ALMS: Last Ever Season In Review


Muscle Milk Pickett Racing led the ALMS field for the final year (Credit: Kelsi Nilsson)

With the final season of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) drawing to a close for the final time, it was another domination by Muscle Milk Pickett Racing but it was further down the order where the action would be found.

P1

As mentioned this class should probably just be called the Muscle Milk class given the domination they showed over the class this year.

However, that wouldn’t tell the whole story – to begin the year Rebellion Racing were the team to beat taking the ALMS victory at Sebring (Audi won with the e-tron quattro but didn’t score points due to it being a one off entry) and two second places at Long Beach and Laguna Seca seemingly put them on track for a strong challenge.

But, after the Le Mans break, the team decided to focus their efforts on both the WEC and the build of their 2014 ORECA challenger giving Muscle Milk and driver Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf the freedom to take six victories in a row. Although, at the season closing Petit Le Mans, the famed reliability of Pickett’s HPD finally gave up the ghost leading the team into retirement and Rebellion going down in the history books as the final winner in the ALMS.

The only other full season entry – Dyson Racing Lola/Mazda – couldn’t really find any sort of rhythm to the car especially in the first third of the season. The races at Sebring, Long Beach and Laguna Seca all saw various issues stricken the Lola with the first points on the board for the team coming at Lime Rock Park in July.

Whilst I don’t want to come across as sounding too harsh on the team, a change of driver line up from the experienced Chris Dyson and Guy Smith to the relatively inexperienced Tony Burgess and Chris McMurray from Mosport till the penultimate round at VIR definitely saw much of the potential sap from the team.

Finally the Deltawing. I hate to criticise the car as it should have been very good however reliability problems saw it finish only two races in 2013 which – lets be honest – is nowhere near good enough for a car that has had that much development.

Granted the spider version which ran at the start of the year was essentially frankensteined to the ALMS with Elan engines and Bridgestone tyres replacing Nissan and Michelin respectively. That meant it was already on the back foot – the engine designed by Elan overheated too quickly and to a whole world of problems.

However, when the coupe version finally arrived it showed a lot more promise – engines no longer overheated but the problems remained. Maybe trying to put the car in P1 was a mistake, it routinely proved to be a road block for even P2 entrants – when it actually got on track.

P2

Into the second prototype class now and what was a season long battle between Level 5 Motorsports and Extreme Speed Motorsports – it wasn’t intentional it was that they were the only two teams in the class.

Both team also ran a pair of HPDs meaning the only difference between the teams were how the cars were engineered and the skill of the drivers.

At the end of the season it was Scott Tucker and Level 5 which took the crowns from the ESM team which made its prototype debut following seasons racing GT Ferraris.

The class also showed that Scott Tucker is a driving machine, routinely pulling double duty in both the #551 and the #552 in lieu of hiring an extra driver.

Scott Tucker was a regular in both in Level 5 cars on his way to the P2 title (Credit: Dontae Allen)
Scott Tucker was a regular in both in Level 5 cars on his way to the P2 title (Credit: Dontae Allen)

Indeed P2 provided one of the biggest shocks of this final ALMS season – Guy Cosmo moved from ESM to Level 5 just before the Baltimore round of the championship citing a more competitive programme with Tucker.

The season was as equally one sided in favour of Level 5 – only twice did an ESM car finish higher at one of the many rounds, those came at Long Beach and Lime Rock Park. Although in the case of Lime Rock, a Level 5 did finish first and will keep that ‘victory’ in the record books even though the first placed points were taken off them for spinning Scott Sharp into the wall in the closing minutes of the race.

PC

Into the prototypes which are intentionally all the same now, and potentially provided the closest points standings of all five classes with the top three covered by only six points.

The results accrued by champions CORE Autosport and runners up BAR1 Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports show that BAR1 was desperately unlucky to miss out on the class title – winning three of the last four races including Petit – but their early season form ruled that out by only three points having failed to finish at Baltimore.

