(Click photos to enlarge)

      IndyCar qualifying - Dario Franchitti
IndyCar qualifying:
#10 Dario Franchitti
IndyCar qualifying - Ed Carpenter
IndyCar qualifying:
#67 Ed Carpenter
IndyCar qualifying - E. J. Viso
IndyCar qualifying:
#59 E. J. Viso
IndyCar qualifying - Georgio Pantano
IndyCar qualifying:
#22 Georgio Pantano
IndyCar qualifying - Helio Castroneves
IndyCar qualifying:
#3 Helio Castroneves
IndyCar qualifying - Marco Andretti
IndyCar qualifying:
#26 Marco Andretti

Saturday, September 3 dawned a little dreary, with some scattered showers and thunderstorms moving through Maryland, mostly to the west of Baltimore during the morning, but race officials had made it clear the day before that there were no further expected delays to the schedule of track activities, following Friday's long delay to reconstruct track fencing. I had previously planned to be trackside for the beginning of Indy Lights qualifying which was scheduled to begin at 11:05 a.m., but when I arrived downtown and passed through security, just as I was about to step onto the pedestrian bridge across Pratt Street security personnel closed the bridge. As we were informed, lightning had been reported in the area, and since the temporary pedestrian bridge was entirely constructed of metal, the event safety team decided it would be prudent to shut it down until the threat had passed.

Until that point I hadn't felt even a drop of rain during my mile-long walk downtown from the Mount Vernon neighborhood, but the weather was still unsettled, and race officials even evacuated the many grandstands surrounding the course at the same time, since they were all constructed of metal, too. So race fans arriving then, myself included, had no choice but to patiently wait until the weather passed. Most of us gathered underneath a canopy of large trees located on a raised portion of park land adjacent to Pratt Street near the pedestrian bridge. Seriously, if there had been a serious lightning threat, I wouldn't have parked myself against the trunk of a tall tree, but the security personnel had their orders. Actually it did begin to rain a little while we were all waiting for the bridge to re-open, but we never even heard any thunder – at least until just past 11:00 a.m. when a sudden roar was heard in the distance, quickly growing louder and louder to an ear-splitting pitch, and all of a sudden the Indy Lights cars were roaring past us down Pratt Street beginning their qualification runs.

Everyone seemed a little surprised, but that's why they brought the rain tires along after all. I had just never even contemplated race cars qualifying in the rain, but nevertheless there they were, and they were not going slowly, either. Each car that passed was raising a rooster-tail of spray behind it that went up 20 feet into the air. Qualifications at street courses like Baltimore aren't like those at oval tracks – the cars qualify in groups, so there are numerous cars on the course during the qualification runs, which makes each qualifying session like a race in itself, with cars passing one another and dealing with traffic. All the cameras came out at the first sound of cars on the track, mine included, although I wasn't able to take any images worthy of sharing. I was a little more concerned with trying to get a pair of earplugs inserted, to be honest.

Also, the crowd waiting to get across the pedestrian bridge into the infield portion of the track was getting larger and larger, and we were all keeping our eyes on the security personnel to see when they would open the bridge. Finally just about the time the Indy Lights qualifying session concluded they began letting people cross over again. By that point the rain had stopped – it never got very heavy in the first place – and I joined the crowd making its way slowly across, heading directly over the the Light Street Terrace VIP area since I knew that the IndyCars themselves were next on the schedule for their own qualifying session.

IndyCar made changes to the road and street course qualifying procedures for 2011, and it's a little difficult to explain but I will try. First of all keep in mind that the results of the Friday practice sessions are important not only in terms of allowing the drivers experience negotiating the course, and for the teams to make adjustments to their setups, but their fastest combined speeds during those practice sessions determine their positions in Segment One of qualifying which is split into two groups. The driver with the fastest speed in practice can choose which group to qualify with. Group 1 in Segment One is comprised of the odd-numbered fastest cars in practice – first fastest, third fastest, fifth fastest, and so on. Group 2 is comprised of the even-numbered fastest cars in practice – second fastest, fourth fastest, sixth fastest, and so on. Each group in Segment One of qualifying participate in a 15 minute session on the course, inclusive of any full-course yellow conditions. Segment One determines starting positions 13 through the end of the field, Group 1 determining the odd-numbered positions, and Group 2 determining the even-numbered positions, based on their speeds during the session, from fastest to slowest.

