- Last Updated on 08:20 AM 09/12/12
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
CORE autosport is prepared for success, and some unknowns, at Virginia International Raceway in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. running of the VIR 240, the penultimate round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season.
After clinching the 2012 ALMS Prototype Challenge (PC) team championship in Round Seven (out of 10) at Road America, all eyes turn to Round Nine to see what will happen with the driver’s championship, at a circuit that ALMS has never visited prior to this season.
No. 06 Soloson Import ORECA FLM09 driver Alex Popow is leading the PC driver standings by 32 points, aided by four wins in 2012 (Sebring, Long Beach, Road America and Baltimore), but the sister No. 05 Composite Resources car’s pilots, Jon Bennett and Colin Braun, with two wins (Laguna Seca and Lime Rock), will put up a fight for the title.
Joining Popow in the No. 06 machine for the four-hour VIR 240 is Tom Kimber-Smith, class winner of the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans. The combination of Popow and Kimber-Smith resulted in a win at Road America and podium finishes at Laguna Seca and Lime Rock. Both drivers have raced on the 3.27-mile, 17-turn circuit only once before, Popow in 2011 and Kimber-Smith in 2008.
Kimber-Smith and Popow will need serious speed to keep ahead of Bennett and Braun. Both drivers live in the greater Charlotte, N.C. area, and have spent years testing and driving at the track.
For Bennett, it includes time in a variety of race cars, including a Formula Ford and spec racers, among others.
Braun has not only tested
NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series cars at the venue, he competed there in a GRAND-AM Rolex sports car multiple times, with a pole position and a second place on his resume.
“This is a very important race for the 2012 ALMS PC driver’s championship,” Popow said of Saturday’s race at VIR.
“If Tom and I do our jobs correctly this coming weekend, I may be able to clinch it, but you never know what will happen in a four-hour race.
“I am not worried about the car, the crew or Tom, as all of us know what our jobs are,” added Popow.
“Our only competition for the driver’s championship is our sister No. 05 car with Colin and Jon. Both of them really know VIR very well, and Tom and I have only raced there once before, so we’ve got a lot to learn in a short amount of time.”
Kimber-Smith said his job this weekend is to help Popow secure the championship.
“It’s great to be back at CORE autosport for another race, my third with the team and Alex this season,” Kimber-Smith remarked.
“At Road America, I was able to help CORE autosport clinch the ALMS PC team championship, and now my focus is completely on helping Alex clinch the driver championship.
Kimber-Smith said he is looking forward to returning to VIR this weekend.
“I last visited VIR in 2008 in GRAND-AM competition with Cheever Racing,” he pointed out.
“It’s a very fast circuit that will certainly push an ALMS PC car to its limits. It will be great fun to be back there! At least none of us have driven a PC car at VIR before, so the playing field will be a little leveled.”
This weekend will not just be only about chasing an ALMS PC driver championship, it’s also about helping the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer.
At 12:15 p.m. (ET) CORE autosport will be holding a live auction in the ALMS paddock area benefiting this important foundation, with many exclusive team items for sale.
Braun will act as auctioneer, and he will be joined by other team drivers and crew members.
Practice for the VIR 240 begins on Thursday, with additional practice and qualifying on Friday. The four-hour race begins at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
Live coverage of practice and qualifying can be found on ESPN3.com, with a two-hour event summary broadcasting on ESPN2 television at 5 p.m. (ET) on Sunday.