There's a bit of folk wisdom that goes, "It 's not who you are, it's who you're with." Once, in Miami visiting my sister, we went to one of those impossibly hip clubs in South Beach, where her friend knew the staff. We were whisked past the plebes in line to a section of the club cordoned off just for us, while champagne, magnums of vodka, mixers and fresh strawberries were set on our table. Without a connection, they'd have tossed my khakis-and-plaid-shirt-wearing ass into Biscayne Bay. In racing, that kind of access is a rare gift. But buy a grandstand ticket to an ALMS race, and — though you may not get the eye from an Italian countess — you'll get close enough to burn your hand on a sun-baked R10. Sports car racing seems to be on an upswing of popularity, good news due in part to ALMS honchos deciding to grant any spectator with a ticket stub in their hand close contact with the teams, cars and drivers. That is, VIP access for regular schlubs. That's how it was this past Saturday for the Northeast Grand Prix.
I've been going to races at Lime Rock Park since around 1990 and I don't think I've ever seen this many people at an event. BMW Formula cars and IMSA Lites were both on the under card before the main event. Fans alternately checked out the races and wandered through the paddock watching the ALMS crews make last minute tweaks after the morning's practice session.
After a break for lunch during which I found out Lime Rock plans to open its own members-only motorsports club, it was show time. The prototypes and GT cars fired up their engines and rolled slowly through the crowds and onto the grid on the front straight. Cars and teams got situated and then the crowd was invited onto the track to meet the cars and drivers with no velvet ropes and no barriers besides a crewmember who might punch you in the mouth if you screw up a wing's angle. Considering the Bahamian heat, and in a truly humanitarian manner, the race officials took pity on the poor flag-bearers who stood by the teams, and allowed them to wear as little clothing as they felt necessary to beat the heat. Evidence of this truly magnanimous gesture can be found in the gallery.
The number seven Penske Porsche leapt across the line at the start of the race and immediately starting prying a sizeable gap between it and the rest of the 25-car field. All four classes dove into the braking zone of turn one at the same time — engines roared, whistled and popped, while clouds of vaporized rubber from locked brakes wafted like it was the Battle of Verdun. The Audis had already gained ground and the Corvettes were running in formation by the end of the first lap. The Porsche and Acura prototypes harried each other at the front of the pack and sliced through the slower GT traffic with the usually dominant R10s and other P1 cars well behind. At Lime Rock, the R10s were mere mortals; their fuel economy advantage all but nullified by the brevity of the race.
The number two car suffered a suspension failure at the worst possible time, sending Marco Werner spinning through the extremely fast downhill turn and into the wall before the front straight. The worst place to have a shunt at Lime Rock is better than the best place at a lot of tracks, however, and the Audi would be reassembled to finish the race. Allan McNish had problems of his own in the number one car. He spun twice, once after locking up the R10's brakes and punting the Intersport Creation Judd into the runoff area outside of Big Bend. The number one car would just barely come back to place fifth overall and first in the P1 class, followed by the two Creations and the other R10.
The unopposed Corvettes had no issues despite some jostling from other cars on the narrow track, and were hardly ever separated by more than 15 feet over the course of the two-hour forty-five minute race. They would finish eighth and ninth overall, ahead of no less than six prototypes. The GT2 class was once again home to some exciting racing as the top three Ferraris wrecked, leaving the door open for the Flying Lizard team to take home Porsche's first win this season and the first ever ALMS win for a Type 997. The RLR Porsche would place second in class ahead of a third place Ferrari. The final top five went as follows: Porsche, Porsche, Acura, Porsche, Audi, with the local Highcroft Racing Acura out placing Andretti Green's car by four positions. This is a great era in which to take in a sports car race. I can only recommend you jump on the opportunity before highlights like public access to the pre-race grid are a thing of the past.
Race Day Preview: The 2007 American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix [internal]