Confused yet? Wait – it gets even better. Next they move to Segment Two of qualifying, beginning five minutes after the conclusion of Segment One,  in which the fastest six cars from each group in Segment One participate in a single 15 minute session, inclusive of any full-course yellow conditions, and their times from Segment One are voided. The results of Segment Two are used to determine positions 7 to 12 in the starting field, from fastest to slowest. Then they move to Segment Three of qualifying, beginning ten minutes after the conclusion of Segment Two, in which the six fastest cars from Segment Two participate in a 10-minute session, 5 minutes of which is guaranteed to be green conditions, and their times from Segment Two are voided. The results of Segment Three are used to determine starting positions 1 to 6 from fastest to slowest, position 1 of course being the pole position. What could be simpler?

So in Baltimore, Will Power was the fastest in the Friday practice, and he chose to participate with Group 2 in Segment One qualifying. Segment One qualifying contained 14 cars each in Group 1 and Group 2. Segment Two of qualifying contained 12 cars, and Segment Three of qualifying contained six cars. And after it was all said and done, Will Power was on the pole, and it was a lot of fun to watch even without any understanding of the procedures involved. And the whole process only took an hour and ten minutes.

Arriving at the Light Street Terrace I went directly back over to the spot I had scoped out on Friday, and there were quite a few more people around than the day before. The race organizers still hadn't quite shut off the flow of general admission ticket holders from infiltrating the Light Street Terrace completely, but at least on Saturday they had recognized the problem. One of the race volunteers responsible for Light Street Terrace security had stationed himself at a table on the narrow sidewalk just underneath the pedestrian bridge, and was preventing those without passes to the VIP area from going any further than that. By Sunday they would have it worked out even better, but for Saturday my chosen photo spot was still rather full of general admission ticket holders, since I was a little beyond the new security checkpoint. Not to be deterred I staked out my position and held onto it through IndyCar qualifying, and managed to improve upon the photographic results I had obtained the previous day.

Every car on the course for qualifying was sporting the trendy-looking red sidewall Firestone Firehawk tires, which are the softer of the two tire compounds that the cars have to use, and provide for better handling and speed. Of course you don't need tire durability for the time-limited runs they were making. At the conclusion of Segment One - Group 1 the fastest qualifier was Scott Dixon in the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine, with a speed of 90.560 MPH. Ed Carpenter, driving the #14 Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Racing, was slowest at 86.874 MPH.

Segment One - Group 2 was next, with Will Power in the #12 Team Penske car turning in the fastest lap at 90.690 MPH, and Takuma Sato driving the #5 KV Racing Technologies entry bringing up the rear at 86.082 MPH. The 12 cars involved in Segment Two of qualifying followed, and again Will Power turned in the fastest lap at 91.746 MPH, improving his previous fastest lap by more than a mile an hour. In fact, four cars exceeded 91 MPH during Segment Two of qualifying, including in order those driven by Graham Rahal – son of Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal – Sebastien Bourdais, and Ryan Briscoe.

Then the all-important Segment Three of qualifying began, to determine the top six qualifiers and the pole position. Again Will Power took the fastest lap and the pole with a speed of 91.520 MPH, slightly slower than his previous speed in Segment Two, but remember, those previous speeds are discarded as the cars move from segment to segment in qualifying. Less than a tenth of a second behind was Graham Rahal again, followed by Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Ryan Hunter-Reay at 90.656 MPH.

