Nancy Knapp Schilke
Aston Martin factory team takes Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 6H victory
Dyson Racing & BMW Team RLL claim championships early
The penultimate round for the American Le Mans Series was a six hour race at the home of the famous corkscrew. There were additional teams that do not contest the full season who came to play and to test for the Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta, which is vital for teams that hope to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans and those who are chasing the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). Per usual, the battles were tight and it was the visitors who took the overall and LMP1 victory.
Aston Martin Racing’s Lola coupe team took the win with drivers Adrian Fernandez, Harold Primat and Stefan Mucke. It was the first ALMS win for the factory LMP1 team. Second went to Dyson Racing’s #16 Mazda Lola while third was their second car.
The car was really good.
“It has been a difficult year for all of us with the new car at Aston Martin. It was nice to come back with the older car and know it’s reliable,” said Fernandez. “This is only Harold and myself, our 2nd race with the car, so the next at Petit will be important for us. The racing in the ALMS right now is fantastic racing. The Mazdas and the Muscle Milk car were really competitive and I think we were all really pushing close up until the last 30 minutes or so.”
Primat said, “The car has proven very reliable since we started the program. The team did a good job with the pit stops and the strategies.”
Just past the start of the final hour, Mucke took the lead out of the hands of Dyson Racing’s Jay Cochran – the team’s third driver for the longer event – to nail down the factory team’s first win at Laguna Seca. “The car was really good when I went in for the last 1.5 stints. I was surprised the temperature helped us a little bit. It was the key thing. The car started to suddenly work. We had an advantage passing other cars, not getting a lot of pickup. But the temperature and conditions really suited the car and made it really fast,” said Mucke.
For Mazda, the day ended perfect despite the loss with the Dyson #16, the team took the 2011 LMP1 championship; their first since 2003 when they won the LMP675 title. Drivers Chris Dyson and Guy Smith claimed their championship also.
“Want to say a great thank you to Dyson racing, Rob and Chris -- my co-driver since 2005,” said Smith. “We've had some high and lows together. This year has been phenomenal, going against the Muscle Milk guys and Aston Martin, we have some great races. I think we also proved that the Dunlop tires were reliable all year, gave us some great pace, they showed in GT that they make a great tire too.”
Chris Dyson won the drivers title in 2003 and commented, “I'm really thrilled for the team. It’s a huge accomplishment to end up on top. It’s been a culmination of a three year plan with Mazda. They've been very committed to us and the plan. Lola has been pushing the edge with development as well. I'm so happy with my crew and the guys at the shop.”
Rob Dyson added, “Championships are valuable because they are very difficult to win.”
It was a heartbreaker for Dyson’s rival team as they saw their championship hopes die early in the race. The Muscle Milk AMR team never gave up despite a questionable penalty and an oil pump failure. "Tough day. Once again, it is what it is. What can you say, it just wasn't meant to be. I think we had a strong package, certainly strong enough to win today, even with some hiccups and a stop and go and all kinds of stuff going on,” said Graf.
He added, “Congrats to Dyson Racing, they've run very consistent this year, and that's what you have to do to win a championship, we had some problems and yes it's disappointing but at the same time it probably means that Greg (Pickett) might be driving at Petit Le Mans and that would be great."
The only LMP2 team finished fourth overall but more importantly for the Level 5 Motorsports team was the success of their new Honda Performance Development ARX-01g. Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz ended up with their highest finish of 2011 in all the series they have campaigned in this year. The team is contesting the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and tested the new prototype this weekend prior to the Petit Le Mans race in two weeks at Road Atlanta.
“It was a busy day,” Tucker said. “I was just trying to bring my game up and get as much track time all weekend. It worked out well and paid off. Everything went to plan with the debut of the new HPD. We wanted to get the car to the finish and we did. It gives us a lot of confidence before the next race at Petit Le Mans.”
In the LMGT class, the team and drivers’ titles were also wrapped up. BMW Team RLL now had back-to-back team championships. While they also did not take the race win, Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller did their job to sew up the co-drivers title. It is the first ALMS championship for Hand and the second one for Mueller. The duo finished third in the race.
Flying Lizard Motorsports has not had a good year but today, Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister took their first victory in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with over three seconds to spare. It was a drama filled ending when Bergmeister sailed past Jaime Melo in the Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia. Melo ran out of fuel in sight of the checkered flag.
“There was door banging and taking each other to the wall within the first hour. Thomas Blum was leading us on the radio and he just said let’s keep the steering wheel straight and stay out of us and it will come to us. Joerg kept that and was able to pull out a successful finish at the end,” said Long.
Even with the win, neither Long nor Bergmeister were happy as the German added, “On the front straight I felt more like Jan duking with Risi. They were kind of rough with us, not very fair. They kept hitting me, actually both guys were hitting both of us. In the end they ran out of gas, so it was a rougher race for them. It has been a pretty frosting season so far, we've had a fast car all season long but could never put it together. It's been different things all season, in general just a bad year, early on. We can gain some momentum here, get another win at Petit, and take that into the start of next season.“
The team that leaves Monterey, California with happiness is the BMW Team RLL as Mueller said, "Fantastic! I am so happy for Joey, for the Championships, for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, for BMW, for Dunlop, and for all of our partners and supporters," added Dirk Mueller. This one means so very much to me. This year we felt it, we worked so hard and so well together. Thanks so much to everyone!"
Co-team owner Bobby Rahal commented, "As we prepared for the 2011 season, we knew we had all of the ingredients to contend for the championship, but it takes a lot of effort from everyone involved to actually make it happen. Each one of our drivers gave us everything they had, BMW provided us with a great car and outstanding support from throughout their great organization and the crew both at the track and at the shop worked extremely hard to make this happen.”
BMW driver Hand now has his first championship. "A Drivers Championship - against this year's competition - is fantastic," smiled Hand. "Dirk and I are a great team. We had a great showing from our Crowne Plaza and Avnet partners this weekend. It was great to win in front of them. The Dunlop tires were really strong all week. I am excited…that's for sure!"