The spec LMPC class was closely contested (Credit: Ryan Smith)
The spec LMPC class was closely contested (Credit: Ryan Smith)

Thankfully the points totals in the driver’s standings showed PR1/Mathiasen walking away with the crown for Mike Guasch winning by only one point from Chris Cumming in the BAR1 ORECA FLM09.

The success of the class, and the hard battling through out, shows through in the reports that it was the first class in next years TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (USCC) to actually become oversubscribed.

GT

The class with the widest variety ended up also providing a very one sided result as the tried and trusted Corvette Racing C6.Rs claimed the title in their final season before being replaced with the C7.

The biggest calamity this class faced was the aftermath of the seven car cluster-smash at the very start of the Baltimore street race which saw the Team Falken Tire and Paul Miller Racing Porsches as well as the Risi Competizione Ferrari taken out at the very start thanks to a coming together between the ESM and Level 5 P2s.

Corvette gave the C6.R the perfect send off (Credit: Dontae Allen)
Corvette gave the C6.R the perfect send off (Credit: Dontae Allen)

While the Paul Miller Porsche and Risi Ferrari managed to get back out in their current form for the next round at the Circuit of the Americas, the Falken Tires Porsche had to be downgraded to the 2010 GTE model with 2013 aero parts bolted on.

Many people thought that this would make Falken deeply uncompetitive until 2014 when they could get their hands on a 991. But, the narrower profile of the 2010 RSR actually played into the hands of Nick Tandy, Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler when it came to Petit – the speed advantage gained allowed them (along with some great tactical thinking) to actually win the class ahead of the BMW Z4s.

Indeed speaking of BMW Team RLL, the team decided to finally retire the M3 GT2s from ALMS competition and debut the non ACO compliant Z4 GTE. It’s not compliant in the fact that it does not use a road car derived engine with its V8 and therefore won’t be able to race at Le Mans – indeed it only raced in the ALMS thanks to IMSA waivers.

However, the car did a very good job trying to fight off the yellow peril in the Corvettes but eventually finished the season 30 points shy thanks to some dominating victories by the #4 and #5 ‘Vettes.

An honourable mention must go to both the SRT Vipers and the Risi Competizione 458 – both in their first full season of competition (Risi skipped 2012 due to a lack of funds) and both picking up victories at Road America and VIR respectively.

Although if Risi should learn one thing about this comeback season, it is that cool heads have to be an influence on young driver Matteo Malucelli. He did very well in many of the races he took part in, but silly moves like that at Lime Rock Park which saw the car retire have to be ironed out before he becomes a world beater.

GTC

Finally, the Porsche Cup class and GTC featuring many a Porsche champion over the years and this campaign certainly didn’t disappoint.

The first big talking point of ALMS GTC started before the season even began. Thanks to Porsche North America for withdrawing backing from Flying Lizards Motorsport, the multiple GT champions announced they were to step down a category and race in the Yokohama shod spec Porsches.

What a decision it turned out to be, in their final season of Porsche racing (the team have announced a switch to Audi R8s next year) the two car team beat off stiff competition from Alex Job Racing to claim the title by only 9 points.

However, the #22 WeatherTech car of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil restored the balance in the drivers championship – claiming the driver’s title with an 11 point advantage over Nelson Canache Jr. and Spencer Pumpelly.

Dropping down to GTC, the Flying Lizards took the class title (Credit: Dontae Allen)
Dropping down to GTC, the Flying Lizards took the class title (Credit: Dontae Allen)

A mention must be given at this point to MOMO/NGT Motorsport regular Sean Edwards. The Brit – who sadly passed away in October – finished fifth in the standings and was on course for a good result in his first full ALMS season. One highlight being the epic battle had between Damian Faulkner and himself at COTA in the heat of Texas, battling door handle to door handle for more than 15 minutes it showed the skill both drivers had at controlling their charges to avoid having a massive accident.

The category has now become GT Daytona for 2014 and has been opened up to more cars than just Porsches, it too has become seriously over subscribed showing that cost effective GT racing will never disappoint and if next season is anything like this season then that statement will be held true.