After a rainy, dreary Friday, it was almost a perfect day Saturday for watching racing at Circuit of the Americas. There, the two main attractions were qualifying for Sunday’s World Endurance Championship and the American Le Mans Series race. One American Le Mans class was over not long after the race began, while others weren’t settled until almost dusk.
Teammates Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf spent almost every second of the 2 hour, 45 minute race either building or protecting a lead in their cruise-control win in American Le Mans Series’ top prototype class, P1.
In other classes, however, drivers such as Damien Faulkner and Sean Edwards in the Grand Touring Challenge class and Jonathan Bomarito in the GT class kept things interesting all the way to the finish.
When Faulkner eventually squeezed by Edwards, that allowed Faulkner’s co-driver Ben Keating, a Texan, to pick up his first American Le Mans win.
“To do it in front of the home crowd is just unbelievable,” Keating said.
It was the first start for an American Le Mans race since Baltimore at the end of August. At that street race, there was a massive pileup seconds after the start that knocked half a dozen cars out of the race and shortened the race by more than an hour.
Saturday’s race had no major crashes, though there was some bumping and grinding, and was the first time American Le Mans has raced under a green flag from start to finish since 2009.
Under a blue sky, it didn’t take long for Luhr, in his Muscle Milk car, to start stretching out a lead. Even before they arrived in Austin, Luhr and teammate Klaus Graf had wrapped up the championship in P1 and were shooting for their seventh straight win.
The triumph was bittersweet. When sports car racing changes next year, and the American Le Mans and Grand-Am series merge, the P1 class will be a casualty.
“As the season comes to the end, you fill a little bit more sad every race,” Luhr said.
One of the other cars in the P1 class, the innovative DeltaWing, slipped down the standings from its promising third spot on the starting grid. The car eventually retired.
The P2 class was far more competitive, with two Level 5 Motorsports cars battling before Ryan Briscoe was able to pull away from Marino Franchitti.
In the GT class, the No. 3 car of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia was able to fend off the aggressive chase of Bomarito, who kept charging right to the checkered flag.
In the GTE class, actor Patrick Dempsey’s team finished third, but didn’t mix it up with Faulkner and Edwards in their battle for the lead.
Faulkner was thwarted on one late attempt to pass Edwards at Turn One and said, “He (Edwards) was quite matter-of-fact that he didn’t want me to pass him there.”
He was able to slip by later.
In WEC qualifying, the fastest team in the field was Audi’s Loic Duval and Allan McNish, who averaged 1:48.355 for their laps, nudging out the other Audi team and claiming their fourth straight pole this season.
“It was also pretty windy, which was blowing the car around a little bit, especially through the higher-speed sections like Turn 5 and 6,” McNish said.
In the LMGTE class, former Formula One driver Bruno Senna helped qualify the No. 99 Aston Martin Racing on the pole. He raced here in November with the Williams F1 team.
Of the circuit, Senna said, “It’s one of my favorites, up there with Spa and Silverstone. It’s very challenging.”
Meanwhile, Houston businessman Tracy Krohn and his team struggled.
“It was a pretty atrocious qualifying day,” Krohn said. “We had some rear-end issues. We both went slower in qualifying than we did in practice.”
Krohn said his team that thought they had the problem fixed but,”Lo and behold it got worse.”
He said the team would tear the car down and try again Sunday.
It’s race weekend
World-class sports car racing concludes today at Circuit of the Americas. Here’s a few details about what’s in store if you head out to the track in Southeast Austin on Sunday.
What: World Endurance Championship, simultaneous racing of four classes of sports cars.
When: The six-hour endurance race runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $49. Children 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.