ALMS round 2 preview

The Audi R8s, BMW V12 LMRs and Panoz Roadsters will reconvene at Charlotte for the second round of the American Le Mans Series this weekend, alongside the Chrysler Vipers of the GTS class, and the Porsche 911 GT3Rs of the GT class

ALMS round 2 preview

In the prototype ranks, the Audi team goes to the Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte as the team to beat. Frank Biela, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen took the chequered flag after 12 hours of hard racing at the Sebring round two weeks ago, a mere 39.111 seconds ahead of the similar car of Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Michele Alboreto. It is not certain which of these drivers will take part in the slimmed down line-ups required for Charlotte, as the team has not confirmed who its pilots will be this weekend. However, Allan McNish's epic three-hour stint during the night at Sebring will surely reserve him a place, and give the Scot a good chance of adding an ALMS victory to his 1998 Le Mans triumph.

"After our success at Sebring, expectations are quite high but using last year's cars, this race will be a particular challenge", says Head of Audi Sport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.

After Le Mans pre-qualifying, Audi Sport will have the brand new R8s for the ALMS, but for now it relies on the tweaked 1999 model. Driver Allan McNish is under no illusions as to the difficulties the race presents, and is looking forward to getting his hands on the new car.

McNish added "I have not raced at Charlotte and didn't drive at the recent test there but I know that the team were happy afterwards. The two latest R8s have returned to Europe and are currently being prepared in Ingolstadt for the Le Mans test next month.

"The Charlotte track is unusual in that it's an oval with an infield section. That in itself causes complications when setting up a car for a race lasting almost three hours. On the one hand there are high-speed, banked corners while those on the infield are flat, conventional bends. However, even the infield section is fast so it'll be interesting."

BMW trailed Audi at Sebring, but the 1999 Le Mans winner has a slight advantage over ALMS newcomers Audi in that the former has oval experience from the Las Vegas round in 1999, whereas Audi has none. Moreover, three of the four BMW drivers, JJ Lehto, Bill Auberlan and Jean Marc Gounon have all raced at Charlotte before, the exception being Jorg Muller. BMW has aerodynamic changes in the pipeline, but these will not be available for Charlotte, as the BMWs will still be largely in 1999 trim.

BMW Schnitzer team boss Charly Lamm had words to say on the nature of the Charlotte track, and the particular challenge it holds for drivers and engineers alike.

"The transition from the flat infield up into the banking is especially difficult, and from the perspective of the driver is like driving into a wall. When turning into the oval, the front right of the car is under an extreme load. In order to stop the chassis from scraping, one has to drive with more ground clearance than is desirable when high speed driving on the straight stretches."

The quick, but so far unreliable Panoz LMP-1 Roadsters will no doubt be in the hunt once again, with the first car driven by drivers with F1 experience, David Brabham and Jan Magnussen and the second by sportscar exponents Johnny O'Connell and Hiroki Katoh.

The privateer Lola of the Rafanelli team piloted by ex-F1 driver Mimmo Schiaterella and Didier de Radigues will swell the prototype ranks. The Lola B2K/10 has tested well, and the manufacturer has made strong claims for the car, which it says is stiffer, stronger and more efficient than its predecessor.

The prototype division of round 2 of the ALMS is much harder to call than the special circumstances of Sebring - the race is shorter, placing far greater emphasis on speed over reliability - and the mix of oval and road course will play to the experience of teams used to racing in America: both of which will favour BMW and Panoz in particular. In addition, only four drivers, or teams of drivers, have ever scored consecutive victories in the ALMS or its predecessor series'.

In the GTS class, the Sebring-winning Dodge Vipers are back, with Olivier Beretta of Monaco and Karl Wendlinger of Austria in one and Tommy Archer and David Donohue in the other. Team ORECA have yet to lose a round of the ALMS in the GTS class, and will be desperate to hang on to that unbeaten record. With the GM Corvettes that performed so well at Daytona, and were so unlucky at Sebring, failing to enter, that feat might not be so hard to achieve for the time being.

Dirk Muller and Lucas Luhr of Monaco, who teamed to win the GT class at Sebring in a Porsche 911 GT3 R, head the GT division entry list. David Murry of Atlanta and Johnny Mowlem of England, the Sebring second-place finishers in another Porsche for Skea Racing International, are also on the list. Muller was the only driver to score a "clean sweep" at Sebring, taking the class pole, setting the fastest race lap and getting the victory.

Beretta and Wendlinger will be seeking the first season-opening repeat victory in GTS since the class opened in 1997.

All in all, round 2 of the 2000 ALMS promises to be a fascinating contest.

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