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Vickers Eager To Take A Ride In The Country

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 15 2012

Brian Vickers will be behind the wheel of a Ferrari 458 Italia this weekend. (Photo courtesy of RK Racing)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Brian Vickers had a, well, memorable road racing career when he was a Sprint Cup regular. Some of those memories were good, like when he won the pole in Sonoma in 2009. Some, not so good, like at Sonoma last year when he intentionally punted Tony Stewart in a move that may have helped shorten his NASCAR career.

This weekend, the road racing memories are being produced rapid fire for Vickers and so far, all have been nothing short of terrific.

Vickers is driving in his first 24-Hour of Le Mans. In a blood-red Ferrari 458 Italia, no less.

“I’m just really happy to have this experience,” he said after his first test session at the famed Circuit de la Sarthe. “I can’t wait for the race itself.”

The No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari belongs to co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman of RK Motors. Vickers’ co-drivers will be Kauffman and veteran road racer Rui Aguas.

The race, which will be run for the 80th time, belongs to the world. A total of 56 cars are expected to take the green flag on Saturday afternoon. Driving those cars will be top sports car drivers from around the globe.

Vickers said,  “Just based on the turnout alone for the test day – multiply that by a few thousand and nearly a quarter of a million people will be here to see the race .I can’t thank Rob, Michael, Rui, RK Motors and the rest of the team for all their hard work and efforts. I am really thrilled to be able to fulfill a dream by competing in the 24 Hours.”

Vickers is taking the seat of Waltrip, who will not be able to compete this year because of his job as a television analyst in NASCAR.

The first order of business after arriving in France for Vickers, a two-time winner in Cup who lost his ride when the Red Bull Racing team folded after the 2011 season, was the scrutineering process.

“Not only did the cars go through a ‘tech’ day, but so did we as drivers,” he said. “We all have to provide our safety equipment, licenses, and be in full uniform. It takes place in the Republique, or the “square,” of LeMan for the fans to see.”

Then came testing and the introduction to the course, which still partially runs through the French countryside.

“The test day went well,” Vickers said. “It took a few laps of finding the right line and following some of the more seasoned veterans of the WEC Series- but like any track- once you have the right line figured out, you continue to work on it and get faster and faster. What is humorous is that in NASCAR, if you make a mistake in a corner you will come right back to it usually in under 50 seconds (depending on the track- a little bit longer on the road courses), but at LeMans, you have about four minutes before you will enter that same corner again. You have a lot of time to think about it.”

Vickers’ team, which is competiting in the GTE Am classification, qualified 52nd with a lap at 4 minutes, 00.691 seconds.

Kauffman said the goal of the team is to be running when the race ends on Sunday afternoon.

But, “Anything can happen over 24 hours,” he said.

Kauffman said he’s already been treated to a thrill courtesy of Vickers, who is driving a select NASCAR schedule for the Waltrip team this year.

“It’s been fun to see Brian here at Le Mans,” Kauffman, who was involved in a high profile wreck with one of the LMP1 Audis in last year’s race, said. “He’s a pro, but a first timer here, so his methodical approach is interesting to see in action. like the rest of us the first time we came here. He’s a heck of a road racer and is taking to it quite well.”

Americans on pole

The Flying Lizards are on the GTE Am pole.

The American Le Mans Series’ Flying Lizard Motorsports team claimed the GTE Am pole in its Porsche 911.

The California-based team earned the provisional pole during the first official qualifying session on Wednesday and could not be topped in two subsequent qualifying sessions on Thursday.

Corvettes to start near top

Corvette Racing’s Compuware Corvette C6.Rs will start third and fifth in the GTE Pro field in the classic endurance race.

A pair of two-hour qualifying sessions that ended at midnight determined the final qualifying order, but the Corvette Racing crew concentrated on preparations for the race.

