Recently, the world’s top Le Mans teams gathered at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the American Le Mans Monterey. For the uninitiated, an ALMS race is unique in racing in many key ways. First, different classes of cars race on the track simultaneously. The classes include P1, P2 and PC Le Mans Prototypes GT(E) & GTC Grand Touring cars.
The end result of all those buzzwords is that everything from elite prototype racing cars to specially kitted out Porsches, BMWs and Corvettes race together on the same track while competing only in class. In American Le Mans, race lengths vary from 1 hour to 12 hours, and teams of drivers take individual turns at the wheel.
The pop culture angle for this event had to be the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca debut of (deep breath) Trina Solar/GNC Beverages/Motegi Racing/Dempsey Racing.
The obvious draw there is Patrick Dempsey, owner, actor and driver. His team is a full-time sports car auto racing team based near Atlanta. The team races in support of the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing in Dempsey’s hometown of Lewiston, Maine, and the Team Seattle Guild (www.teamseattle.com) to benefit the Seattle Children’s Hospital Heart Center.
During the six hour Monterey Le Mans main event – Dempsey took the wheel of the #27 Trina Solar/GNC Beverages/Motegi Racing/Dempsey Racing Judd-powered Lola B12-80 Coupe second on his team. While he handled most of the race with aplomb, he did spin out on the dreaded Corkscrew – the most famous turn at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and one of the most talked about turns in all of racing. He was also assessed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact in the Andretti Hairpin with another driver.
In Le Mans, if a driver misbehaves in the opinion of the judges, that driver must sit in a holding zone – much like a penalty box in hockey – for a timed penalty.
Dempsey recovered from both the penalty and the spin out before his team finished third in the P2 class.
Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf in the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Le Mans prototype dominated the main P1 class, leading for most of the race en route to the overall win. They beat their next closes competition – the Dyson Racing entry driven by Guy Smith and Chris Dyson – by 20 laps. The Level 5 Motorsports P2 car driven by Luis Diaz, Scott Tucker and Franck Montagny was second overall, three laps behind.
But it was the GT class that produced the hottest racing of the day. In that class, souped-up versions of real consumer cars battle each other. Corvettes take on Porsches, Aston Martins, Ferraris and BMWs lap after lap. As the six hour run came down to the final half hour, several cars took a turn at the top – with plenty of bumping and paint swapping playing a role.
A yellow flag came out with 30 minutes left, and the field tightened up – allowing the GT rivals to go bumper to bumper.
When the green flag flew with 15 minutes left and headlights illuminating the dusky Mazda Raceway, Corvette Racing's Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner edged out their Corvette Racing's sister car driven by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia.
Gavin was able to pull away while second place Magnussen outmatched to BMW Team RLL's Bill Auberlen in the Andretti Hairpin for second place.
While every car in a Le Mans race makes an ear splitting roar, the sound of the Corvettes coming around sends a rumble through your chest cavity that has to be experienced to be believed.
It’s all a part of the unique, visceral experience of American Le Mans.