Lime Rock Diary:|
Lime Rock, Conn., July 6 — As I predicted in Day One, the competition for the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock was in the classes other than the American Le Mans Series top class, LMP1. Sure, the press releases are all saying how the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Dyson Racing Team cars fought close and hard for the first hour of the race, swapping positions. And, it was only a seatbelt snafu on the first stop which started the Dyson Racing's demise, eventually handing a six-lap margin of victory to Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr.
Pre-race ceremonies honored the local team, Dyson Racing, for their 30 years in the sport.
But, that's not how I see it. I watched most of the race at the Uphill Chicane. It appeared to me the Muscle Milk car, driven by Luhr at the time, was merely biding their time. When Chris Dyson first grabbed the lead, Luhr simply followed him. He never made any attempt to make a pass unless traffic intervened to provide him a hole. When he got re-passed due to traffic, so be it.
I always got the feeling Luhr and then Graf had the car to be aggressive when they wanted to. They simply didn't need to. It was Dyson and Guy Smith who had to push their car to the max.
However, that didn't mean there wasn't plenty of action and close, competitive racing. Also like I thought, the LMP2 race was indeed a humdinger. It came to a crashing climax thanks to a very late full course yellow. The end result in the mad last few green flag laps was Ryan Briscoe in the #552 Level 5 Motorsports car ramming Guy Cosmo in the #01 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry from behind, enabling Briscoe to grab the lead. (What is it with Cosmo and Lime Rock and getting rammed off the track in the waning laps?)
Everyone was waiting for the penalties to be handed out at the end of the race. That happened, but the penalties themselves were a bit perplexing. Briscoe's team were allowed to keep their win. Huh? Did NASCAR-itis inflict ALMS before the merger? They were docked the number of points to put them back to third place, where they would have finished had they done a stop-and-go plus-60 penalty, with the following two teams gaining the respective points for their virtual finish.
First place with third place points. Second place with first place points. Third place with second place points. Yet, the "win" was not taken away. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...
The GT class as always produced a highly competitive affair. Once again the podium was filled with different manufacturers. BMW took first place (#56 driven by Dirk Müller and John Edwards), Corvette second (#3 with Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia), and Porsche third (#06 of Patrick Long and Tom Kimber-Smith).
Getting back to the LMP1 class, a lot of folks, including myself, are bemoaning the fact the top prototypes are being eliminated in the new series next year. Yes, it stinks. But, it really isn't surprising.
The fact is, nobody is running LMP1. The manufacturers who supported this class in the past are no longer spending their money in North America for the prototypes. BMW, Audi, Honda, Toyota, and even Porsche in the LMP2 class which had cars strong enough to always be contenders for the overall win, are putting their money in different classes. Dyson may be supported by Mazda, but it is far from a factory effort, and the money coming in is much less than many think. Muscle Milk is a private effort as is Rebellion Racing when they make their way over from Europe.
The United SportsCar Racing series simply had no choice. Hopefully, it will boost LMP2 (which is less expensive to run than most people realize) even if it is going to include the Daytona Prototypes. And, what all of us had our fingers crossed over -- they are leaving the ALMS GT class alone. This is arguably the best GT racing in the world, and it will remain intact for 2014.
There's hot ... and then there's HOT.
Sizzling. It was even hotter on Saturday ... for lots of reasons. It was like people watching, or is that ogling, at a beach. The funny thing is, every time I spoke to fans about the heat, though they all complained how this weekend always is ripping hot, they obviously keep coming back year after year. The heat isn't keeping them away.
Though the hillsides appeared less populated, there seemed to be more fans around the backside of the course, especially the Uphill Chicane, which I have been praising for years as an excellent spot to watch the race. Overall, the crowd may have been about the same as last year, though not as much as a few years back.
The biggest culprit isn't the weather, but perhaps the prices. The weekend this year costs $80. Compare that to the Indycar event at relatively nearby Pocono which starts at $25 a seat. Sure, we're comparing real racing at Lime Rock to butt ugly cars at Pocono, but eventually the price differences are significant to family budgets. Considering these two tracks draw on a large section of the same fans, the conflicting dates has to affect attendance.
The ice cream vendors, especially this girl, made a fortune in the heat. An absolute fortune.
Speaking of attendance, I met a young couple with a toddler son who last week went to the Six Hours of the Glen, on Thursday attended practice at Pocono which is 25 minutes from their home, and then were at Lime Rock for ALMS. I asked them if they were going back to Pocono for race day.
The father answered, "No, I'm going to sleep all day tomorrow and then watch the race from the air conditioned comfort of my living room."
Perhaps, moving the race to September for next year won't be such a bad deal... Though, to be honest, even though a cooler date is more enticing, a summer date away from school and fall high school sports would be better for attendance. Plus, a hot day on a road course with trees and shade is not like a hot day in a grandstand on an oval. I don't think the heat is hurting Lime Rock's attendance.
To follow up on the schedule predictions from the past two days, a Cadillac marketing guy said something very interesting. Before one of the Pirelli World Challenge races, which were called the Cadillac Grand Prix of Lime Rock, the Cadillac employee said on the PA that the Northeast is the largest luxury car market in the United States.
He then mentioned, "That is why we love being at Lime Rock because it gets us to reach the New York City market." Granted, the World Challenge is SCCA, but the USCR must be hearing the same comments from their series and team sponsors.
The first apex of the Uphill Chicane was breaking up due to the heat.
Though, the broadcasts never mentioned it, one affect of the heat was on the track. The first apex in the Uphill Chicane was clearly breaking up, getting progressively worse as the race went on. During the first full course yellow, one of the safety cars stopped and inspected the track, but never did anything about it.
The breakup must not have been affecting the cars. Nobody seemed to complain about it. The cars weren't having trouble getting through it -- whatever issues they did have was due to traffic and overaggressive driving, especially on the last lap. Outside of some marbling, the track did not appear to be shedding chunks of asphalt. However, there are going to be some repairs needed to the pavement.
Our intrepid photographer, Angelo Lisuzzo, was unable to make it at the last minute due to back problems. Thus, whether there will be a photo gallery is contingent on how bad I think my photos came out... In the meantime, hopefully he will be healthy enough to join me in Mosport where we will continue to search for answers on the 2014 USCR season.
Copyright © 2013 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.