There was an odd vibe to the 2013 American Le Mans Series season, as it felt rather like a long-running TV show destined for an emotional ending and final chapter. While there was still yearlong excitement as preparations were underway for the merged TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014, every ALMS weekend had a sense of finality to it, and that was before the grand finale at Petit Le Mans in October which took on emotion in several ways.
The on-track reviews first:
There wasn’t a ton to dissect in P1, as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing waltzed to its second straight ALMS P1 championship with its HPD ARX-03c, Michelin tires, and drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. The pair won eight straight races from Long Beach in April through Virginia in October, and the last of those wins took Luhr up to 49 total wins, most in ALMS history. The Long Beach and Monterey wins were probably the best of the bunch for Pickett’s crew, as they fought tooth-and-nail with the Rebellion Racing-entered Lola Toyota coupe. Rebellion won the Petit finale, but primarily focused on its FIA World Endurance Championship efforts. Audi, with nothing officially to play for, signed off at Sebring with the win there.
Sadly Dyson Racing wasn’t able to put up its usual title challenge for its memorable 30th season of racing. The Lola Mazda had early season mechanical issues and after Lime Rock, team director Chris Dyson opted to focus on the team’s long-term future (which, as of this writing, is still to be determined) and stepped out of full-time driving with friend and co-driver Guy Smith. The DeltaWing team ran eight of 10 races with a new group compared to 2012; the David Price-led squad punched above its weight most notably at Road America, where Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge both led in the DeltaWing spyder’s swan song. The team premiered its coupe version at Austin a little more than a month later.
P2 featured a pair of two-car HPD ARX-03b efforts, with Level 5 Motorsports getting the best of Extreme Speed Motorsports. ESM made a late shift into P2 after running Ferraris in GT for the past three seasons. Level 5’s team principal Scott Tucker took the driver’s title, and ran at various points with Marino Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway as teammates. Guy Cosmo shifted from ESM to Level 5 in the latter portion of the year. ESM won at Long Beach, but Level 5 took the remaining nine race victories.
The best road racing category in North America lived up to its billing once again with another three-horse race, although this one was a primarily American affair. Experience with the tried-and-tested Corvette C6.R, in its final season of competition, netted Corvette Racing the crown over BMW Team RLL and the upstart SRT Motorsports squads. Bobby Rahal’s BMW team ran the new Z4, which excelled on handling tracks but had a straight line speed gap, while the SRT’s first full year with the Viper GTS-R was excellent at most circuits and thrived on its power.
Those three teams, each fielding two cars, took the first eight victories in 10 races. Corvette’s pair of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia atoned for a difficult 2012 to take the driver’s title over BMW’s Dirk Mueller, who ran with Joey Hand and John Edwards in the team’s No. 56 car. BMW won only twice, Viper once compared to Corvette’s five wins, but the reality is that the three cars were actually very evenly matched most of the year. Edwards, in his first year in a factory program, really stood out.
Longtime class stalwarts Ferrari and Porsche, sadly, seemed to lose a step in 2013. ESM’s late departure to P2 left only Risi, back after a year’s hiatus, and the privateer Team West/AJR efforts running the potent F458 Italias. Risi nearly won at Sebring on its return but otherwise had a tough year, capped only by a win at VIR, while the West team had to make the most of its Yokohama tires. Porsche really struggled with the flagship 911 GT3 RSR in its final season, and when all three of its cars were caught up in the Baltimore start line melee, it added insult to injury. The Falken team’s Petit Le Mans win at least kept Porsche on the scoreboard in 2013, in an upset victory delivered by Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Nick Tandy in a 2010 car.
As spec categories and requiring a Silver-rated driver in the second seat, sometimes the PC and GTC categories do not get the recognition they deserve. That sells the pro drivers in the category short, and the ams that race alongside are most of the reason these cars exist on the grid. For my money, these two classes always seem to put on barnburner shows.
Sadly the PC driver’s title came down to a rules review after the finale at Petit, when the second-place finishing 8Star Motorsports team wasn’t eligible for points. That promoted Mike Guasch to the driver’s title over Chris Cumming by a single point. Cumming won the last three races of the year driving with talented Canadian pro Kyle Marcelli at the BAR1 team, while Guasch’s PR1 teammate rotated throughout the year. A Sebring win with inexperienced David Cheng and David Ostella as teammates was a highly impressive result for Guasch, especially as this was the class’ first race with Continental tires replacing Michelins.
Elsewhere in the class, the RSR pairing of Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende had blazing speed but frequently bad luck; CORE autosport’s excellent pair of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett was split up later in the year to allow Braun a GT shot in the team’s Porsche; and Performance Tech bagged a win in Baltimore with teenager Tristan Nunez that team’s emerging star.
GTC qualifying was always a highlight of any ALMS weekend. Andy Lally put down one of the laps of the year to score pole for Dempsey Racing’s class debut at Sebring, and any of Lally, Spencer Pumpelly, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Damien Faulkner, Nick Tandy, Jan Heylen, Dion von Moltke or the late Sean Edwards was a viable pole threat the rest of the year. Many of the races tended to come down to who made the fewest mistakes and avoided contact from other cars; the Bleekemolen/Cooper MacNeil pairing took the title, but Pumpelly and his co-driver Nelson Canache also impressed throughout the year, with a class-high four wins.
The emotion I mentioned at the start of this piece includes several other elements. Edwards’ death in October cast a black cloud ahead of the season finale at Petit; the NGT Motorsport team withdrew as a mark of respect, and the team’s car was repainted in a tribute livery.
The P1 class, a staple and bastion of the latest technological innovations, would also go away when the season drew to a close at Atlanta in October. Pickett will continue in 2014 with a P2-spec ORECA 03 Nissan, announced last week, while Dyson’s plans are uncertain. Sebring will be run without an Audi prototype in the first time for more than a dozen years next March, and that is going to be weird.
There’s other parts of the ALMS era that have also come to an end. It still remains to be seen whether the “feel” of a TUDOR Championship event in 2014 will feel decidedly one way or another; that said, we’re thankful for 15 years of a series that provided many memories, stars and cars to reflect back on.