American Le Mans Series
MUSCLE MILK WINS WET MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR CHALLENGE
Falken Tire Porsche scores first GT victory, Intersport surprises in LMPC
LEXINGTON, Ohio (Aug. 6, 2011) – Round Five of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón started with a bang and ended with a splash at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Classic battles for the lead across all four classes turned into a game of strategy and bravery when the skies opened up on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge. When the red flag turned into a checkered, Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing collected its third win of the season, while Team Falken Tire recorded its very first Series GT victory.
Polesitter and defending race winner Dyson Racing held onto the lead with driver Guy Smith through the first round of pit stops. The gap between the Mazda-powered Lola and the Aston Martin Lola driven by Lucas Luhr varied anywhere from 0.5 seconds to more than two seconds for the first 70 minutes. Finally, after a full-course caution for a stuck LMPC car, Luhr took advantage of the restart to pass Smith for the lead in Turn 1.
“I had a lot of fun with Guy. He really pushed hard,” Luhr said. “It was especially hard for me in Turns 6 and 9. The GT cars go almost with the left side in the dirt because that’s the quickest way around here. We tried to do it but we cannot really because we hit the ground. It’s really tough to get around the GT cars and then get by. The traffic was a huge thing; sometime you gain and sometimes you lose the gap.”
Luhr set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:14.108 before handing the car over to Klaus Graf. Not long after the change, what started as a light drizzle on the 2.25-mile road course turned into a downpour. The team quickly pitted for rain tires during a full-course caution and sent Graf back out without a loss of position.
“Right after my pit stop I saw sprinkles. I thought ‘Oh this is probably not too bad’. In Europe we’re used to these conditions. We grew up in it,” Graf said. “I’ve been saying that the track here changes, has so many grip changes, there’s new pavement and old pavement. In the dry the new pavement has a lot of grip but in the wet it’s the opposite. I was really using all kinds of experience from many years in racing.
“Lucas was able to get the car in the lead. He did awesome and then we had to come in to change to rain tires. Then the rain came in too hard then I told the guys in was un-drivable. Sometimes in these cars we hydroplane, and even under yellow, 60 (mph) could be too fast. The guys guided me really well.”
The rain continued to worsen and with little more than 10 minutes remaining, race officials issued a red flag and brought the field into pit lane. Per Series rules, as the race was past half distance, the clock continued to countdown to the checkered flag. It is the third win of the season and second in-a-row for Muscle Milk.
“I’m 100 percent behind race control that they stopped the race,” commented Luhr. “It was dreadful. You see guys in GT -, the best of the best in the GT class - and they were spinning off everywhere. It looked like amateurs but there was nothing you could have done.” Muscle Milk scored its fourth straight MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge (MGXC) win. The key to victory was Muscle Milk’s lowest-in-class clean score attributable to its use of E85 fuel and its 22 percent better energy efficiency. Contributing to the Aston Martin’s energy efficiency advantage was its weight, which is 50 kg more the Dyson Lola-Mazda, while maintaining a greater race speed.
Chris Dyson finished second for Dyson even after a spin in the rain. The Autocon duo of Chris McMurry and Tony Burgess finished third in their Lola-AER.
For the third race in a row, it was an all BMW Team RLL front row in GT but it didn’t last long at Mid-Ohio. First, the No. 55 BMW M3 GT driven by Dirk Werner dropped three positions on the opening lap, then on lap two, Dirk Mueller lost the lead in the No. 56 BMW M3 GT to Jan Magnussen’s No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C6. R.
The No. 4 Corvette continued to lead the GT category until the rain came forcing an extra round of pit stops for tires. Risi Competizione opted to keep its No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia on slicks longer than the rest of the GT dared, which enabled Jamie Melo to lead the field briefly. The team’s hopes of a win in GT came to a sudden halt shortly after making the switch to rain tires, when a rough ride through the Carousel damaged the left-rear suspension on the Ferrari and brought the car to a stop near the start-finish line. Officials quickly issued a full-course caution to remove the damaged Ferrari. By this time, Patrick Long and his Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR had inherited the lead, but when the green flag flew once again, the rain was at its heaviest. Wolf Henzler skillfully slid past Long in Turn 1, putting the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR on the path to its very first ALMS win. Behind him, Long’s Porsche skidded into the Turn 2 gravel.
“The team really made the right call,” Henzler said of the quick switch to rain tires. “The tire was so good in even these conditions. Everyone was going on the inside and it was so slippery they were having a difficult time but I was not really. I went on the outside so much quicker and that’s how I could pass everyone. I don’t know how many cars I passed; I passed so many. I saw nothing going down the back straight and there was so much water, I could only just guess where they were, see the line a bit. All I knew was Patrick was the leader at the time I passed him.”