        IndyCar qualifying - Ryan Briscoe
IndyCar qualifying:
#6 Ryan Briscoe
IndyCar qualifying - Ryan Hunter-Reay
IndyCar qualifying:
#28 Ryan Hunter-Reay
IndyCar qualifying - Sebastian Saavedra
IndyCar qualifying:
#34 Sebastian Saavedra
        IndyCar qualifying - Simona De Silvestro
IndyCar qualifying:
#78 Simona De Silvestro
IndyCar qualifying - Vitor Meira
IndyCar qualifying:
#14 Vitor Meira
IndyCar qualifying - Will Power
IndyCar qualifying:
#12 Will Power
        IndyCar teams return to paddock after qualifying
IndyCar teams return to paddock after qualifying
Dario Franchitti car being returned to paddock after qualifying
IndyCar teams return to paddock after qualifying:
#10 Dario Franchitti car under tow with front wing raised
Sebastian Saavedra car returns to paddock after qualifying

IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#34 Sebastian Saavedra car under tow while fans look on


Following the conclusion of the IndyCar qualifying sessions, during the time scheduled for the Star Mazda Championship series cars to hold their own qualification session, I decided to try and make my way over to the pit road area adjacent to Oriole's Park at Camden Yards. I never quite made it that far, but it wasn't for trying. After exiting the Light Street Terrace VIP area I walked past the north side of the Hyatt Regency Hotel to Charles Street and tried to get over there by way of Conway Street, but the spectator fence didn't allow foot traffic that way. So I headed back to the north side of the Sheraton Hotel on the west side of Charles Street, where there is a service road between the Sheraton and the Baltimore Convention Center. This turned out to be fortunate timing because at that very moment the IndyCar teams were making their way back from pit road to the paddock in the convention center, in a long and slow moving parade of cars and equipment carriers.

A crew member – not the driver – was in the cockpit of each car, steering it along the path. The cars are towed by an equipment carrier laden with the tires they took with them to the pits by means of a simple webbed nylon belt attached to a connection point on the car at the engine cowling, with the front wing raised to its higher position, which avoids damage to that expensive component while they're moving the cars from place to place over non-racing surfaces. You even see the teams moving the cars around within the smooth floors of the paddock with the front wing in this raised position. There's no sense in damaging this essential component which reportedly costs around $35,000, is constructed of carbon fiber, weighs virtually nothing, is adjustable to fine-tune aerodynamic downforce, and if damaged in an on-track incident can be swapped out by the crew in less than five seconds.

The front wing connects to the car's chassis at four points arranged in a rectangle, which can be engaged or disengaged by inserting a small hand-held tool into a socket at the top front of the chassis and turning it clockwise or counterclockwise. The connectors are identical, so to re-attach the wing in the raised position only requires that it first be disengaged from its normal four-point connection, and then reconnected using the upper two connectors on the chassis and the lower two connectors on the wing. It looks a little odd that way, but you'll see several pictures I took with the front wing in that configuration on various cars in and around the paddock.

The rear wheels of the race car do not touch the pavement during this moving process. One crew member at the rear of the car handles a lightweight two-wheeled jack, little more than a specialized hand truck, which lifts the entire rear suspension of the car off the surface a few inches, again to protect against damage and allow the car to be moved over uneven surfaces easily. After all, the chassis on these cars only clear a racing surface by about two inches, so you can't just roll them around off-track without a little extra care.

Other crew members either catch a ride on the equipment carriers, or on the side pods of the car itself, or are busy wheeling back the spare front and rear wing assemblies that all teams have on flimsy-looking tubular dollies. The drivers themselves tend to ride on one of the team's little scooters which are all custom painted in their team's colors and logos. You can see a smiling Ryan Hunter-Reay following Dario Franchitti's car on one of his team's scooters in one of the photos at the left, having just secured a sixth-place starting position for the next day's main event.

