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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Utah Grand Prix Saturday July 15, 2006 at the Miller Motorsports Park.

TOOELE — Drivers in the American Le Mans race at Miller Motorsports Park won't be making the same turns as last year, which may well make this race the fastest on the 11-race schedule.

Instead of making 24 turns on a 4.6-mile track, the new configuration this year will take drivers on a 3.06-mile run with 15 turns. Flexibility, officials said, is what makes the Miller track unique in the auto racing world.

The race will open with practice runs on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the 2-hour, 45-minute main event on Sunday.

Scott Atherton, president/CEO of the American Le Mans Series, said he expects all of the top cars and drivers to run this weekend.

This is, after all, a very important race. It's the last major event before the 24-hour Le Mans. This will be the final test before the granddaddy of all races,"" he said.

The new track configuration was made to cut down on the number of turns, thus allowing drivers the opportunity to race under a much more fluid format. The current average speed record is 135.353 miles per hour, set on the Road America track in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The track is 4.048 miles long, with 14 turns, and a race there runs for four hours.

The one drawback for the top-speed record at the Miller track is altitude. At 5,000 feet, engines produce less power.

There will be 30 cars and 60 drivers racing for four different titles on Sunday. At least a dozen of those cars are capable of topping the speed record.

Gunnar Jeannette, with the Utah-based Corsa Motor-sports, which will enter a Ferrari F430 GT, said, "It is going to be up there. I don't think it will be the fastest. But I'd definitely put it at the level of Road America and Mosport. It is very quick. Turns 1-4 are all third and fourth gear. We'll be running top speeds about as fast as what we see at Road Atlanta."

The American Le Mans race is unique in that four car classes — LMP1, LMP2, GT1 and GT2 — will race on the same track at the same time.

Leader lights on the cars and two distinct body styles will make it possible for fans to recognize race order.

The race itself is an endurance event. Two drivers will switch driving duties over the 165 minutes of the race. Winners will be the cars and drivers that finish in the lead on the last lap after the time limit expires.

This style of racing is new to Utah race fans. Atherton said he expects Utah fans to embrace this style given time. After 10 years, "we are continuing to grow at a very aggressive rate. Numbers this year in every area — fans, TV rating, sponsorships, you name the category — are positive.

"Last year was our best season, and so far this year, through three races, we're above last year's record attendance."

There are several reasons for the growing interest, tops on the list being that "this is racing the way it was originally intended to be ... manufacturer versus manufacturer, tire company versus tire company, driver versus driver," he said.

"There are also no spec cars or motors, where all the cars and all the engines are the same. Other forms of auto racing have become homogenized. We have more true manufacturers than Formula 1, Indy Car and NASCAR combined. We've got five tire companies competing head-to-head. And, instead of building a faster race car simply for the fact of being faster, ultimately the goal is to make a better consumer product."

All of this research and development eventually filters down from race car to the family car. For example, the Corvette team is running its cars on cellulosic ethanol. It has zero food content and is a byproduct of wood waste.

Making his racing debut as a team owner will be Gil De Ferran, two-time CART champion and past Indianapolis 500 winner. He has started his own team and will enter an Acura ARX-01b in LMP2. De Ferran Motorsports has tested at Sebring International Raceway and Miller Motorsports Park.

Where Le Mans and Sebring are very long endurance events, the race at the Motorsports Park is considered an endurance sprint. Cars and drivers will push the limits of the track and their respective cars as far as they can.

The cars to beat in the top LMP1 class have been the diesel-powered Audis. Atherton said recent pushes by manufacturers have narrowed the gap and, in fact, some are outperforming the diesel cars.

Testing will begin on Friday at 2 p.m. Practices will start Saturday at 10:20 a.m., with qualifying starting at 3 p.m. The championship race will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 435-277-7223 or visit www.MillerMotorsportsPark.com.