The win was also a first for Henzler’s co-driver, Centerville, Ohio native Bryan Sellers.
“It was a great race,” beamed Sellers. “We knew from the beginning that we had rain coming, and we knew from previous events we had a great rain tire. The rain tire was fantastic. No question. It’s definitely worth noting that Wolf drove some of the most impressive laps I’ve ever seen. Falken desires a lot of credit and so does Wolf.”
Mosport winners Magnussen and Oliver Gavin finished second for Corvette. Werner and Bill Auberlen kept the BMW Team RLL season-long run of podium perfection alive with a third-place finish.
The No. 4 Corvette won the MGXC in the GT category for the second straight race showing outstanding efficiency, good race speed along with excellent environmental performance. Its noteworthy lowest-in-class clean score was the result of the team’s energy efficiency and choice of E85 fuel.
Intersport Racing collected its first LMPC trophy with drivers Kyle Marcelli and Tomy Drissi who are each first-time winners in ALMS. When contact, spins and penalties cost current LMPC contenders CORE autosport and Genoa Racing time on track, patience led the Dublin, Ohio-based team’s ORECA FLM09 to the checkered flag.
“I was tired of second to be honest,” Marcelli said. “I won in the (Le Mans Series) race at Imola a few weeks ago, then won the pole at Mosport and thought we had a car to win before an unfortunate incident put us out. Tomy did a good job in the first stint, then we got that first penalty and I was saying a few prayers for rain because we were a lap down. I have driven in these conditions although not in a prototype. I have driven here in the rain before so I knew a bit of what the conditions would be like. It was a good battle with (team owner) Jon (Field). It was a really good weekend for the team. Jon has a lot of family and friends here so it was important for him for the team to do well. I think he’s pretty happy now.”
Even with a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact, followed by a pit lane speed violation, the No. 89 endured much less drama than its LMPC competition.
“There was a point where there was a change for the lead within a few corners,” Drissi said. “I’m still not sure what happened (with the penalty). There was another car in the mix, and it turned out to be a back-marker. All I know, I spun him or her around and I was mortified. I thought I was going to get a stop-and-go. I thought I might lead this thing for Kyle when I come in for the stop. When I thought they were going to let me go, they said it, ‘stop and go’. I got back on the track, and then we got a speeding penalty. I don’t know if it was me or the car.”
Early contact between the Genoa Racing’s Eric Lux and CORE autosport’s Ricardo Gonzalez, put the latter’s championship-leading No. 06 ORECA FLM09 well back in the field. Drissi took the fight to Lux shortly after, but it was a spin by Lux’s teammate, Christian Zugel in Turn 1 as the rain started, that enabled Marcelli to take hold of the lead.
With locals Jon and Clint Field finishing second in the team’s sister ORECA FLM09, it was a one-two finish in LMPC for Intersport Racing. David Cheng and Javier Echeverria finished third for PR 1/Mathiasen Motorsports.
The GTC category is often dizzy with lead changes and it was more of the same at Mid-Ohio. Spencer Pumpelly and Duncan Ende were one of the few duos to avoid penalties or spinning in the rain, thus enabling them to score their second GTC win in a row and third straight for TRG.
“It was a good win,” Pumpelly said. “I gotta give credit to the guys in the faster cars because I know I had a hard time. Some of those guys that pitted earlier really deserve a hats off; it was hard to keep car at speed. There was really not a lot of drama for us except wondering if we’re going to go green or not. I thought the win was already ours when Duncan handed it over. He did a good job hanging on to the lead…Thanks to Wolf. I was just following him most of the time (in the rain). I was just lifting on the striaghtaways because there was so much water.”
“The TRG guys gave us a great car,” Ende added. “We rolled off the truck and had a bit of a tire situation on the test day. During the race we had a bit of a mix up with a back GT car. About 45 min into the stint I begin to feel it like we had the hardware to make it stand.”
Defending race winner Black Swan Racing came ready to defend its title, but a delaminated tire near the one-hour, 30-minute mark sent Jeroen Bleekemolen back in the No. 54 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup he shares with Tim Pappas. The rain was nothing but good news for Bleekemolen, who splashed through the chaos for a runner-up finish.
Back for its first race since Long Beach, Magnus Racing scored its second GTC podium finish with drivers Craig Stanton and John Potter. Round 5 of the ALMS championship replaced 46 percent of its oil usage with renewable fuels in the Prototype and GT categories. The achievement is an important indicator of the Series’ commitment to Green Racing.
ESPN2 will air the Mid-Ohio race at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón will stay planted in the Midwest for Round Six traveling to Wisconsin for the Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Road America, Aug. 20. The race will air on ABC, Aug. 21 at 4:30 p.m (ET) and be carried live on ESPN3.com in the U.S. or americanlemans.com outside the U.S. For more visit americanlemans.com/tv.