The ALMS weekend has started and it must be said that the Road Atlanta circuit is buzzing with Audi versus Peugeot excitement. The R15â€™s have returned to America to take on the 908 HDiâ€™s. Diesel versus diesel.
I came to Road Atlanta for several reasons actually. Three of those reasons are Jim Russell Racing School, Allan McNish and Audi. There is no question that I am an Audi fan. Having owned several Audiâ€™s over the years, a person could argue that there may be a bias in this weekends race review and feature stories. I am guilty as charged. Guilty in a â€œI love Audiâ€ way but not in the â€œI told the driver to purposely crash the car at Singaporeâ€ way.
Sadly I can report that Flavio Briatore is not here this weekend as this is an officially FIA sanctioned event and since he is not allowed within the same postal code as an FIA event; he is nowhere to be seen. Nor is Pat Symonds. But Audi, Peugeot, BMW, Dyson, Acura and a host of others are here to battle Petit Le Mans.
My first day at the track has gone very well. The friendly staff at Road Atlanta have made me very welcome and although I am that â€œbastardâ€ of the media center known as â€œnew mediaâ€, the officials, event staff and course workers have been terrific. The â€œold mediaâ€, replete with reporters from some of the most prestigious news agencies in the world, have been kind as well. They know I am a pretender to the thrown and yet humor me as I mumble and stumble around the press center. Leave it to an ALMS race to find old and new media speaking together and sharing information.
Road Atlanta is certainly a place to attend a race at. The oddity of elevation change is something that is refreshing to this F1 sycophant and suggests that Herman Tilke did not design this course.
I would be remiss in not mentioning how pleasant, professional and gregarious Audiâ€™s PR Manager Martyn Pass is. He was very accommodating, even for the â€œnew mediaâ€ that I painfully represented, and ensured that I got time with Allan McNish as well as Ralf Juttner, the technical director for Audi Team Joest. Mr. Pass is a model of integrity and a real gentleman in every sense of the word.
I also am indebted to the PR manager for Jim Russell Racing School, Phil Lane for his efforts on my behalf and trust that some inebriated F1B antagonist wouldnâ€™t run around like a wild man defaming anything with a fender or doors. Phil is a terrific guy and wonderful representative of Jim Russell Racing School.
As you know, F1B staff have been big fans of Midweek Motorsport / Radio Le Mans for a long time. Bumping in to Nick Daman reminded me why. A brilliantly animated British character who is even better in person than on podcast. Declan Brennan and John Hindhaugh were here as well and in good form. It is no wonder that any Le Mans Race or ALMS race is not the same with the soothing tones of Radio Le Mans piped over the loud speakers or on handhelds throughout the weekend. A fabulous crew and product.
I know, â€œhell with the ambiance Todd, what about the racing?â€. Well, it has been interesting so far. Peugeot set the fastest lap in practice one today and as I sit here, practice two is just starting. I know this because John Hindhaugh has just started speaking over the track and press center speaker system
The Peugeotâ€™s lead the way this morning and so far they are leading practice 2 this afternoon. The sound, or lack, of both the Audiâ€™s and Peugeotâ€™s is such a unique hallmark of their design. It is a graphic and tangible difference from the Panoz and Corvetteâ€™s. The big news, unfortunately, is the massive crash that Scott Sharp had in the Patron Acura ARX-02a at pit exit.
Sharp clipped the 87 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Dirk Werner. Thankfully both drivers walked away from the accident but it was the most violent crash in recent memory that I have seen at the Petit Le Mans. The crash ended the session as the debris was strewn all over the track and as the sun threatened to set, it was deemed too late to effectively clean the track. It was a huge blow to the team and Sharp said he never saw the Porsche exiting the pits. It is hard to know what the team will do now but as the car looked completely destroyed, I am not sure how they can field it for qualifying tomorrow.
I interviewed Audi driver Allan McNish, which will be featured in a special podcast at www.formula1blog.com, this afternoon and he told me that the track is very green; very slippery with the torrential rains Atlanta has experienced over that last week. I also spoke with Audi Technical Director Ralf Juttner about the R15 development, outlook for the weekend and which Audi he personally drives. Keep checking www.formula1blog.com for the interviews.
The largest impression I have from day one is really with Audi. You would expect that from me but the reality is; they are a class operation. Allan McNish may be the most genuine, personable and professional driver I have ever had the privilege to speak with to date. He took all the time I needed and was so conversational and personal it was quite astonishing. There were a throng of reporters waiting to speak to him and Alan gave me the impression that we were the only two people in the entire state of Georgia. Something I have never experienced in any professional capacity. In my former career I have been in the presence of the biggest rock bands in the world. Bands such as the Who, Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce and Ringo Starr. Allan McNish beats them all.
Audiâ€™s Dr. Ulrich was very genuine and open regarding Audiâ€™s challenges and opportunities. For a team director, he couldnâ€™t have been more approachable and truthful. The Technical director Ralf Juttner was very affable and willing to discuss Audi as long as you would like to talk about it. The team really does get the plot. They have no reason to be speaking with a â€œnew mediaâ€ Formula 1 snob but they took as much time as I needed. A hallmark of the marque and reason why Audi is still the the heart of my love of ALMS/Le Mans. Just donâ€™t tell them that I drove here in my Mazda 6. Well, it is the Petit Le Mans powered my Mazda 6 isnâ€™t it? I had to do as the Romans do…thatâ€™s conventional wisdom right? Iâ€™d rather have driven here in Ralf Juttnerâ€™s Audi to be honest.
Alright, off to find food as I have not eaten all day and then back to the night practice. More later…