Team History (Part 9)
Dyson Racing returned to the American Le Mans Series in 2001 for a limited program with the experimental Riley and Scott Mk3C—an iteration of the original Mk III that they had campaigned since 1995. The project was not a match for the Audi R8 juggernaut but did yield one podium finish in the American Le Mans Series Mid-Ohio event.
The team regrouped and examined all available options for competing in the American Le Mans Series in the second half of 2001 and early 2002. It concluded that Lola’s novel approach to the new, equivalency-based LMP675 category presented the best opportunity for taking on the dominant Audi program. A deal was struck for one of the Lola-MG EX257’s in spring 2002, and the team took delivery of the car in time to join the ALMS round at Mosport.
The team entered the final four races of the 2002 ALMS schedule, and immediately set to work with Goodyear on a tire development program in preparation for a full-time championship campaign. The early tire and suspension geometry revisions showed encouraging results: the team’s new car excelled at the 2002 Petit Le Mans round, with Weaver qualifying a strong 3rd overall and taking the lead in the early hours of the event.
With four class wins, including the 12 Hours of Sebring and three additional podiums, Chris Dyson won the 2003 LMP675 championship. Dyson Racing made racing history at California’s Infineon Raceway in July, when James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger beat the defending champion Joest Racing Audi R8 and scored the first overall race win in ALMS history for a car in the LMP675 class. Longtime Team Manager Pat Smith retired shortly after celebrating his 60th birthday in June, capping more than a quarter-century of a distinguished tenure dating back to Rob’s early club racing days. Randall Kelsey assumed leadership duties at the team, having started working with the team as a junior mechanic after high school classes in the early nineties. Peter Weston, who had been working on the Lola project as a consultant since late 2002, assumed full-time race engineering duties for both cars.
The LMP900 and LMP675 classes were merged into a single LMP1 class for 2004, and Dyson Racing again entered two Lola EX257-AER for Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson and James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger. Jan Lammers joined Dyson for the two series endurance races, and he and Chris claimed a fine podium at the Petit Le Mans together. James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger placed second in the championship with a win at Mosport and seven podium finishes in nine races.
The 2005 season saw a switch to Michelin tires and consistency in the chassis and driver department. Dyson Racing entered two cars at all ALMS rounds. Weaver and Leitzinger won at Mid-Ohio ahead of Chris Dyson and Andy Wallace– the first ALMS one-two P1-class finish for Dyson Racing. Weaver and Leitzinger then went on to win at Mosport, which also marked Weaver’s 100th career race win. Chris Dyson’s consistent competitiveness garnered him second place in the ALMS championship with six runner-up finishes and a third in the season’s ten races.
With the regulations changing, 2006 brought a change in equipment as Dyson Racing contested the ALMS LMP1 championship with a pair of Lolas, the new B06/10 mated with Advanced Engine Research’s new V8 Turbo. Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver paired in the #16 car, co-driving with Andy Wallace in the endurance races; Guy Smith joined Chris Dyson full-time after two strong showings the previous season at Sebring and Petit Le Mans. James Weaver finished second in the championship and Butch Leitzinger was third. The team managed to record eight race podiums, three poles and two fastest race laps.
At the conclusion of the final race of 2006 at Laguna Seca, and without any fanfare, James Weaver announced privately to the team his retirement from driving. It was a bittersweet moment for the team; James had been there for 20 years and was a driving force of the team’s success. In a moving evening, and with a guest appearance from Pat Smith and Price Cobb, the entire team honored James and his contributions at the season-ending Christmas Party.
Dyson Racing renewed its relationship with Porsche in 2007, running a pair of the German marque’s LMP2-class RS Spyders in the ALMS’s most competitive category. Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace finished third in the LMP2 championship, four points ahead of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith in fourth place. For 2008, the team continued with their Porsche RS Spyders, starting off the season with a second and third at the 12 Hours of Sebring. At year’s end Dyson Racing finished third in the team championship and Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger were fifth in the drivers’ standings followed by Chris Dyson and Guy Smith in sixth place. Michael White, a veteran of the team since the mid-nineties, assumed Team Manager duties in the latter half of 2008, a post he continues to hold to the present day.
For 2009 a successful switch to a pair of BP-sponsored Mazda-Lola Coupes netted Dyson Racing second place in the ALMS team championship. In the drivers’ championship Butch Leitzinger and Marino Franchitti were runners-up, while Chris Dyson and Guy Smith were fourth after electing to race unclassified and develop a new biofuel for the last two rounds of the season. After a memorable class win in front of an appreciative home crowd at Lime Rock, Leitzinger and Franchitti (assisted by Ben Devlin) capped the 2009 season with a class victory at the Petit Le Mans.
For 2010, the team retained Mazda’s factory support but scaled back to a one-car effort for Chris Dyson and Guy Smith. A new collaborative technical partnership was forged with Dunlop Motorsport. Andy Meyrick joined the team for the three endurance races at Sebring, Laguna Seca and the Petit Le Mans. The team showed impressive speed at all circuits, and the highlight of the 2010 season was Dyson and Guy Smith’s overall win at Mid-Ohio in August. It was the first overall ALMS series victory for Mazda, Smith, biofuel IsoButanol, Dunlop tires and Castrol.
