on the Streets of Detroit's Belle Isle
The first eight races of the 11-event American Le Mans Series season have been battles for supremacy of the GT2 class. Saturday's Detroit Sports Car Challenge at Belle Isle is expected to be one of the most heated yet as the teams bring their intensity to the tight confines of the last street race of the season. For 2008, the American Le Mans Series included three temporary street courses on its schedule; St. Petersburg, Fla., Long Beach, Calif. and Saturday's two hour and 45- minute event on Belle Isle.
Tafel Racing's No. 71 Tafel/Bell Micro Racing Ferrari F430 GTC driven by Dominik Farnbacher (Ansbach, Germany) and Dirk Müller (a native of Germany now living in Monaco) claimed victories at both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. The three-time winning Bell Micro Ferrari (it added a class victory at Mid-Ohio in July) will again be joined in the Tafel Racing stable by the No. 73 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GTC of Alex Figge (Denver) and Jim Tafel (Alpharetta, Ga.). With the August 30 race in Detroit, the Cumming, Ga.-based operations hopes to make it a sweep of the temporary race tracks and secure their place in the trenches that will determine the ultimate victor in the season-deciding events at the Petit Le Mans (October 4) and Raceway Laguna Seca (October 18).
Like all temporary street courses, Belle Isle is narrow and lined with concrete retaining walls. Each of the 14 turns on the 2.096-mile lap is unique and none of the "straightaways" on the course are truly straight. The track's tight confines demand a compromise of the drivers and engineers to squeeze out quick lap times in a car that can still race on the safe-side of the edge for the full duration of the event. The challenge, which is present at every track, is made more-so on street courses because the surface is slick from visitors to Belle Isle. The oil, grease and dirt that has been baked into the asphalt by daily drivers comes back to haunt the racers as the sun brings them back to the surface creating slippery conditions at speed. In 2007, the first time the American Le Mans Series sports cars came to Detroit, the drivers of the Bell Micro Ferrari enjoyed some of their best results of the season. Müller, who was driving a Ferrari for another team at the time, earned his only podium finish in an abbreviated return to the American Le Mans Series by taking third. Farnbacher, who was co-driving in the No. 73 with Jim Tafel, matched that car's best performance of the season with a fifth in GT2 class in the Motor City.
Detroit will be Tafel's second Belle Isle event but his first street course of 2008 having sat out of the No. 73 at both St. Pete and Long Beach. Figge has never made a start on a street course in a sports car but has multiple street races under his open wheel racing belt. He has never started an event at Detroit however. Figge and Tafel are coming off their best effort together in the No. 73 after finishing sixth in GT2 class at Mosport International Raceway last Sunday. The No. 71 finished fourth in class.
The Detroit Sports Car Challenge can be seen live on SPEED starting at 2:30 PM (ET), August 30. XM Satellite Radio Channel 144 will broadcast the full American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast beginning at 5 PM (ET). Live timing and scoring of each on-track session and the live American Le Mans Series Radio Web broadcast can be found at AmericanLeMans.com.
QuotesTony Dowe, Technical Director: "After the disappointment of last weekend at Mosport it's back to work and trying to overcome a 10 point disadvantage before we get to the petit race. The guys, including our drivers, are even more motivated to restore the # 71 car to the front and this will be a good place to achieve such a result. I think our fans know that we were unfairly penalized last week. The calls and emails I've gotten have been very supportive. So, we will try very hard to give them something to cheer about this Saturday."
Dominik Farnbacher, Driver, No. 71: "Last year Detroit was one of the best races I had. The corners are very slippery and it is a very low grip track. I really like the track. With our good Ferrari it will be good for us. Last year the Ferraris were pretty quick there. Dirk was very fast there so I think we are a good team and we will have a good result there."
Dirk Müller, Driver, No. 71: "I am really looking forward to Detroit. We have won two street courses so far this year so it is quite obvious that Dominik and myself are feeling at home in those conditions. Like Dom I have been to Detroit last year. I was on the podium there with the Ferrari and I know we can be really quick over there. With all the improvements Porsche made over the winter the competition is quite tight. There is no longer a track that is good for the Ferrari and one that is good for the others. That means it will be a tight battle again. The track is quite demanding with the slow and slippery corners. But, the name there is Belle Isle and I found it quite beautiful, quite nice, there last year. We had good crowds and I am looking forward to having a fantastic race in Detroit."
Alex Figge, Driver, No. 73: "Detroit will be my first street course in the sports cars. I have done a lot of them in open wheel so hopefully I can get up to speed pretty quickly. Also, it is a short weekend so hopefully by qualifying and the race I am comfortable. I think Jim has made some huge gains this weekend that I think will transfer into next weekend. I am looking forward to it. I still have a lot of friends over in the Indy cars so I am looking forward to the atmosphere of the street courses."
Jim Tafel, Driver, No. 73: "The level of focus on the street courses has to be so high. Dealing with narrow lines and blind corners makes it very difficult to overtake as well to be overtaken by faster classes. The consequences if you lose focus at Belle Isle are unforgivable. Mistakes are very costly in terms of time and dollars. My level of focus and the street course experience that Alex Figge brings to the table should give us a good direction for a top-five finish."