Saturday, April 17th, 2010. On this day the American Le Mans Series enacted the second part of their bold plan to address their problems with small LMP fields.
By reducing the air restrictor size of the LMP1s, and enlarging the fuel cell on the LMP2s, the plan was to enable both classes of car to compete in a single, combined LMP class.
The plan drew both praise and criticism from fans, but IMSA management knew something had to be done and with the caveat that the classes continue to be run separate at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, the ACO's blessing was given to move forward.
The first combined race has been run. And we must now look back and ask ourselves: Did it work?
The answer is, thankfully, a very simple, and very clear YES.
Perhaps the LMP1s should have a slightly smaller restrictor or the LMP2s a slightly larger to bring the straight-line speed difference closer together, but given the disadvantage LMP1s have in cornering—unless you're using an Acura ARX-02a—that difference does not need to be removed completely.
The important thing is the LMP1s and LMP2s mixed it up and battled for position all race long, with the final victory going to an LMP2 chassis.
Given the lackluster 2009 season, the entire ALMS paddock and management can breathe a huge sigh of relief over what we saw.
Although the ALMS will be losing the Aston Martin entry beginning at the next round, the Intersport car under the control of Jon Field proved that they have the capability to keep Highcroft from running away with the season.
When Field began pulling away from the Aston Martin, I cheered at my TV louder than I did when Graham Rahal won on his IndyCar debut.
Sadly, a disastrous pitstop and a split fuel cell ended Intersport's challenge. But the ultimate results of the race is not important.
We knew from the 2007 and 2008 seasons that LMP2s could challenge and beat LMP1s given the right circumstances, but balancing the two effectively enough to battle within the same class was not an easy task—a fact made more evident by the length of time it took IMSA to publish the (thankfully small) changes that would be required to make it possible.
And it looks like, at long last, the ALMS may have gotten something very, VERY right. With it looking increasingly likely the the ACO will mandate LMP2 engine regulations for the LMP1 class in 2011 or 2012, what IMSA is doing gives the ACO a viable option for helping to ease in such a transition.
Whatever the future of sportscar racing holds, I think we can expect a very good ALMS season this year.
And as an Ohioan, I must leave you with this nugget of thought: If Intersport could do that well at Long Beach, how do you think they'll manage at the three tracks (Utah, Mosport and Road America) that their car has always been very well-suited to?
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