ELMS Nurburgring Preview

This weekend, the all-conquering Audi team will line up against plucky upstarts Panoz for the first time since the Le Mans 24 Hours, with 1999 Le Mans winners BMW aiming to maintain their ALMS series lead against the odds

ELMS Nurburgring Preview

The second event to be run under the banner of the 'European Le Mans Series', an annexe to the ALMS, will take place from Friday at the Nurburgring. The event will be another round of the series to gain the name of an historic sportscar race from the past, the Nurburgring 1000km. The race originally took place on the epic 14.17 mile circuit also on the site, but since 1984 moved to the modern 2.81 mile 'New Nurburgring'.

Ominously for its rivals, Audi will be bringing along its new R8 after comprehensively destroying the opposition at the Le Mans 24 Hours. After winning the Sebring 12 Hours, Audi's 2000 spec prototype kept its own counsel, merely testing and preparing for Le Mans, while the team used an updated version of its 1999 chassis.

Until now, therefore, BMW and Panoz have been able to keep on terms with Audi, but with the advent of the R8, will they have any chance of avoiding an Audi whitewash?

Panoz lead driver David Brabham returns from Le Mans in order to defend Panoz's manufacturer's crown in the ALMS. All the competitors have had the chance to rest up after the 24 Hours, but Brabham claims not to have been overly stressed by the experience. "They looked after us very well at Le Mans," said the Australian, in praise of his team. "They made sure we were comfortable, and at the end of the race I still felt quite fresh."

This will at least be of comfort to the Panoz drivers, who used to suffer from heat and noise in the closed cockpit GT1 cars. However, with the advent of the chopped-roof roadster, the team should easily be able to run for 1000km without trouble.

One problem for Panoz - and indeed, BMW, Lola Courage and Cadillac - that Brabham and his team-mate Jan Magnussen will be eyeing warily is of course the Audi R8. The Australian saw what the silver machine was capable of at Le Mans at close quarters, as he was the only driver able to run with the relentless Ingolstadt machines for any time at all.

'It's pretty unsporting of them to bring that car at all. We can beat the other car, but we can't beat this one," he joked.

"Jan and I will be trying as hard as we can to win. Of course Audi are going to be hard to beat, sure, but it's a long race and anything can happen. They were comfortably faster at Sebring, and a lot faster at Le Mans."

The spectacular front-engined Panoz has undergone significant development this year, largely ahead of Le Mans, but the prospect of keeping the evolution of the car on a pace with the Audis might be too much for the works team. Brabham acknowledges the difficulties that the engineers face.

"We're a small team, and we don't have the resources of an Audi or a BMW," he admits. "We are working on a new car for next year, but whether or not the team is concentrating on that or developing this year's car is a matter for the engineers."

BMW won the first 'ELMS' event, despite what driver JJ Lehto claimed was the worst handling car he'd ever driven. This was made possible after early leaders Panoz and Audi hit trouble. In addition, the partnership of Lehto and Muller won at Charlotte, the last round of the American Le Mans Series proper. The V12 LMR has not displayed the kind of pace advantage it enjoyed in last year's series - in fact, Panoz and Audi - even with their old car - have unequivocally caught or overtaken the Munich cars.

However, an ultra-professional crew battle hardened by 1999 Le Mans victory and ALMS campaign, together with a dash of luck and a bucketful of reliability have left BMW and driver Jorg Muller on top. Excluding the Audi R8s which scored a 1-2 at Sebring on their first appearance, the Panoz Roadsters have probably been the fastest machines in the championship so far, but Brabham freely admits that BMW justifiably occupies its current position in the points table.

"It's fair enough that they're ahead of us. They've done the better job than us so far, and it's up to us to try and turn that around. They've had the better pit-work, and the slightly slicker operation, so it's not just down to luck that we're behind them at this stage. We've just got to get on and try to beat them. Which I think we can do," he said.

Cadillac have not impressed a great deal with their Northstar prototypes so far this year, but a concerted development programme undertaken ahead of Le Mans may help them gain ground on BMW and Panoz. The Riley & Scott built cars will, however, be lucky to see which way the Audis went...

The most successful privateer in this year's ALMS, the Rafanelli Lola-Judd B2K/10 will not be appearing at the Nurburgring. However, the team's Silverstone pole and Charlotte podium confirms the inherent pace of the car, and Konrad's Ford-powered example could be primed to step into the breach. In addition, the Courage-Judd of Phillipe Gache's SMG will be making a rare appearance in the series. The car proved fastest of the privately run cars at Le Mans, but the slippery shape of the Courage which served it so well on the Mulsanne may count against it at the twistier Nurburgring.

The Reynard 2KQ seems to have been turned into a machine with considerable potential, after initially encountering problems. A 'rescue package' retro fitted for Le Mans has helped, and the Johansson-Matthews Reynard-Judd could figure in the top six. The ROC Reynard-VW LMP 675 cars will return, and their mixture of pace and fuel economy could see them spring a surprise.

A new arrival on the prototype scene will be the Ascari-Judd 410, which sadly failed to qualify for Le Mans. The team has, however, bounced back from the gearbox problems which blighted it back in May, and intends to impress on its ALMS debut. The British marque has been working hard to prepare itself, and has built a second car to go with the Le Mans pre-qualifying chassis. It is still early days for the programme, but the team intends to eventually be in a position to sell cars to customers.

The battle in GTS will be between the ORECA Chrylser Vipers, with the Chamberlain car possibly able to strike if the works cars hit trouble. Class numbers will be made up by three Porsche 911 GT2s. In the GT class, Dick Barbour Racing will be desperate to erase the heartbreak of Le Mans disqualification and are firm favourites for the class. The Porsches will be faced by the two BMW M3s of the Prototype Technology Group team.

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ELMS Nurburgring Preview

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