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Winners and losers after COTA sports car weekend

September 25, 2013

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The No. 2 Audi leads the No. 8 Toyota in an on-going battle of the hybrid titans at COTA – Anne Proffit photo

The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) held its third-from-last race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on Saturday as part of the International Sports Car Weekend that included the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). While the ALMS contest was a short one at 2:45, the WEC took to the COTA track – nearly 3.5 miles and 20 corners in length – for a full six hours.

I had to wonder whether the international stars can put on as tidy a show as the ALMS did, racing for the entire contest without caution flags. Yes, without a single caution! This was the first time since May 2009 (at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah) that the series had green flags from start to finish, but the results were mostly traditional for the season: Muscle Milk Racing’s Honda LM P1 race car was first, the Honda of Level 5 took honors in P2, Corvette Racing conquered GT, BAR1 Motorsports ran up the flag in LM PC while the GTC victory went to polesitter TRG.

While there were no yellow flags during the race there was plenty of action, leads going back and forth (even in P1). In fact, watching the splitter to wing battle between the two Level 5 cars was worth the price of admission as they appeared to be a single entity chasing one another around the track. Ryan Briscoe would win that battle over Marino Franchitti.

The GT challenge came where Corvette Racing didn’t expect it, particularly after qualifying was complete. Jonathan Bomarito took his SRT Viper from nowhere to battle Antonio Garcia for the victory, making up seconds each lap from a large, 20-second deficit. As one Corvette team member asked me, “Where did he come from?” The answer was simple, as “The Bom” was told to put the hammer down and he obliged. Just what you want in racing, right?

It was such a change from the crashfest that was Baltimore, but then, we’re talking about a real road course as opposed to the very convoluted street circuit that is Baltimore. COTA seems to impress everyone that’s driven or been around it. I had the opportunity to ride in the Audi R8 Vitesse road car on Friday morning and got to see, first-hand, just how difficult and technical the race course is.

Anthony Davidson, who’s driving the Toyota LM P1 hybrid car here in Sunday’s WEC contest considers the track a truly technical piece of tarmac and calls it “old school” in that it resembles, to him, the flow of such classic courses as Road America and Road Atlanta.

Davidson and his teammates on the Toyota team gave a good fight in the Sunday race but couldn’t stop this year’s Le Mans winners, the Audi trio of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval from taking home the big trophies and Tudor watches given to the winning drivers.

That race began with a caution on the very first lap when the No. 31 LM P2 Lotus coupe began trying to win from the grid and didn’t make it past the first turn. No one ever said what the problem was but the car looked out of its league through most of the weekend, never appearing as tidy as the others in its class.

In mid-race there was a spirited battle between the top Audi and the sole Toyota, as the No. 1 Audi had a calamitous day due to contact that impacted its diffuser and later caused an electrical fuse to come loose. Still it battled back – after tussles with the top privateer team of Rebellion Racing to finish third overall.

This race marked the 100th prototype victory for Audi, which had its first category win at Sebring in 2000, marking a bookend, if you will. After appearing at Sebring this year and making an emotional “farewell” to the circuit that will host the Tudor United SportsCar Championship from here on that excludes the LM P1 class, Audi’s second US appearance marked its third victory of the WEC season.

The two primary races were held under sunny and warm skies, after having a wash-out on Friday. Unfortunately, less than 35,000 fans showed up to witness some fabulous racing, making the huge COTA circuit look virtually deserted. Hopefully the superlative action on the track will bring people to this race weekend next year, which will also mark the end of summer and start of fall.

As an aside, while waiting for my flight out of Austin on Monday I saw someone wearing an international race shirt so I asked him how he liked the WEC race. He responded that he just bought the WEC shirt but only came to watch ALMS on Saturday and didn’t care about the WEC. I hope that’s not why the stands were so bare on Sunday because the racing was good, even if the field was a bit more sparse than the ALMS four-class entries.

Both races were wonderful to watch and the venue is so outstanding for this – or any – type of racing. Prototypes and GT cars work extremely well on the 3.427-mile, 20-turn road course and there were very few incidents during the race weekend. For a first-time event, it ran smoothly. Quite frankly, I can’t wait to go back.

By Anne Proffit

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