The foundation laid in 2009 and 2010 came together in 2011 with a dominant season for Dyson Racing. The team won a total of five championships: Driver’s with Chris Dyson and Guy Smith; Team Championship, Engine Manufacturer with Mazda, the Tire title for Dunlop plus the 2011 Michelin Green X Challenge. The Michael White-led team won twice – at its home track of Lime Rock Park and with Humaid Al Masaood and Steven Kane at Baltimore. The Baltimore win was a one-two finish for the team. The team started from the pole five times in 2011, and in three of those races Dyson Racing swept the front of the grid. The Dyson drivers added four fastest laps and thirteen podium finishes to its record book. Reliability was superb: the team completed all but a handful of the series race laps.
In 2012, Chris Dyson and Guy Smith finished second in the ALMS P1-class Drivers Championship, nine points out of first. The team took second in the Team Championship, five points out, and Mazda took home second place in the Engine Manufacturers’ Championship as did Dunlop in the Tire Manufacturer Championship. Dyson Racing bookended the 2012 season with first place ALMS P1 points at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda, with Chris and Guy taking home the honors in their #16 Mazda-powered Thetford-branded entry. The team was one-two in P1 at Baltimore, Michael Marsal and Eric Lux winning in only the pair’s sixth race with Dyson Racing. The team won at Road America with Guy Smith and Chris Dyson setting a record for the closest-ever overall finish in ALMS history with their 0.083 margin of victory over Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf. Guy also set a track record with his pole at Lime Rock Park, the team’s home track. Chris Dyson celebrated his 100th ALMS start at Baltimore and the team scored its 200th podium at Mid-Ohio in August. The team had a total of seventeen P1 podiums in 2012.
Dyson Racing was second in the 2013 ALMS team championship as a rotation of drivers during the season produced third-place championship results for Tony Burgess and Chris McMurry, fourth place for Chris Dyson, while Guy Smith secured fifth place in the drivers’ championship. For the second consecutive year Mazda took home second in the P1 engine manufacturer championship.
Reflecting on the progression of equipment in the ALMS over the years, Rob Dyson noted, “The Riley & Scott-Fords eventually reached their competitive limits. The MG Lola prototype was the only real opposition to the wining Audis in the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans and the LMP675 class looked pretty interesting as a way to win races overall in the ALMS. So we went with the Lola and Chris won the championship in our first full year of competition.
“The Lola was a different animal than the Riley & Scott. The Lola was a very light car, an all carbon-fiber chassis. The aero loading was more, and there were a number of other learning areas we had to master with the Lola.
“We spent a week in Lola’s wind tunnel early in 2003 and that created a whole lot of things for us that made the car run better on our circuits. We had to get the aero characteristics figured out; particularly with the tire program coming on line from Goodyear. We got a handle on the engine and the drivetrain and we got the suspension beefed up and we got that all straightened out. We ran the four-cylinder AER turbo engine, which put out a goodly amount of horsepower, and we were able to take the fight to the Audis at every track for all of 2004 and 2005. Some very memorable battles and the whole time we were pushing the development curve. Those years showed the strength of the team and the really strong working relationships we had with all our technical partners.
“You know, the team is always evolving. 2007 saw us back with Porsche. We ran Porsche 962’s in IMSA GTP from 1985 through 1991, winning a dozen races. Understanding the techniques behind any race car is a challenge. The guys did a great job of unlocking the RS Spyder’s secrets; in a lot of events in 2007 we were legitimately contending for overall wins in our first year of the program, against really deep competition, too. And then in 2009 we started a new chapter with the joining of Dyson Racing and Mazda in partnership, and 2010 saw us further heighten our competitiveness with the switch to Dunlop tires. In 2011 we had our five championships to savor. I have been doing this a long time and have won a number of championships over more than three decades, but these titles were very, very special. And after the ALMS concluded, we moved from there to a two-year association with Bentley, racing their Continental GT3 in the Pirelli World Challenge. We are always growing and taking on new challenges.
“When I look back, I never thought I would reach this level. I thought I would run a little bit and see what it was like out there, see what it was like to be a race car driver. I did not have any goal in mind to win the Indy 500 or Le Mans, or the Daytona 24 Hours or anything like that. I won the first race I ever ran, a Watkins Glen SCCA Regional. I won the race overall and beat everybody. I kept on doing it with no real endgame or specific objectives in mind – I just enjoyed it so much.
“It is unlike any other sport because it has all the challenging things that you want in a competition: racing has the logistics, the team effort, camaraderie, lots of competition, hard work, speed, etc. We take our racing seriously. We are not here just to participate. We have never shown up at a race just to show up. We show up to win the race. We have always wanted to compete, at the highest levels, no matter where we were. And that has remained the same throughout all of our racing history.”