Racer Marcelli a fast learner

Kyle Marcelli, putting the No. 8 Merchant Services Oreca through its paces at Canadian Tire...

Kyle Marcelli, putting the No. 8 Merchant Services Oreca through its paces at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park yesterday, is optimistic that his first win of the season could come in the American Le Mans Series’ Grand Prix of Mosport. (JOHN WALKER photo)

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

BOWMANVILLE, ONT. - The challenge for Kyle Marcelli this American Le Mans Series season is to hold on until his new team finds its legs, or in the case of the No. 8 Merchant Services Racing Lamex/Butterfield Dairy Oreca LMPC car, its wheels.

And he thinks he is almost there.

Marcelli took the LMPC class by storm in his sophomore 2011 season, winning twice — first at Mid Ohio and again at Detroit — and capturing the pole at last year’s Mobile 1 Mosport Grand Prix with the No. 37 Intersport team.

But he signed on with Merchant Services Racing for the 2012 season and it’s has been a steep learning curve for the 22-year-old native of Barrie.

Coming to the halfway mark of the ALMS season at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park this week, Marcelli has yet to find his way to a podium finish, with his best effort a fourth place at the Long Beach Grand Prix in April.

But as he took to CTMP’s 3.957-km road course for a first practice session Friday for Sunday’s Mosport GP, Marcelli said he feels he and the team have found answers to early season woes.

He said one issue is that the team was put together in an incredibly short time — just two weeks before the season’s first race.

“This Merchant Services Racing deal came together so last minute,” he said. “It was literally two weeks before the 12 Hours of Sebring.”

Marcelli said that by launching the program so late it put the team behind everybody else in the LMPC paddock and that hurt — especially at the ALMS level.

“These kinds of programs at this level — the ALMS is really the pinnacle of sports cars racing — they take time,” he said.

“Whether it is a factory effort or privateer, like us, it takes time to develop a new program.

“It comes down to really buckling down to develop the guys and jell together and build a continuity amongst everybody.

“That is really what we have been doing so far this season.”

Marcelli is optimistic, however, that the team has finally got beyond its rookie jitters and is now in position to fight for a win in the LMPC class.

“We have reached a point where I think we are there now,” he said. “Our speed has been lightening quick at just about every race. But it has been little mistakes here and there that have hurt our results.

“I don’t want to point fingers at anybody, everything is a team effort. We are here this weekend looking to do our best in qualifying and hopefully get another pole position and on Sunday end up on the top step.”

Marcelli said he saw signs of a big turnaround at the most recent race — two weeks ago — at Lime Rock, Conn., where he claimed his first pole position with the new team.

But disaster struck just 20 laps into the race when Marcelli was hit by a GTS car, damaging the suspension and exhaust on the No. 8 Merchant Services Oreca.

Marcelli wasn’t alone in feeling that it was golden opportunity gone to waste.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see your guys work so hard only to be taken out 20 laps in,” team boss Brian Alder said. “Kyle laid down a spectacular time in qualifying. He and Bruno Junqueira went back and forth several times. But in the end, Kyle sealed the deal with a 47.249 second lap — a new track record for the LMPC class.”

Marcelli knows he is in tough, competing against much more experienced drivers like former Indy Car star Junqueira and on Sunday he will face off against a former winner at Mosport — Marino Franchitti.

“This season in particular has been the most competitive year in LMPC class,” he said. “Every team has a hot shot. It has been very good for me to compete against some of these guys. It just makes it that much more satisfying when you can have a good result at this level.”

In spite of all the travails, Marcelli said he has kept everything in perspective and is not the least bit frustrated.

He said being at CMPT — a facility he considers to be his home track — will be a chance to break out of the team slump and head into the second half of the season on a positive note.

“We didn’t show up and expect to win the first race but we do expect to win this one,” Marcelli said. “With hockey you have the home ice advantage and I think I have got the home race track advantage this weekend.

“I am looking forward to Saturday qualifying. I think we have a good shot at the pole and at a win on Sunday.

I think we have the car to do it.”

TEEN DRIVEN TO SUCCEED

Last season, Emilee Tominovich was club racing at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

That means she essentially took her dad’s stock Pontiac Solstice, threw in a roll cage, and went tearing around the 3.62-km track at Millville, N.J., with a bunch of other wannabe racers.

Fast forward 12 months and 19-year-old Tominovich is getting paid to race professionally in the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup Series in the No. 19 Truecar Racing Miata.

Truecar is a racing program launched as part of the Women Empowered Initiative backed by pioneer Lyn St. James that was designed to target young female drivers.

“This is definitely a step up for me,” Tominovich said Friday after practice for Sunday’s race that is part of the Mosport Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

“It was tough for me at first because this is the first real race car I ever drove, but I am really enjoying it.”

And what are her impressions of the legendary 3.857-km CTMP grand prix course?

“My first lap out there was like, ‘wow’ fast,” Tominovich said. “It’s very fast but it was fun because the MX5 doesn’t have a lot of power so you can pretty much go around the whole track without braking.”

Tominovich, by the way, should feel right at home as her mother is a Kitchener native, and she will have a pack of relatives at CTMP


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