ALMS: Getting it done on a budget
Auto racing poses few more daunting challenges than the 24 Hours of Le Mans: Racing twice 'round the clock on a circuit comprised of public roads and purpose-built race track before a worldwide television audience and upward of a quarter-million fans witnessing the legendary event in person.
What's more -- with a myriad of classes -- Le Mans is notoriously taxing on drivers' nerves, regardless of whether they're in an ultra-fast P1 prototype negotiating the "slower" traffic or they are the traffic, driving with one eye on the mirrors, watching for the approach of the faster cars.
The only thing that could make the event more daunting would be doing it for the first time in a car whose legacy harkens back to some of the most iconic machines to ever race at Le Mans. Welcome to the world of David and Andrea Robertson who -- along with co-driver David Murry and a dedicated band of mechanics, engineers and supporting personnel -- tackled the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time on June 11-12 in their privately entered Ford GT.
Robertson Racing didn't just rise to the challenge, they conquered it, placing third in the GTE Am class and evoking memories of the 1960s when Ford took on -- and defeated -- mighty Ferrari in the world's most prestigious sports car race. The squad gets another chance at class glory when the American Le Mans Series returns to Lime Rock Park on Friday and Saturday.
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Grand Prix of Mosport
July 23-24 (ESPN2, ESPN3)
Mosport International Raceway
While those French memories may be pleasant to entertain, they were the furthest things from the minds of the Ray, Mich., husband/wife/drivers/team owners during the race.
"All the other stuff is interesting and exciting," says David Robertson, who turned 56 a few days before the green flag at Le Mans. "But although it may motivate you at the starting point and give you something to reflect on later, during the race everything you're doing is based on the here and now."
"I've enjoyed watching the old videos from Le Mans in its early years," says 53-year-old Andrea, "and I am passionately in love for the Ford GT. But when I was out there on the track I didn't give any thought to how the Ford did this or that. My focus was on today and how today's [car] was performing. I just wanted to do the best we could out there, and as a team, we all pulled together with one common goal."
Of course, Andrea Robertson would have to watch some very old videos -- the ones from the 1931 24 Hours of Le Mans -- to have seen another woman on the victory podium.
"I wasn't even aware that there hadn't been a lady on the podium since 1931," she says. "Obviously, I know it's a male-dominated sport, very aggressive, testosterone filled. You have to have a little testosterone of your own to be out there squabbling with the boys.
"I'm passionate about what I do. I'm not out there thinking about being the only or one of the only females. My thinking is 'Be sharp. Be aware. Be in control of what's around me and try to bring the car home each time for my pit stops.'
"With a 24-hour race, there was nothing like we have in some of our American Le Mans Series 2-hour and 45-minute races where things get very aggressive," she adds. "I believe everybody had the same thought: 'Let's finish the race. Let's not throw each other into the wall. Let's do the best we can to give each other racing room.' I was very, very pleased with the sportsmanship out there."
With Le Mans in their rearview mirrors, Robertson Racing is again focused on the job at hand, the remaining seven events in the 2011 ALMS schedule. Lime Rock is a place where the contrast in challenge with Le Mans could hardly be more stark. After all, the vest pocket-sized Connecticut circuit would barely count as a warm-up track for Le Mans -- you could fit two of the 1.5-mile tracks along the Circuit de la Sarthe's Mulsanne straightaway.
What's more, the ALMS Northeast Grand Prix is one of those 2-hour, 45-minute testosterone-fueled affairs.
Sounds like the ideal venue for Andrea Robertson.
"It's a tiny, tight track, but it'll be fun," she says. "I've enjoyed Lime Rock. It's challenging in its own right because it is so tiny and, as more and more cars come into our series, it becomes a challenge to keep yourself clean out there. It would be nice if the same sense of give-and-take we saw at Le Mans prevailed at Lime Rock, but, again, with a 2-hour and 45-minute race, we've seen them get very, very aggressive out there."
Then again, it's not as though the Robertsons can cavalierly bash and bang their respective ways around Lime Rock. They run on a tight budget, one that forced them to skip the Long Beach round of the ALMS in April to insure they qualified for Le Mans. It's a situation that leaves the Robertsons on the cusp of plans and dreams when it comes to a repeat performance at Le Mans in 2012.
"I would say the dream is to return in 2012," David says. "Plans involve looking for ways to get more funding. Le Mans was a real confidence booster but, maybe more importantly, it's a marketing tool in our search for sponsorship so maybe we can get the resources to do quite a few more things.
"If we're there [Le Mans] in 2012 we will be one of two things. We will either be a team with considerably more sponsorship or we will be partnered with somebody -- a car company or somebody -- that can provide enough resources to us, with us providing some expertise to them in terms of production cars that could be more relevant to [the] racing world. We have a lot to offer."
Half a million attendees at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans -- not to mention the half dozen GTE Am entries who finished behind Robertson Racing -- can attest to that.
David Phillips' work has appeared in AutoWeek, RACER and other prominent motorsport magazines. He will be a regular American Le Mans Series contributor to ESPN.com.