American Le Mans Series 2013 Season Review

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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:

P1/P2

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.

GT

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.

PC/GTC

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.

ADDITIONALLY

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.

Why it’s important for Fernando Alonso to be in the Indianapolis 500

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It seemed so natural, so logical that Fernando Alonso would be part of McLaren in the 104thIndianapolis 500, it likely could have been announced last August.

NBCSports.com gave all the reasons why an Alonso reunion with McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the most sense last week.

Tuesday afternoon, it became official.

Arrow McLaren SP announced the two-time Formula One champion as its third driver for the Indy 500. He joins full-time NTT IndyCar Series drivers, rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, on the Chevrolet team.

In a world where social media allows everyone to voice an opinion, there have been some who have asked, “Why is it so important that Fernando Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500?”

To back up their point, the 33-driver starting lineup already includes many legendary names of the NTT IndyCar Series. From five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, to Indy 500 winners Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay to two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, the lineup is full of big names.

On the grand scale of international motorsports, however, Alonso has the charisma and star power that transcend into the mainstream of popularity.

“Having Fernando in the Indy 500 is going to be great for IndyCar, for the Indy 500 and for the fans,” Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to see that get started.

“On behalf of Ric (Peterson, another co-owner of the team) and myself, Fernando needs to be in the 500, he needs to have an opportunity to win and that would be mega for IndyCar. For all of those reasons, we kept our foot on the gas and tried to position our team as the team of choice. Although we haven’t won, we have shown pace there and ran at the front. Now that we are with Chevrolet, we feel that we can get it done.

“Our team of guys is fantastic. We have been preparing for this for a long time, and we are poised to get it done. Ric and I are very excited about this.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long and close relationship with Alonso. Brown was in charge of Alonso’s Formula One program. Last year when Alonso did not compete in F1, he remained under contract as a McLaren “Ambassador.”

His contract with McLaren ended on Dec. 31, 2019. He officially rejoined the team with Tuesday’s Indy 500 announcement.

“He creates a tremendous amount of attention wherever he goes,” Brown said of Alonso. “When we did the first test at Indy in 2017, the live digital feed got over a couple million followers. Fernando will draw a lot of global attention to Indianapolis, to IndyCar, to our partners and to the sport as a whole.

“He is a great addition. He is an ambassador to the sport. He very much enjoys the way he is embraced in Indianapolis.”


With so many obstacles in the way of Alonso competing for any other team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it just made sense that his best (and essentially his only) option come with the McLaren-backed operation.

But it was certainly a long, strange trip to get there.

“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael Andretti,” Brown said in a response to a question from NBCSports.com in a Tuesday teleconference. “Short of Roger Penske’s team, he believes Michael’s team is the most successful team at Indianapolis, certainly in most recent times.

“If you are Fernando Alonso, and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is clearly on your short list.

“We had a strong desire to run him. Fernando didn’t want to take a decision until after (the Dakar Rally) because he wanted to be very focused on that event. had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of some of the offseason moves we made. We secured Craig Hampson (as technical director after a successful term as Sebastien Bourdais’ engineer). When he was ready to make his decision, we had all of our pieces in place.

“He chose to move forward with us.”

Alonso’s best days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in an Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda in 2017. He got up to speed quickly, qualifying fifth and leading 27 laps before his Honda failed with 21 laps remaining.

Alonso’s worst days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came in a McLaren-prepared Chevrolet. That was last year when one mistake after another showed how unprepared the McLaren operation was to take on the Indy 500 on its own. The list of faux pas was so long and legendary, there is no reason to recount them.

It all added up to one of the biggest names in international motorsports getting bumped out of the 33-car starting lineup by unheralded Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing.

McLaren officials knew the best way to succeed at Indianapolis was to join forces with a full-time IndyCar Series team. The main obstacle was Honda teams were ordered by corporate headquarters in Japan that the company’s days of doing business with McLaren were over because of disparaging and critical comments about its engine by Alonso and the team.

