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American Le Mans 2009 – Lime Rock GP



Lime Rock Post-Race Notebook

Dyson, Mazda Back In Victory Lane

It’s been a while since a Mazda-powered prototype has been in victory lane at an American Le Mans Series event, and the same could be said for Dyson Racing. In fact, both outfits last tasted the champagne in 2005, and now, some four years later, Dyson and Mazda are back to their winning ways.

One could say it’s been a long road for for both organizations. For the Japanese automaker, success came early in its ALMS tenure when Jamie Bach and Guy Cosmo drove a Mazda rotary-powered B-K Motorsports Courage C65 to a fluke victory in only its second-ever race. But since that day at Mid-Ohio, Mazda had been winless in Series competition.

It sure wasn’t for lack of effort. After two seasons with the reliable, yet overweight Courage chassis and the underachieving 3-rotor engine, B-K and Mazda went in a new direction in 2007 with a proven Lola chassis fitted with a four-liter AER-derived turbocharged powerplant. After numerous driver lineup shuffles and a short-lived debut of Lola’s B08/86 coupe last year, B-K closed its doors at the end of the 2008 season, shuttering Mazda’s factory-supported team.

But it didn’t take long for another squad to step up to the plate. Enter Dyson Racing. After three winless seasons, two with the technically complex Porsche RS Spyders, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based team joined forces with Mazda with its sights set on the LMP2 championship.

Five races into the new partnership, and both Dyson and Mazda have achieved the first target.

“Especially in this economic climate, a win like this is everything,” said John Doonan, Motorsports Team Manager for Mazda North America. “I can’t explain it. Our dealers are out there scrambling for every car sale right now, and I think today is an example of the team that had to scrap for a victory. No clutch uphill; car spins. My heart almost jumped out of my chest!”

The race certainly didn’t go to plan for either of the BP-sponsored Lola-Mazdas. Marino Franchitti made an early pass on P2 pole sitter Luis Diaz to put his white and green No. 20 out in front. Chris Dyson in the sister machine had also gotten by the Lowe’s Fernandez Acura, which had been undefeated this season heading into Saturday’s two-hour and 45-minute race.

Soon, Diaz hit trouble, first handling and gearbox issues, which cost the team over 10 laps. Then, the Acura suffered a tire puncture and front-end damage with Adrian Fernandez at the wheel.

By that time, the Chris Dyson-driven No. 16 machine was already out of the race with electrical problems, and Butch Leitzinger, who had taken over the No. 20, battled clutch issues while still maintaining the lead.

In fact, Leitzinger had a few hairy moments, including stalling on track after avoiding a spinning car with only four minutes remaining. But to the delight of his crew, the veteran driver jump-started the car on its starter motor and took the checkered flag – six laps ahead of the wounded Fernandez Acura in second.

Saturday’s win marked a number of firsts, including Franchitti’s long awaited first series win and Mazda’s first triumph with its four-cylinder MZR-R turbo, after seeing over two years of competition in both the U.S. and Europe.

“That means a great deal,” Doonan said of the MZR-R’s first win. “Mike Lancaster and all the guys at AER have worked awfully hard. We’re doing this [program] with a bunch of small companies, and just a little bit of budget, so this thing puts a big feather on our pad going forward.”
Saturday’s win could very well be the first of many for the Dyson/Mazda combination.

Home Team Heroes

In addition to Poughkeepsie, N.Y.’s Dyson Racing, which took top honors in LMP2, three other ‘home teams’ also provided strong showings Saturday at Lime Rock. Patron Highcroft Racing gambled on a two-tire pit stop to put David Brabham in the overall lead, but a late-race puncture relegated the Danbury, Conn.-based squad to a second place finish. Brabham and co-driver Scott Sharp are still in command of the LMP1 championship, with a 13-point lead over Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud.

While Hilliard, Ohio-based Rahal Letterman Racing will head to their home track at Mid-Ohio in three weeks’ time, Lime Rock Park has always been home to BMW of North America. After strong early runs by both BMW M3s, the No. 90 machine of Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand scored their first podium finish of the year, recovering nicely from Hand’s early spin to finish third in GT2.

 Honorable mention goes to Farnbacher Loles, which has its home offices in Highcroft’s Danbury, Conn. facility. Bryce Miller suffered an early spin after his seat in the No. 87 Porsche slid backwards while driving. After a quick pit stop to put Wolf Henzler aboard, the Porsche factory driver recovered nicely to finish fourth in class, just shy of the podium.

“I don’t think I locked down my seat properly on the pre-grid and it moved back on its track enough to make things challenging,” Miller said. “It is hard to be pleased with my race performance because I was struggling to reach the steering wheel. Wolf is a champion and [he] did a superb job restoring our car to a respectable position after my seating dilemma. I just can’t help to wonder what the result would otherwise have been.”

Tough Day For Intersport

Judging by Jon Field’s first stint in the Intersport Racing Lola, it appeared everything was going to plan. But in fact, Field had a handful of a car all race.

A coil in the header broke on the very first lap, giving the AER-powered prototype 25 percent less power from the get-go. Then, Jon lost the power steering shortly into his stint. In fact, Jon had a spirited battle with the Corsa Motorsports Ginetta-Zytek Hybrid for third, and held the podium spot until handing over to son, Clint, late in the second hour.

But just 30 minutes later, Clint rolled into the pits with no drive, ending the day for the small Dublin, Ohio-based squad.

“For having no power, we were pretty good,” Jon Field said. “If we didn’t have that problem at the start, we could have been very competitive against the Acuras. We also had no power steering the whole race. I’ve got blisters all over my hands to prove it. So really, were up against the wall all day.”

A broken output flange on the axle put the father-and-son duo out of the race, but it was nonetheless a mighty drive for one of the Series’ most successful independent teams.