I continued walking towards the west along the access road behind the Baltimore Convention Center after most of the parade of cars had passed, still hoping to somehow get over to pit road so I could at least see it and take some pictures, but the event security staff had other ideas and seemed unprepared for the sheer number of race fans who were headed in the same direction. They waved everyone back in the same direction from which we had come, but before leaving I managed to find a terrific vantage point above the rear of the convention center loading dock area where all the IndyCar teams were taking care of business before taking the cars back inside. I'm honestly not sure what they had to do before returning the cars to their individual paddock areas, but I have a feeling that perhaps draining any remaining fuel in their tanks might have been a part of the process. At any rate it was a good unobstructed view from above for a few good photos.

        IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying - Martin Plowman car and crew
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#17 Martin Plowman car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying - Ryan Hunter-Reay car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#29 Ryan Hunter-Reay car and crew members
        IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying - Dario Franchitti car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#10 Dario Franchitti car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying - Sebastien Bourdais car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#19 Sebastien Bourdais car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying - Scott Dixon car and crew members
IndyCar return to paddock after qualifying:
#9 Scott Dixon car and crew members
        USF2000 race 1 - Luigi Biangardi
USF2000 race 1:
#9 Luigi Biangardi
USF2000 race 1 - Petri Suvanto

USF2000 race 1:
#3 Petri Suvanto
USF2000 race 1 - Rodin Younessi
USF2000 race 1:
#16 Rodin Younessi


The USF2000 series, the full name of which is Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda – which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue elegantly – is the first stage of the Road to Indy racing series for aspiring IndyCar drivers, the next stages being the Star Mazda series followed by the Indy Lights cars. The USF2000 cars are all essentially identical; the chassis is manufactured of tubular steel by Ιlan Motorsport Technologies in Braselton, Georgia, has a 102 inch wheelbase, front and rear wings, and is powered by a four cylinder 2.0 liter engine manufactured by Mazda which delivers 170 HP, with a top speed of about 150 MPH.

The teams participate in a 12 race season which includes two oval tracks, two street circuits, and three permanent road courses; with two races each at the street and road courses – double-headers – and one only on each oval track. The series is open to drivers aged 16 or older, although 15 year old drivers can compete with the approval of IndyCar officials. IndyCar drivers who have developed their open wheel racing skills through their participation in the USF2000 series include the late Dan Wheldon, Buddy Rice, Sam Hornish, Jr., J. R. Hildebrand, and Charlie Kimball.

USF2000 is not a very rich racing series in comparison with its big league brethren, with a total season prize package of less than a half million dollars, and the cars themselves are designed with economy in mind to allow for this entry-level series to be affordable. The USF2000 chassis is the only tubular steel construction in IndyCar – the higher level series all use carbon fiber monocoque construction – and the cars are relatively easy to work on. A total of 11 teams with 20 drivers were registered for competition in 2011, including Andretti Autosport, owned by Michael Andretti, who sponsors two drivers in USF2000.

Andretti Autosport's Zach Veach is a mere wisp of a boy at age 16, standing only 5' 2" and weighing 95 pounds, but in addition to his racing career he has written a book entitled "99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16," and has appeared in numerous interviews on television as an advocate for various causes including teen safe driving and anti-bullying campaigns. I would expect to see his career advance rapidly, especially given the clout of Andretti Autosport behind him. Spencer Pigot, the other Andretti Autosport driver in the USF2000 series, just turned 18, and has a little more heft on him at 5' 9" and 152 pounds, and has been racing since 2002. Both drivers competed in the Baltimore Grand Prix USF2000 series races, with Zach finishing 12th and Spencer finishing in 11th position for Saturday's race.

