GT Championship Battle Resumes Saturday in the Inner Harbor
BALTIMORE – In the midst of the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Now nearly two centuries later, the Battle of Baltimore will be rejoined – not by American and British armies, but by a fleet of world-class American, British, German, and Italian sports cars racing through the streets of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Saturday’s Baltimore Sports Car Challenge, the eighth round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series, promises another all-out fight between drivers, teams, and manufacturers. The two-hour skirmish on the downtown street course dispenses with such niceties as strategy, tactics, and patience. It’s simply about speed, track position, and staying out of trouble.
“There is no strategy in a two-hour race,” said Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner, a long-time resident of nearby Middleburg, Va. “It’s basically one pit stop, and whoever is the fastest and can make the best of their qualifying position is going to come out on top. Any mistake and you’re done because there’s not much time to come back.”
Milner and co-driver Oliver Gavin lead the GT championship in their No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R by 17 points over teammates Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 sister car. But with 20 points to be awarded to the victors in Saturday’s street fight, that lead can evaporate in a heartbeat.
Gavin and Milner know the pitfalls of racing on Baltimore’s mean streets. Gavin finished third in last year’s inaugural race in a bruised and battered race car that he shared with Magnussen, who was caught up in a first-turn melee. Milner finished seventh after a fraught restart that saw him penalized for contact in Turn 1.
“I’ve done some media work in Baltimore, and I’ve seen the changes that they have made to the track that will be good for racing,” Milner reported. “The chicane before the start/finish line is gone – it was fun for us to pound the curbs, but not so good for racing. Turn 1 has been opened up and widened to create better passing opportunities and to prevent the incidents that happened there last year. The second chicane also has been relocated to allow more passing.
“Baltimore is a tough track because some sections are bumpy and low grip, while other sections have new asphalt and are very grippy,” he explained. “That poses a challenge for the engineers to set up a car that’s good in both sections. The Corvettes were quick last year, and we’ve seen this year that our new wide-body C6.Rs are competitive at every event. I’m looking forward to getting back to Baltimore and putting on a good fight.”
Gavin is on the same page as his driving partner. “It’s hammer down and go,” said the Englishman. “In a two-hour street race, it’s about being as fast as you can all the time. It’s pretty much a full-on, flat-out race to the finish.
“We stand a very good chance, but luck can play a huge role in your result in a street race,” he cautioned. “I expect the unexpected – somebody makes a boneheaded move, somebody spins in a blind corner and you can’t avoid driving into them, or you get caught up in someone else’s accident and your race is done. All street circuits are challenging and difficult for everyone involved, but they are also a huge amount of fun.”
Magnussen was teamed with Gavin last year when he went from 12th to fourth in minutes after being pinned against the wall in the first turn. This year the Dane is paired with Antonio Garcia, a rookie on the Baltimore circuit.
“It will be Antonio’s first race in Baltimore, and we have very little track time to practice and prepare,” Magnussen said. “We’ll have an opportunity to go around the track in golf karts and to look at the data from last year. I’ll give Antonio as many pointers as I can to get him up to speed fast, but with him it’s never a problem.
“I loved what they did with the whole show last year,” Magnussen noted. “Everything on track was terrific and I’m looking forward to going back. Since it’s a street circuit, it will have a tendency to change from year to year, so we have to find where the grip is. The top speeds will be much higher without the chicane in the middle of the straight, which will make it more difficult to get the car stopped going into Turn 1. Last year it was very bumpy in the braking zone, and now the cars will arrive faster so there is more chance of overtaking – and of making mistakes!”
“I always like street circuits, and the Corvette C6.R suits those circuits very well,” Garcia said. “Whether the race is one hour or six hours, track position is very important. We need to be ready and quick right away for qualifying. If you are in the top two or three positions, you have a good chance to win. We need to focus on being fast all of the time.”
The Baltimore Sports Car Challenge presented by SRT will start at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 1. The race can be viewed live on ESPN3.com starting at 4:15 p.m. ET. ABC will televise the race at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 2.