RACER web editor Tony DiZinno looks at the field for this weekend's Petit Le Mans. This time: the GT classes.
CORVETTE – With the driver, manufacturer and team championships clinched last race at VIR, you might think Corvette Racing has nothing to fight for, but you'd be wrong.
Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner wrapped the drivers title with their fourth win of the season. A win for them (with third driver Richard Westbrook) or a win by the sister car driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor would net Corvette a fifth in 10 races for an excellent hit rate of half the wins, easily their best since moving into GT with the GT2-spec C6.R halfway through 2009. Corvette won only one ALMS race in each of 2010 and 2011.
A win for the latter trio would be particularly huge, given Magnussen's streak of a win in each ALMS season is on the line and it would secure second place in the drivers' championship for he and Garcia. It's a result he's already achieved once, as two years ago, Magnussen, Gavin and Emmanuel Collard took the win on the final lap as the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT ran out of fuel.
PORSCHE – An additional ELMS RSR that will run in GTE Am (Imsa Performance Matmut) joins the usual quartet of Porsches, but the focus will primarily be on the full-season entries on the ALMS side.
Despite a fraught start to the season with only 19 points scored from the first three races, Flying Lizard Motorsports could still secure second in the drivers' standings with Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister. In the last six races, the pair has a win and three runner-ups, and had another win at Mosport taken away after failing the post-race stall test. That run has lifted the two to just two behind Magnussen/Garcia (Corvette) and in a tie with Extreme Speed Ferrari's pairing of Johannes van Overbeek and Scott Sharp. Patrick Pilet joins Long and Bergmeister in the lead No. 45 car.
Each of the others has improved lineups for this race. The second Flying Lizard car adds Nick Tandy alongside Porsche factory shoe Marco Holzer and team principal Seth Neiman; this is a lineup of young, quick drivers who could be able to lift this car to a top-five finish in class.
Baltimore winners Team Falken Tire bring in Martin Ragginger alongside Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler, as they look to end on a high note after an at-times frustrating season. Underrated and perhaps on pace to surprise yet again is Paul Miller Racing, actually the top-finishing ALMS Porsche at Sebring, in fifth, with the lineup of Sascha Maassen, Bryce Miller and Richard Lietz, another Porsche factory driver.
FERRARI – What's been a markedly improved third season for the Extreme Speed Motorsports has seen the team score its first victory and contend for second in points as the No. 01 Ferrari F458 Italia has been a regular podium finisher. Now, the team seeks its first win on track as its win at Mosport came via a disqualification, and this race, Ferrari factory driver Toni Vilander joins regulars Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek.
The sister No. 02 was originally entered in the GT AM subset class, which meant it could only have one Platinum or Gold-rated driver by the FIA alongside a combination of two Silver or Bronze-rated ones. That changed to see the car back in the usual GT class, with Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown joined by usual co-driver Guy Cosmo and Anthony Lazzaro.
A third Ferrari is entered from AF Corse, the team that won GT last year, although the 2011-spec 458 fielded by the team in the AM class is an ELMS entrant that will likely be the slowest of all GT cars based on its driver lineup.
BMW – Petit Le Mans marks the end of an era for BMW, as the latest iteration of M3s is set to run its final race. These M3s came back in 2009, winning its first race later that year at Road America, and then were most successful in the 2010 and '11 seasons, the latter year where BMW swept the driver, team and manufacturer championships.
Regretfully, one of BMW and BMW Team RLL's stars, Joey Hand, won't be present at Petit – the American's DTM duties take precedence. His replacement, Jonathan Summerton, will then be ALMS GT's busiest driver as the 23-year-old Floridian will race in both the team's entries (and the only driver in class to do so). It's a big ask and a big task, but considering how well he kept his head on his shoulders in his first ever endurance race at Sebring in March (he won with Hand and Dirk Mueller), he should be good to go.
Summerton's presence as the third driver – compared to the second in the No. 56 car – should aid the No. 55's chances going into the race. He'll have less pressure to perform in that car alongside veterans Bill Auberlen and Jorg Mueller, while Dirk Mueller might need to do the lion's share of the work in the No. 56. Uwe Alzen returns but is unlikely to match the pace of his younger co-drivers. Hand's loss this race is magnified and BMW may have to rely on guile and strategy if not outright pace to bookend the season with wins and send the M3 out on a high note.