Shannon McIntosh is another USF2000 race car driver who participated in the Baltimore Grand Prix. She's 21 years old, stands 5' 1" and weighs 112 pounds, and I wouldn't be surprised if she could take Zach Veach in a wrestling match. She's been racing since the age of five years old, and attended a driving school sponsored by former IndyCar driver Lyn St. James, and the Skip Barber Racing School. In addition to her driving skills she has the sort of model good looks that should go a long way towards furthering her career, having advanced to become a finalist in Seventeen Magazine's "Pretty Amazing Real-Girl Cover Contest." The same sort of pretty woman marketing has gone a long way to promote the career of Danica Patrick, after all, despite her relatively less than spectacular record in IndyCar racing. Shannon finished race one in eighth position.

In then end, Wayne Boyd, from Belfast, Ireland, won the first of the two USF2000 races at Baltimore. The next day, race two found Spencer Pigot in the top position. Despite the rather small scale and limited power of these racing machines, and the even more limited budgets the teams have to work with, the USF2000 race was exciting to watch, and these drivers are quite serious about their intentions to advance to the next level in IndyCar racing.

        USF2000 race 1 - Shannon McIntosh
USF2000 race 1:
#2 Shannon McIntosh
USF2000 race 1 - Wayne Boyd
USF2000 race 1 Winner:
#4 Wayne Boyd
USF2000 race 1 - Zach Veach
USF2000 race 1:
#7 Zach Veach
        ALMS race - Chapman and David Ducote
ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#89 Chapman & David Ducote
ALMS race - Humaid Al Masaood and Steven Kane
ALMS race: LMP1 Lola B09/86 Mazda
#20 Humaid Al Masaood & Steven Kane
ALMS race - Anthony Nicolosi and Jarrett Boon
ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#18 Anthony Nicolosi & Jarrett Boon
ALMS race - Gunnar Jeanette and Ricardo Gonzalez
ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#06 Gunnar Jeanette & Ricardo Gonzalez
ALMS race - Kyle Marcelli and Tomi Drissi

ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#37 Kyle Marcelli & Tomi Drissi
ALMS race - Ken Dobson and Ryan Lewis

ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#52 Ken Dobson & Ryan Lewis
ALMS race - Chris Dyson and Guy Smith
ALMS race: LMP1 Lola B09/86 Mazda
#16 Chris Dyson & Guy Smith
ALMS race - Gunnar Jeanette and Ricardo Gonzalez
ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09 in trouble against the wall
#06 Gunnar Jeanette & Ricardo Gonzalez
ALMS race - Eric Lux and Elton Julian
ALMS race: LMPC Oreca FLM09
#63 Eric Lux & Elton Julian


Next up on Saturday's schedule was the American Le Mans Series Presented by Tequila Patrσn (ALMS) race, featuring the exotic prototypes and sports cars of Le Mans style racing, all competing together on the Streets of Baltimore course for the very first time. This event was probably second only to the IndyCar race itself on the following day in terms of the stature of the series and the anticipation of race fans. The ALMS series was a major addition to the Baltimore Grand Prix weekend schedule which no doubt contributed significantly to the overall success of the event. Open wheel racing fans were pretty much guaranteed to be in Baltimore for the IndyCar Series main event and the Road to Indy supporting series races, but the addition of the ALMS to the mix certainly expanded the attending fan base.

You might notice the different background on the far side of the track in the photos here from both the USF2000 and the ALMS races, and the greater visibility of the chain-link spectator fence. To be honest I should have stayed where I was across from the Tequila Patrσn banners, and in the shade. Instead I decided to relocate and try to get a little different perspective. I was standing now in the main portion of the Light Street Terrace, more towards the apex of Turn 2, and directly behind some other spectators who were seated between me and the spectator fence. Unfortunately this put me about four feet from the spectator fence, and by this point in the day it was late afternoon so the sun was behind me and glinting off the fence. The combination of the sun on the fence, and the fact that I was no longer directly next to it made it brighter and more in-focus in my photos.

The people whose heads I was shooting directly over were some very nice folks who had come down to Baltimore from New York for the weekend, and we spent some time chatting while watching the USF2000 and ALMS races. They had already staked out their spot, so I certainly wasn't going to try and get them to move, but they were sitting at one of those prime points between the two sets of fence uprights, the locations of which made shooting the on-track activities so difficult. After reviewing my photos later in the evening at home, I decided to go back to my original spot the next day for the Indy Lights and IndyCar races.

