being the first American to win the Formula Ford Festival in 2008, Newgarden stayed in Europe to compete in the MSA Formula Ford Championship in 2009 and then the GP3 Series in 2010. In FF, he won nine times with four poles to grab second in the point standings For GP3, he grabbed a pole at Hockenheim and had a best finish of fifth at Monza.

Conor Daly backed Newgarden's performance in 2008, taking the Walter Hayes Trophy, the first American to do so. He then competed in the Star Mazda Series for two years, finishing third in his rookie season and taking the championship last year. In that title year, Daly won seven times, took nine poles, and claimed a podium spot in all but one race, where he finished fourth.

Both are now in Indy Lights, and already they have made an impression. Newgarden won the season opener at St. Petersburg with Daly right behind him. They both suffered problems at Barber, but Newgarden still leads the point standings with Daly in fourth.

This should be a great battle between them and the other competitors at Long Beach and all season. American fans should have a lot to root for in Indy Lights.

Copyright © 2011 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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