Here are a few news and notes from around the paddock at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the third round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron season.
PORSCHE'S NEW WING – Porsche's new-for-2012 spec 911 GT3 RSR has shown improved pace compared to its predecessor, but is still down a bit compared to the Corvettes, BMWs and Ferraris within the stacked GT class.
Oliver Hilger, head of Porsche motorsport press, explained the changes the Porsche teams are undergoing this weekend. The most notable change is a new rear wing for all four of its cars (two Flying Lizards, Team Falken Tire (LEFT), Paul Miller Racing), one that's very similar to the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid which ran in 2011 at this race, and finished best among all GT class entrants.
“The situation was that IMSA saw that specification, and with the balance of performance, our car wasn't competitive (this year),” Hilger said. “They allowed us to develop and put more of a high downforce package on the car, which is the rear wing, and is100mm wider. It's similar to the one of the Porsche GT3 R Hybrid.
“We also have an additional 100mm on the front splitter and the sideplates, the flicks are adapted to the splitter. Because the car has more drag, we're allowed to run a bigger restrictor. It's now similar to the BMW, with I believe a 0.1mm smaller restrictor than the BMW. But our restrictor is 0.4mm wider. Those are the changes.”
Part of the reason for the Hybrid at this race last year was to serve as a test bed, and because it was unclassified, Porsche could try things to that car from an aero perspective beyond just the internal technology within the hybrid system.
“It didn't need to be within GT2 rules, so we had the rear wing available,” he said. “In the short time between Long Beach and here, you can't develop anything completely new from scratch. This bigger version of the rear wing has a special shape, and it being a 911, we can use it.”
Hilger also dismissed suggestions that the new 2012-spec Porsche wasn't an improvement over the previous model.
“It is improved, and it is still faster and better than the year before, the issue was that the changes made by others made a bigger step,” he said. “They had more downforce. We think now we should be at the same level. Plus, we had 20 kilos taken off at Long Beach. Taking away those at the front is not so bad, as the car has more weight in the back. It should be a fairer fight, as it's up to the drivers now.”
BERGMEISTER THANKFUL FOR BROTHER'S IMPROVEMENT – The word “Laguna” was the first one written from Tim Bergmeister to his brother Jorg after Tim's savage accident at Fuji Speedway last weekend. Jorg Bergmeister was given the green light to travel from Japan, where he was with his brother, to come to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for this weekend's race. If there was ever a case of "better late than never" in terms of arrival to the track, this was it.
Tim Bergmeister's car veered to the right off the front straight at Fuji, and smashed, driver-side first, into the guardrail. The horrific accident meant he sustained severe lung injuries, 14 broken ribs, and some broken bones, but there was no head injury or damage to his spinal cord; still he was placed on a respirator.
Jorg provided updates throughout the week on his Facebook page, as he explained on May 7 there was surgery performed on his chest cage. Wednesday Tim was taken off the respirator and wrote “Laguna,” which served as the first sign of his recovery.
Come Friday, Tim wrote on his own Facebook page: “Just a short update on my recovery: my lung is nearly working completely again and I will have another surgery on my collarbone next week. The 14 ribs will heal by themselves as my three lower vertebrae and my both bladebones will :-) So I am fit and racing again soon! ;-) And thanks again for all the nice wishes and kind words I got during the last days! It's hard to reply everybody but hope it's OK I do it this way!? Take care!”
Jorg simply said Friday, “If it would have been worse, I would have stayed in Japan. But now I am here, and he is doing much better.”
As a precautionary measure, Porsche flew one of its other factory drivers, Richard Lietz in, for the weekend as a backup driver to the Flying Lizard Motorsports team. Lietz is not expected to race but has participated in practice sessions throughout the weekend, and has competed for the team in prior races. He drove Porsche's Hybrid in this race last year.
Bergmeister is seeking his fourth consecutive GT class win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and as usual will co-drive with Patrick Long.
MORE ON DEMPSEY'S DEBUT – Patrick Dempsey's debut in P2 is one of the bigger stories this weekend. The team's Lola Judd completed its shakedown only last weekend at Miller Motorsports Park but showed impressive pace in the first practice sessions, largely with Jonny Cocker at the wheel.
Cocker, who starred with Drayson Racing when the team advanced into prototypes with a similar P1-spec Lola Judd at the end of 2009 and the full 2010 season, said he'd only got the call roughly four or five days before Monterey to race as the team's third driver.
Dempsey's team is also unique in that it's the only P2 squad running on Michelin tires, while the four other entries race on Dunlops. Dempsey said that as much as this race is learning about handling traffic, it also will be intriguing to see what difference there is between the two tire manufacturers within the class.
MAZDA'S BUSY WEEKEND – It may only have one car, the Dyson Racing Lola B12/60 coupe in the field, but Mazda has rolled out a series of announcements at its “home race” this weekend.
To start, Thursday, Mazda announced it has committed to another five years of naming rights sponsorship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The two organizations began their relationship in 2001.
“We first fell in love with this track and the Monterey peninsula as fans in the 1970s and '80s when Mazda was new to the U.S. and we were establishing our name with the American public and race fans,” said Jay Amestoy, vp of public affairs and motorsports for Mazda North American Operations.
To boot, Mazda is also working with the SPCA for Monterey County to promote “The SPCA goes to the races.” More information can be found on the SPCA's main page, event page and Facebook page. Mazda was kind enough to even name one dog in RACER's honor, “RACER,” a one-year-old Jack Russell terrier pup.
AROUND THE PADDOCK – Two PC class teams, Merchant Services Racing, and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, have new liveries this weekend. Merchant Services shifts from the white and orange display which has been on its two cars to a more vibrant white and yellow combination that should stand out.
PR1's No. 52 car and its traditional blue, black and white now is primarily white, blue and yellow in deference to sponsors Quest Software and Aviation Gin.
RACER and Team Falken Tire will be hosting a tweetup at 9 a.m. Saturday morning at RACER's tent in the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca infield. A tweetvite invitation can be found here. Register for a chance to win prizes and swag.
Some of the support races this weekend have been fairly interesting. The Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race held Friday morning saw MAZDASPEED Shootout winner Elliott Skeer record his first victory; RACER's own associate publisher Steve Bottom finished a career-best sixth, and Kenton Koch won the Skip Barber Pro Challenge with a finish of seventh overall.
Randy Pobst scored the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge win over Alex Figge and Andy Pilgrim. Pilgrim, of course, provided the hot lap for me on Thursday in his Cadillac CTS-V two-seater.
Stay tuned to RACER's Facebook and Twitter pages for more updates from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca throughout the rest of the weekend.