WHERE TO ENTER THE R8 DRAGON? – The first “dragon” mention you hear in racing often refers to Jay Penske's IndyCar team. Less well known but also worth noting is the DragonSpeed effort assembled by Elton Julian, who's back in the ALMS this weekend in the PC class with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports (LEFT).
Julian has one of the only Audi R8 LMS cars in the U.S. and is figuring out a plan for more races beyond Dubai and Bathurst endurances races this offseason. The car is not homologated for ALMS GT, and unlikely to run as an unclassified entry. The Audi R8 that has raced in Grand-Am has had significant modifications from the FIA GT3-spec version that Julian runs.
As for his own driving commitments, he's spent this year in the FIA World Endurance Championship racing with Ricardo Gonzalez and Christian Zugel in a P2 class Zytek Nissan for Greaves Motorsport. This marks only his second ALMS race appearance of the year (he was in the WEC-entered car at Sebring), and his first as an ALMS-classified entry with the PR1/Mathiasen car and co-drivers Ken Dobson and Rudy Junco.
“I'd love to do more here but the day job is getting the Audi sorted,” he explained. “That's the main focus in trying to figure out what to do beyond those first two races.”
AROUND THE ALMS PADDOCK – Michelin North America technical team leader Karl Koenigstein signs off his current role this week, with Michelin veteran Ken Payne on site and seeing through the ropes before replacing him next year.
BMW's Jonathan Summerton is one of two drivers racing in two cars this weekend, along with Scott Tucker, who traditionally does for Level 5. Summerton, though, admitted his role in both the No. 55 and 56 M3s has actually been more diminished than expected. Classified as the third driver in both cars, rather than the second in the No. 56 as he has been in the races where just he and Dirk Mueller drove, he's actually had less seat time than expected for having the opportunity to race two cars.
A pair of GTC class entries has had last-minute driver changes. IMSA GT3 Challenge Platinum Cup champion Sean Johnston, a 21-year-old from Mt. Shasta, Calif., makes his ALMS debut this weekend as third driver at JDX Racing. Johnston's advanced from sim racing in Nissan's GT Academy program to racing Porsches this year, with substantial success. He joins Michael Valiante and Chris Cumming in the gold, Hertz-sponsored No. 11 car (RIGHT). A class win for Valiante would net him wins in three different sports car categories (Grand-Am DP, Continental Tire ST) in the same year.
Meanwhile at Competition Motorsports, Bob Faieta called in sick mere minutes before the qualifying session was set to begin. Andrew Davis, Brumos Racing GT driver in Grand-Am and Porsche Sport Driving School instructor, filled in using the same seat and was already decked out in a Norton firesuit – the sponsor on the car this weekend that also features Michael Avenatti and series debutante David Calvert-Jones, a Los Angeles-based Australian.
Competition isn't the only Porsche team with a driver trying to stay healthy. Team Falken Tire's Wolf Henzler has been battling illness all week, but is on the mend and should be good to go for at least the minimum driving time required for Saturday's race. The team has Martin Ragginger as its third driver, back for the first time since Sebring.
AROUND THE OTHER PADDOCKS – The ALMS (and for that matter, ELMS, within the race) are not alone in ending their seasons this weekend.
The Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup featured Dean Copeland and Stevan McAleer splitting the doubleheader of races, with McAleer clinching the title in Friday's race. Both were spirited battles and perhaps a “good” form of pack racing with the top seven or eight cars often tightly bunched within 2 to 3 seconds, but never in jeopardy of having a massive, chain reaction, accordion effect accident.
In the IMSA Developmental Series, the aforementioned Johnston and Tristan Nunez were the big winners, clinching the GT3 Platinum Cup and Cooper Tire Prototype Lites titles, respectively. Each driver seems to be on the verge of bigger things in 2013.
Lastly, providing an open-wheel element to the weekend, the Star Mazda Championship wrapped its own and the Mazda Road to Indy season with a spirited battle between Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam for the win. Karam got within a car length on the last lap of the 50-minute race, but spun heading onto the backstraight.
“I did it more for show,” he joked on the podium after the race.
Chaves' second straight win confirmed second in the championship behind Jack Hawksworth, absent this weekend and with replacement at Team Pelfrey Ryan Tveter never really standing much chance of matching him on pace. Behind the top two, Connor De Phillippi drove one of his best ever Star Mazda events in advancing from ninth to third, although he reckoned the weight balance was off and he could have done even more in his repaired car.
USF2000 graduate Scott Anderson finished 12th in his debut for JDC Motorsports, while that series' runner-up Spencer Pigot has been on hand all weekend in the unfamiliar role of merely spectating and not driving anything.