Under no circumstances would American Honda and Honda Performance Development be allowed to make a deal with McLaren.

Brown found a partner at what then was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson, but that was a Honda team. To make the deal work, the team had to break the final year of its contract with Honda and switch to Chevrolet.

When the Arrow McLaren SP deal was announced on Aug. 9, 2019, Alonso still was attempting to negotiate an Indy 500 deal with Andretti Autosport, and the team was willing to make it happen. Sponsors were signed, and decisions were made leading to an expected announcement of an Alonso-Andretti combination for the Indy 500.

Honda Japan said no and held firm against doing business with Alonso for the same reasons as with McLaren.

Alonso would have to find a Chevrolet team for the Indy 500. Team Penske wasn’t interested in increasing to five cars at Indy. Ed Carpenter Racing also said no to expanding to four entries.

All paths led back to Arrow McLaren SP.

“It’s a great day in the history of our team,” co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “We’ve had a lot of changes recently. Arrow McLaren SP is a fantastic cooperation of the future of our company. This just raises the bar.

“Fernando Alonso, two world championships, two WEC’s, Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. He has made it perfectly clear the Indy 500 is the missing link there. We all know how competitive he was previously.

“For our team, we want to tap into his experience. We have two exciting rookies with Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward. We really think being around him for the month of May will help them raise their game and understand what it takes to be a true, top-level, world-renowned driver.”


Though it appeared this deal was put together quickly, Brown and Schmidt emphasized they had been wooing Alonso for several months.

The addition of Hampson, who oversaw a car Bourdais qualified for the Fast Nine in the past two Indy 500s, and a solid test at COTA helped make the case.

“These were things as Fernando made his final decision helped get him over the hump,” Brown said. “There was speculation he would go elsewhere with parallel conversations that were going on.”

Said Schmidt: “It seems like a bit of a whirlwind announcement, but we have been talking since November. We’ve always run a third car at Indy. This will be a very, very well-prepared, thought-out deal.”

In a separate interview with Leigh Diffey of NBC Sports, Alonso admitted he had several teams to consider and McLaren was always in that group.

“We had some conversations,” Alonso said. “I already said last year I wanted to explore more options. I’d been talking with Andretti as well and some other teams. Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Alonso has long dreamed of winning the international “Triple Crown” of motorsports — the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

Alonso behind the wheel of the famed Marmon Wasp, the first winning car in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 — INDYCAR Photo

Having conquered Monaco and Le Mans, Indy remains the final event to master for the Spaniard.

“The Indy 500 completes the big three races in motorsports, and three completely different disciplines,” Alonso explained. “It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career. The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.

“Oval racing is unique, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway even more. It’s a huge place. There are four corners but all very different. The traffic, the slipstream, the strategy, the tire degradation. The downforce you run differently from practice. The race, you are adjusting downforce. Even if it seems a simple way to drive, over 200 laps, you never repeat the same line or speed in any laps. It’s quite difficult to adjust the minimum settings in the car.”

The key to completing the deal was Michael Andretti allowing mortgage firm Ruoff to follow Alonso as his Indy 500 sponsor to Arrow McLaren SP after the deal with Andretti Autosport fell through.

“Ruoff is a partner of Michael’s, he’s a good friend of mine and a partner in Australia,” Brown said, referring to the Virgin Australia Supercars team. “As he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure. When Michael and Fernando were unable to get their deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind going where Fernando goes. Michael gave his blessing, he cut a deal with Ruoff, and we are excited to have them.”

Alonso is just as excited to return at Indy despite last year’s disappointment, gleefully describing the Brickyard’s appeal in his interview with Diffey.

“Definitely. once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart,” Alonso said. “I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated. The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions all the celebrations before the race. Even the milk! It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

And that is why it is important that drivers such as Alonso compete in the Indianapolis 500. It’s an event that is bigger than the sport itself.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500