The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 12, 2008

Off to the Races

Filed under: Cars, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:52 pm

Edit 5/13:  Added a few more pictures from the race below.

As I’ve discussed before, pretty much everyone in my family enjoys watching auto racing in its various forms (after all, what other reason would my parents have for naming their dogs after an Italian City known primarily for its racetrack and a defunct Formula One racing team?)  Unfortunately, the Pacific Northwest in general and the Seattle area in particular is something of a wasteland as far as high-level racing is concerned.  The NHRA does make an annual stop up here for drag racing, and the now defunct Champ Car series raced annually in Portland for many years, but beyond those two series professional racing has been basically nonexistent around here (amateur racing, on the other hand, is alive and well here, although that’s another post I’ll get around to making at some point.)  This means that going to see a race requires a road trip.  For the past couple of years, we have made the trip down to Miller Motorsports Park about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City in Utah for the American Le Mans Series race that takes place there, and will be taking place this weekend.  The bad news is that for a number of reasons, we’re not going to be able to make it to the Utah race this year, but the good news is that this means that we will have an opportunity to go see the final ALMS race of the year in October at Laguna Seca, one of America’s most famous racetracks and home to the famous Corkscrew turn

After the jump, a look at some of the photos I took at last year’s Utah Grand Prix. 

No matter what type of racing you happen to be a fan of, going to see an American Le Mans Series race is always an enjoyable experience.  As you can probably guess from the name, these are the cars that compete at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans race (in fact, after the Utah race many of the teams that compete in the ALMS will be packing up and heading to France to compete in that race,) and the races are also accompanied by a number of support series, including Speed World Challenge (an SCCA-backed sportscar series,) Star Mazda series (a spec series of open-wheel cars powered by rotary engines,) Porsche GT3 Cup and several others.  These smaller series tend to feature less experienced drivers and larger fields of cars, which can occasionally result in the type of thing you see above. 


The cars you would most commonly associate with this type of racing are the Le Mans Prototype (LMP1 and LMP2) class cars, such as the diesel-powered Audi R10 you see pictured at the top of the page,) although these days much of the action on track comes from the GT classes.  In the last year or so, the LMP2 cars which have generally been slower than their LMP1 counterparts have become far more competitive, and the Porsche RS Spyders were able to take a number of outright wins in last year’s races, including the Utah race we attended.  Acura has also made a major push into ALMS in the past couple of years, and Acura engines now power a number of GT2 cars.Even behind the LMP cars, there is plenty of action in the GT2 class.  There hasn’t been much drama in the GT1 class lately, where the two Corvette Racing cars have had little competition in recent years, and have mostly been racing against each other, with occasional competition from some privateer Aston Martin teams.  The GT2 class, on the other hand, has become increasingly competitive in recent years, with the primary competition being between the Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs driven by a number of teams and the Ferrari F430GTs, although a number of other cars (including Corvettes, Vipers, BMWs and other cars also compete in GT2.)  For someone who is used to seeing a track full of virtually identical looking cars, it can be somewhat unusual seeing all the different types of cars racing at the same time.

Although most of the action is obviously going to be found on the track, one of the big draws of the American Le Mans Series is the open paddock, which allows the spectators to wander around the paddock freely (within reasonable limits, of course) and see all the cars up close as their crews work on them.  It’s kind of interesting to see all the spare parts lying around the paddock area, at times, although I’m pretty sure you’re probably not going to be able to run to the local Napa store and grab one of these.

Everything going on here seems to be geared for high peformance, and in some ways, that manages to reach even the vehicles that don’t go anywhere near the actual racetrack.  Last time I checked, I don’t think Ferrari had any plans to get into the big rig business, but who knows what they’re up to these days?


The high performance atmosphere in the paddock isn’t just limited to the racecars either.  You never know what you’re going to find in the paddock area.  It should be noted that the Audi R8 you see in the picture above was here several months before the first production R8s began to show up in America.

Finally, shortly before the race itself begins, the spectators get the chance to go out onto the track itself.

Although the open grid is more ceremonial than anything, it still provides a chance to see the cars in their race trim. which can be somewhat difficult to do in the paddock since they tend to spend a lot of time in various states of disassembly.  The lengths of ALMS races are measured in time rather than distance, and can vary from 1 1/2 hours all the way up to 12 hour endurance races, with most of these falling on the shorter side of the range (this particular race runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes.)  This means that unlike some series in which you’d be lucky to have an engine last much more than a thousand miles or so, these cars have to be built to handle longer distances (although the races still tend to be primariy battles of attrition, especially the longer endurance races.) 

Although I do wish I would be able to get to the Utah Grand Prix again this year, it will be nice to get a chance to go see a race at Laguna Seca (which is one of the tracks that I have always wanted to see a race at) and a chance to see a longer ALMS race (that particular race, the final one of the season, is a 4-hour race.)  The race is nearly five months away still, but I’ll be sure to post plenty of pictures from that one afterward.



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