As in the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race from which this series is derived, the American Le Mans Series brings together multiple classes of cars racing together on the track, although for the Baltimore event there were only four classes competing. The Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) and Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC) were represented, but not the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) cars. Both of the Grand Touring classes, including the GT and GT Challenge (GTC) cars were presented for competition. Note that there are two driver's names listed for each of the cars, which is another important aspect of Le Mans style racing.

Originally there were no rules on how many drivers were required in order to complete the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but historically most teams used two drivers, it being a little too much to ask for one driver alone to try and safely complete the task, although more than one tried in an attempt to save time by not having to change drivers. Two driver teams were essentially the norm until the 1980s, but by the 1990s the speeds of the cars and the strains put on drivers had increased to the point where rule changes were imposed by the sanctioning body requiring at least three drivers for the 24-hour races, normally two professional race drivers and one amateur. Each can drive for no more than four hours at a stretch, and none more than 14 hours total. For shorter, timed races like the Baltimore Grand Prix, only two drivers are required, the driver change itself adding another exciting aspect to the competition.

Like many other auto racing series, Le Mans racing began as a test bed for technology. The 24 Hours of Le Mans began in 1923 near the little town of Le Mans, France, as the "Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency," and is run on a course that currently measures about 8.5 miles in length on a combination of public roadways which are closed for the annual event, and some segments which are purpose-built for racing. The "endurance" portion has to do with fielding an automobile capable of being driven to its limits continuously for a 24 hour period without suffering mechanical damage that would prevent it from completing the race. The "efficiency" portion has to do with, well – speed. The race was created as an adjunct to various other racing series which focused more on a car's ability to drive as fast as possible within a short period of time. At Le Mans not only would cars have to have the ability to be fast, but they would have to be able to endure the mechanical stresses involved over a much longer period of time.

The deadliest auto racing accident of all time occurred during the 1955 Le Mans race, killing 83 spectators and injuring 120 more when driver Pierre Levegh couldn't react in time to cars slowing in front of him as a result of one car's late attempt to enter pit road. His car sailed over the one directly in front of him and into an embankment where it disintegrated and spewed its parts – chassis, axles, wheels, and engine – at high speed through a crowd of spectators, decapitating many of them as a result. The car's fuel tank ruptured igniting not only the fuel, but the magnesium alloy body parts of the car, too, which safety workers had no idea how to put out, pouring water on the burning metal which only aggravated the fire's intensity. By 1955, top speeds of the Le Mans cars had increased to 185 MPH – a speed which would not be matched by IndyCars until some 20 years later – but incredibly many of the drivers were not even wearing seat belts, feeling that it was better to be thrown from the car in a crash and take their chances that way, rather than remain with it and risk being trapped in mangled wreckage or burned in a subsequent fire. Pierre Levegh died when he was thrown from his car and his skull was crushed upon landing.

All cars in Le Mans racing are of closed-wheel design, which means they have fenders, and originally were required to have two seats, although now are only required to have space for two seats. They may be either open-cockpit or closed-cockpit design, with closed cockpit cars required to have a roof, windscreen, and a door on each side. The Le Mans Prototype LMP1 cars compare cost-wise and in their underlying technologies to Formula One cars, and are capable of higher speeds than either F1 or IndyCars, nearly 250 MPH – but only where they have a long enough straightaway to do so. Clearly in Baltimore they did not reach anywhere near that speed.

The American Le Mans Series is the brainchild of Don Panoz, son of an Italian immigrant, who made his fortune in the pharmaceutical industry and is a co-inventor of the transdermal patch used to deliver time-released medication through the skin, such as nicotine patches for smokers trying to quit the habit. Unfortunately the company he was working for at the time, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, refused to develop the transdermal patch, so Don Panoz moved to Ireland where he founded a drug company called Ιlan Corporation, which became a major success. Following that he moved back to the United States, settling in Braselton, Georgia, and got involved in wineries and the resort business.

