For the first time in three years, Road America reverts back to a four-hour race for this weekend's American Le Mans Series rather than the standard two-hour, 45-minute event.
The last round at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago didn't even make it that far. A sudden downpour halted the proceedings with 15 minutes remaining, and the checkered flag flew followed the red which came out shortly after the rain hit.
While Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing scored the overall and P1 class win, the surprise at Mid-Ohio came with the Team Falken Porsche securing its first GT class triumph.
Wolf Henzler (above) maximized the performance of the Falken wet weather tires to leap from fifth to first in class on the final lap. Coupled with Bryan Sellers, the pairing has scored four straight top-five finishes in class for the Derrick Walker-run organization.
While they've been on a bit of a hot streak in class, likely favorites going into Road America are the pair of BMW Team RLL BMW M3s, winners at the circuit in 2009 and ‘10. It might be a tougher fight to score a three-peat, as a reduction in their air restrictors prior to Mid-Ohio may affect top-end speed on the long straights that populate the 4.048-mile circuit.
Corvette Racing poses the closest championship challenge with Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin currently 17 points back of Hand and Mueller. Gavin scored the class pole last year at Road America and the team finished third and fourth in the race.
Two teams needing a jump-start to frustrating seasons are Risi Competizione Ferrari and Flying Lizard Porsche. The lead pairings of Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander (Risi) and Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister (Flying Lizard) are sixth and seventh in the drivers' standings, respectively.
On paper and in P1, Muscle Milk's Aston Martin V12 engine should have the measure of the smaller Mazda MZR-R from Dyson Racing. Muscle Milk came up agonizingly shy of victory at Road America last year, as Klaus Graf's Porsche RS Spyder sputtered on its last fumes of E10 fuel with Jonny Cocker screaming past to take the first win for Drayson Racing in its Lola Judd.
While they look to avenge the disappointment, Autocon seeks the reliability to match the pace it showed last year. The team led a bulk of last year's race with Johnny Mowlem driving, but fell out past halfway with mechanical gremlins for its turbocharged AER engine. Autocon team principal Mike Lewis joins regulars Chris McMurry and Tony Burgess behind the wheel this weekend.
The other three P1 driver lineups remain unchanged, as Muscle Milk's Graf and Lucas Luhr seek their fourth win of the year and third in succession.
Graf and Chris Dyson were compromised by the early termination at Mid-Ohio, as neither driver completed the minimum number of laps required to score points. For the moment, Dyson sits 16 points behind co-driver Guy Smith, with Graf now 20 behind Luhr and 42 behind Smith for the class lead.
Others of note: Madison, Wis.-based Level 5 Motorsports makes its first ALMS start since Long Beach in April, in what should be the last race for its open-top Lola HPD Spyder in P2 (the team has purchased new HPD chassis to debut later this season).
In the Challenge classes, Butch Leitzinger returns to prototypes and makes his LMPC debut with Rudy Junco co-driving in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry, and the GTC class field adds the No. 97 Porsche Napleton Racing entry of David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher. There are a number of additional LMPC and GTC changes best described by a glance at the updated entry list.
Four LMP1, one LMP2, 15 GT, 7 LMPC and 9 GTC comprise the 36-car field for the four-hour race.
• The ALMS Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase airs Saturday, Aug. 20, live on ESPN3.com at 3:45 p.m. EST and on ABC on Sunday, Aug. 21, at 4:30 p.m. EST.