Friday, October 16, 2009

ALMS Laguna Seca

The end of the ALMS season is upon us. Last weekend the last race was held at Laguna Seca. It's one of the best tracks in north America.

The ALMS (American Le Mans Series) is one of the best sports car series in the world. It attracts quality drivers and there are several classes of cars on track at once, making for interesting racing. There are endurance events and sprint races.

This was a big year since Chevrolet retired from the GT1 class (there was no one left to race against) and entered the GT2 class with their Corvettes.

The dominant cars in GT2 are Porsche and Ferrari. The field is large, and the Corvette team would surely have some growing pains. However, they field a team of the best sports car drivers anywhere, so they were ahead of the game. They raced aggressively though they did not race the whole season, winning there first victory at Mosport in August.

Their opponents were not backing off though. In the final lap at Laguna those that watched the race saw some of the hardest racing ever between Jan Magnussen driving the Corvette and Joerg Bergmeister, driving the Flying Lizard Porsche. The race ended with Corvette coming in second after a big crash into the wall and the Porsche winning. There was much contact in that last lap, and a really good inside pass by the Corvette through the pit lane (which was disallowed). Thankfully, no one died.

In the next to last lap, the Porsche was using all available tactics to keep the Corvette from passing. Due to the superb driving by Bergmeister, it was working. Then, the Corvette executed a pass to the left of the Porsche, using the pit lane surface. That was ruled out by the stewards, and the Corvette was ordered to give the position back to the Porsche. Corvette did so, and then proceeded to drill the Porsche from behind going through turn 11 onto the final straight. The Porsche responded by squeezing the Corvette into the wall on the left, and subsequent to that, the Corvette spun across the track, impacting head on into the right wall.

There's forum posts galore about this, and the footage is available anywhere, and it's worth looking at. The question is not whether the drivers did the right or wrong thing; both have been penalized for next season. The question is when do you back off?

Most race drivers would never back off, I don't think. What we do is dangerous and everyone knows the risks. That last lap looked a lot like the Porsche putting the Corvette into the wall on purpose. Likewise, the Corvette likely hit the Porsche from behind to try to upset him through the last turn. Is it hard racing? What if the Corvette driver had died?

That's the real question I think. I don't believe I have the right to take a life on a racetrack, and for that reason, I'd like to think that had I been in that Porsche, I'd have backed off and let the faster car go.

I don't know though. What would you do?

It's a good question. John Steakly wrote "We are what we do when it counts." It's very true I think. We certainly know the character of both those drivers now, and how far they are willing to go for the win.

Look at it another way: What if the Porsche had backed off? Corvette wins after muscling their way to the front. Would the Porsche driver keep his ride? Would his career suffer? Overall, in racing, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. Would he have been characterized as too soft? That's also a good question to ponder.


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