His son, Dan Panoz, got him reluctantly involved in financing a motorsports company in 1989 called Panoz Auto Development, who have developed various limited-run sports cars in addition to race cars involved not only in Le Mans racing, but also Indy Racing League chassis such as the G-Force IR3 and IR5, and the final chassis used in the Champ Car World Series, the Panoz DP01, just before the reunification between IRL and Champ Car that formed the present day IndyCar Series. If the name Ιlan sounds familiar, I mentioned earlier that the USF2000 chassis is manufactured in Braselton, Georgia by Ιlan Motorsport Technologies, as is the Star Mazda Championship car chassis.

The story of Don Panoz and motorsports is an amazing, convoluted, and fascinating adventure in success, considering that back in the 1950s he was running a couple of drug stores in Pittsburgh. He founded the American Le Mans Series in 1999 in partnership with the organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the new ALMS ran an eight race season in its inaugural year, expanding to 12 races in 2000 in an attempt to go international with races in Europe and Australia. Points champions and runners-up in each class are automatically eligible to compete in the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France.

The 2011 ALMS race at the Baltimore Grand Prix ran for 71 laps – just shy of 145 miles – and took just over two hours to complete at an average race speed of 71.790 MPH for the winning #20 LMP1 Lola B09/86 Mazda driven by Humaid Al Masaood of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Steven Kane of Newtownards, Ireland. Not surprisingly the second place car was also an LMP1 Lola B09/86 Mazda driven by Chris Dyson of Pleasant Valley, New York, and Guy Smith of Beverly, United Kingdom. Both cars are part of the Dyson Racing team, the top sports car racing team in North America.

With regard to their cars, Dyson Racing says:

The current B09/86 LMP Coupe is a one-piece carbon composite monocoque and is certified to ACO and FIA structural standards through 2012. The body panels are lightweight pre-preg carbon composite construction. The suspension is double wishbone with pushrod/rocker-activated coil spring/adjustable damper units all around. The six-speed sequential gearbox is lightweight cast magnesium and is designed to allow complete changes of gear ratios in ten minutes without losing any oil.

The 2.0 liter, four-cylinder in-line turbocharged engine was designed from a clean sheet of paper, and is designed to make in excess of 500 HP - on a per cylinder basis, more than an F1 engine. It is all aluminum construction and is mounted as a semi-stressed member of the chassis with A-frames. Combining very low mass with a small physical footprint, the engine is the smallest, lightest and most compact in LMP racing today and there are no external belt drives or ancillaries. The camshafts, water pump and oil pump are internally driven by gears. The engine has barrel throttles for optimum engine response with the latest Life Racing electronics for optimum engine control and high efficiency.       

Towards the end of the ALMS race I decided to leave the Light Street Terrace area and try to get some pictures from a different vantage point, so I walked over to the end of the return stretch of the hairpin Turn 3 where the cars negotiate their left-hand Turn 4 onto Conway Street, and rubbed elbows with some of the fans there. There is a run-off area at the entrance to Turn 4 stacked with tire barriers in case a car fails to negotiate it, so the spectator fence was actually quite some distance from the actual racing line. Maneuvering directly next to to the fence and shooting through one of its openings I was able to obtain some rather interesting shots with my lens at or near its maximum zoom setting of 250mm.

        ALMS race - corner worker warns of trouble ahead
ALMS race:
Corner worker warning cars of trouble ahead
ALMS race - cars approaching turn 4
ALMS race:
Cars approaching Turn 4
ALMS race - Romain Dumas and Klaus Graf
ALMS race: LMP1 Lola Coupe B08/62
#6 Romain Dumas & Klaus Graf


Copyright © 2017 by Rich Lauver - Baltimore - Maryland - USA