ALMS 2012. Round 6, Road America. Preview

Already the 2012 American Le Mans Series season has taken its fans and competitors to some of America’s most iconic race circuits, with Laguna Seca, Long Beach and Sebring topping the list. This coming weekend the ALMS adds another name: Road America.

Motorsport luminaries like Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Dario Franchitti have all tasted victory over the years at Elkhart Lake. Steeped in motor racing tradition, it’s a venue at which every driver wants to take the chequered flag. But then, several drivers who will compete this coming weekend know all too well what that’s like.

Runaway LMP1 leaders Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf took their fourth victory of the 2011 season at Road America, a year in which the Muscle Milk teammates came up one place short in the standings. This year they’ll be gunning for victory number five in a season they’ve had the run of thus far. But for a fumble at the season opening Sebring 24hrs, Luhr and Graf have since taken six victories on the bounce, their latest at Mid-Ohio ably demonstrating their dominance of the season when they came home a full lap ahead of title rivals Chris Dyson and Guy Smith.

The defending LMP1 Champions have been brought back to earth with a sizeable whallop in 2012, and their category win at Sebring must feel like an age ago now. A succession of second place finishes shows Dyson and Smith have the consistency to be a threat for outright glory, though so far the Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda has been unable to keep pace with its Muscle Milk HPD-ARX counterpart. Dyson and Smith will be crossing everything in the hope that their 16-point deficit to Luhr and Graf goes no higher, and that their grasp on the crown slips no further.

A similar story is unraveling in LMP2. So far Christophe Bouchut (with the help of teammate Scott Tucker) rules the roost with four victories from six starts, third and second in class at Mazda Raceway and Mosport respectively so far the only ‘off’ weekends for the Level 5 Motorsports pairing. Nearest rivals David Heinemeier Hansson and Martin Plowman will be keen to increase their victory tally at Road America. Bouchut and Tucker – who also took victory at Road America last year – are just 12 points and one solid weekend further up the road.

Porsche and Ferrari have so far taken a backseat in the GT battle, with BMW and Chevrolet wheel arch-to-wheel arch for class supremacy. A duck egg at Mid-Ohio for erstwhile class leaders Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia for Corvette Racing have seen them drop to third overall. Duly the mantel has been lifted by fellow Chevrolet Corvette-runners Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, the taste of victory in Mid-Ohio made all the sweeter following a disastrous event at Mosport.

Indeed, scoring just a solitary point at Mosport meant the Gavin/Milner duo temporarily shared second in the standings with BMW rivals Joey hand and Dirk Muller (much as CORE Autosport’s Alex Popow shared the overall LMPC lead with stablemates Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun, though a second place finish in Mid-Ohio has since seen his championship lead increase by eight points). A 12-point lead for Gavin and Milner, especially considering the Beemer duo’s commanding victory in Sebring, is a slender cushion considering how quickly an advantage can be overturned.

Barring a disastrous weekend, Cooper MacNeil looks set to maintain his standing at the top of the GTC category, with (yet another) 12 point lead to nearest rival – and Alex Job Racing 997 GT3 co-driver – Leh Keen set to remain intact.

Only the best though will shine through at Road America, as it so often has done in the past.

– Shots from Mid-Ohio courtesy of Camden Thrasher

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