Road America 500
August 24, 2003
from Ann & Jake Snyder
We got up early one Sunday in August to drive to Road America for the American Le Mans Series race. Most MG enthusiasts are aware that in 2001, after a 35-year absence, MG returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the MG Lola EX257 prototype. Since that time, three racing teams in this country have purchased and competed with the EX257, and Road America is arguably the best venue at which to see them. The ALMS, which is sanctioned by the International Motorsports Association (IMSA), describes itself as a series of sports car endurance races events patterned after the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Key to its appeal is the multi-class entry list, which includes factory and privateer racing teams in competition for overall wins as well as within classes. The MGs are in the lighter, less powerful class of prototypes, LMP675.
The numeric designation refers to the minimum weight, in kilograms, which for this class converts to 1488 lbs. Cars in the LMP900 class (1984 lbs.) include the Audi R8, Panoz LMP01, Riley and Scott MK III and Lola B2K. In addition to the prototype cars, there are GT cars- production-based, but highly modified Corvettes (factory-sponsored yellow ones), Ferrari 550 Maranellos (red, of course, except for a green one with Olive Garden sponsorship), Dodge Vipers and a Saleen. The fourth class is GT, and these production-based cars are only slightly modified. In this class were lots of Porsches, Ferrari Modena 360s, Lamborghinis and BMWs. It was interesting to be able to identify cars, in particular the Maranellos, by the sound of their engines.
At Road America you have great views of the racing and you also can see everything up close in the paddock. On Sunday morning, we sat among a few other spectators just outside the open tent in which the drivers' meeting was being held. But this is not some backwater series. At the end of the drivers' meeting, an Audi enthusiast walked up to Frank Biela to get his autograph on an R8 model. Many other top drivers from Le Mans also compete in this series, but, unlike Formula 1, there are U.S. drivers here as well.
There have been three EX257s competing this year, and one these, Dyson Racing car number 20, took second place overall in the Road America 500. That was a good performance, since the car had to be push-started at the beginning of the race and so lost its position in the grid. That team had done the same thing in the previous race at Toronto. In fact, the other Dyson car actually took first overall at Sears Point earlier in the season.
With the varied classes in ALMS, there is always some passing going on, and there are often close races within each class. All in all, this is probably the series that provides the most interesting racing you will find. To experience this, go to the ALMS web site, where there is an archive of the radio broadcasts at
http://www.americanlemans.com/radioweb/radiowebhome.asp. Under "2003 American Le Mans Series Radio Web Broadcasts" click on Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma, and after your player loads, advance to 3 hours, 50 minutes into the broadcast to hear the last few minutes of the race. You'll hear "We've got history- it's going to be a 675 overall victory!" as the Dyson Racing MG car 16, driven by James Weaver (co-driver Butch Leitzinger) wins the race at the track formerly known as Sears Point.