Both Compuware Corvette C6.Rs stood on their qualifying times set on Wednesday night. The No. 59 Ferrari turned the fastest lap in today’s first session at 3:55.393, followed by the No. 97 Aston Martin at 3:55.870, knocking the No. 74 Corvette C6.R off the GTE Pro pole that it had held provisionally at the end of yesterday’s session. Oliver Gavin turned a lap in 3:55.910 on Wednesday night, and that time held for the third spot in GTE Pro.

“Track conditions were different tonight and that seemed to affect us more than the others,” Gavin said. “I just couldn’t generate the same cornering force that I could yesterday, and couldn’t attack the corners like I did yesterday. It was very close with the Aston Martin getting ahead of us by only a few hundredths of a second on an 8.5-mile circuit. So we’ll go with what we’ve got – third is quite good. I’m looking forward to the race now.”

Jan Magnussen’s 3:57.181 in the No. 73 Corvette C6.R on Wednesday was the fifth quickest in the GTE

Corvette is starting near the top at Le Mans. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

Pro category.

“In the first session tonight we gave Jordan (Taylor) as much track time as we could to make sure he’s comfortable with the car and the track,” Magnussen said. “As for a fast lap, we decided not to go for that since Antonio (Garcia) still had to get his night time laps in and we were still working on finding the right setup. The good news is that we’ve saved an extra set of soft tires for Saturday and Sunday.”

Garcia agreed with his Danish co-driver: “The car is good but we’re still trying different setups and ideas to make sure we have the best possible package,” he said. “All three of us put in a good number of laps at night to get used to the darkness and the traffic, which is a good practice for Saturday night. All in all we’re ready to go.”

Long runs in the No. 73 Corvette C6.R bolstered the confidence of the team’s youngest driver, 21-year-old Jordan Taylor. “Today was definitely an improvement over yesterday,” he noted. “I felt more confident and my lap times were a lot more consistent, which was exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I still keep learning the track over the course of each session, and will continue to do so throughout the weekend.”

Tommy Milner opened today’s first session with a solid one-hour stint in the No. 74 Corvette C6.R, setting the early pace with a 3:58.214 time that stood as the fastest lap for the first hour.

“I had relatively little traffic tonight, a stark contrast to last night,” Milner reported. “We worked through several setup options and made improvements. Ultimately the race is the most important thing, so we’re working on making the car comfortable. This is a great test for us, with conditions that are comparable to what we’ll see in the race.

“Comparing to last year’s car, I’m much happier with the new wide-body C6.R,” Milner noted. “Speeds are definitely faster, although some that has to do with the track resurfacing. I would say that all of the computer simulations and technology have paid off.”

Richard Westbrook ran nearly an hour in the first session in the No. 74 Corvette C6.R and then completed his mandatory laps in darkness in the second session.

“The car feels good, the lap times are very good, but we don’t know what the competition is doing,” Westbrook said. “Everyone is on a different program. Some are using qualifying as a race setup simulation like us, some are going for a qualifying lap. It’s very difficult to judge where you are. All we can do is our own thing; the Corvette C6.R feels great. It would be nice to know for sure that we are as competitive as it feels we are, but we’ll all know for certain on Saturday afternoon.”

Le Mans on TV

The race will start Saturday at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET). SPEED and SPEED.com will provide continuous coverage in the U.S. starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on June 16; see local listings for program times.

Friday, June 15

Toyota’s Road to Le Mans 10 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Saturday, June 16

Toyota’s Road to Le Mans 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. (Replay)

Le Mans 24 Hours (The Start) 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Live)

Le Mans 24 Hours 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. (Live; SPEED.com)

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qual. 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. (Live; SPEED)

Le Mans 24 Hours 2:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. (Live)

Le Mans 24 Hours 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Live; SPEED.com)

SPEED Center 7:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Live; SPEED)

Le Mans 24 Hours 7:30 p.m. – Midnight (Live)

Sunday, June 17

Le Mans 24 Hours (The Finish) Midnight – 9:30 a.m. (Live)

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 15 2012
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