Thirty-four of the world's top sports cars take on the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit next week in the American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patrón. This six-hour enduro in Monterey, Calif., offers a heartier points payout and, with the Le Mans break on the horizon, represents a pivotal moment in the 2012 season.
An eclectic mix of prototype and GT cars dot the entry for the third round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón championship. Twenty-five teams representing an astounding 13 automobile, chassis and engine manufacturers - along with four tire manufactures - make up the roster. This year's race marks the 14th consecutive year Mazda Raceway plays host to an ALMS round - including the third straight six-hour enduro.
Just two races into the season, championship battles are in full swing. The ALMS' two premier championships - P1 and GT - boast razor-thin margins. In the case of P1, no margin exists, with four drivers tied for the championship lead. Dyson Racing's Chris Dyson and Guy Smith clinched last year's class championship at Mazda Raceway (race was held in September). The duo won in its Lola-Mazda coupe at Sebring to open the season, but is neck-and-neck with Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing - winners in the most recent round at Long Beach while driving a Honda Performance Development ARX-03a.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, however, has the upper hand in the prototype Michelin Green X Challenge team championship, which it leads by seven points over Dyson Racing.
The drivers championship in GT is close as well. BMW Team RLL's Joey Hand and Dirk Müller lead again, after winning the 2011 GT title. The Sebring winners are just three points up on Corvette Racing's duo of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, who celebrated victory at Long Beach. Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, also from the Corvette stable, are another seven points back.
BMW and Chevrolet are also tied in the GT manufacturer chase. Plenty of competition comes from Porsche, however, which has four teams on the entry - two 911 GT3 RSRs from Flying Lizard Motorsports and one each from Paul Miller Racing and Team Falken Tire. The competition is just as close in the GT Michelin Green X Challenge team championship as the No. 56 BMW of Hand and Müller is a mere three points ahead of the No. 3 Corvette of Garcia and Magnussen.