Nancy Knapp Schilke, ALMS correspondent
Dyson Racing will take home valuable points to defend their American Le Mans Series P1 championship. The team's three drivers never gave up the battle with their rivals in the American-based series to land the season opening round in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith will savor this victory before they prepare for their next race on the streets of Long Beach.
Steven Kane was delighted to return to the Dyson team for the Sebring challenge. The Irishman took his first victory at the circuit on St. Patrick’s Day. "I was reading before the race, seeing who was the last Irishman to win it on St. Patrick's Day, and it was Derek Daley," he said.
"So it is a great honor for me to say that I was able to say that I won an ALMS race on St. Patrick's Day. That is something as a driver I have always wanted to do. I kept on saying to these guys that something good is going to happen this weekend, and it all worked out, so hopefully that bit of Irish luck that came this weekend will stay for the rest of the year!"
I am looking forward to defending the championship now.
The 60th running of the historic race on the 3.470-mile road course saw a field of 64 cars along with a packed crowd that witnessed not only the teams in the ALMS, but also the ones who have entered the new FIA World Endurance Championship.
The Dyson team recently tested their 2012 Lola B12/60 Mazda, and in the days leading up to the first race on the ALMS calendar, the drivers were actually shaking down their new car. Today, they ran consistently and when their main rival for this year’s title had fueling issues, they took the advantage to take the lead in the final 30 minutes.
“I was really delighted with the performance the team put in the last couple days. Really just getting the car 12 days ago with a lot of hours put in since then, this was a reward for their efforts. I am excited about what the rest of the year holds. All of our partners were phenomenal. I am looking forward to defending the championship now,” said Chris Dyson. The team will return to their famous #16 for the rest of the season.
Smith said, “I think the big thing is team work. I can speak on behalf of the Dyson racing team, the guys are on and off and operating on almost no sleep. It is a real testament to them and we like to dig deep and the reward is to collect championship wins. We realize we have work to do to catch the other teams. We are really happy to get the finish and we will take the fight to them in Long Beach.”
Up until the final hour of the race, the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team appeared to have the victory in hand but during what was to be their final pit stop, they had a fueling problem. While the crew worked to get the issue resolved, the minutes ticked away before they had the needed petrol in their #6 HPD ARX-03a to continue the final 43 minutes. Despite their own heartbreak of losing not only the ALMS class win, they also lost an overall podium finish.
Drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud were third behind the WEC’s LM P1 Audi team before that final fateful pit stop. "It came so close. It's heartbreaking on the one hand, but on the other, we got points in the ALMS Championship. Obviously it was a long day. When you push very hard and give it all you have, it's tough not to be able to finish,” said Graf. “The team made great pit stops and all the drivers did fantastic runs in the Muscle Milk car. We came so close to finishing this race second overall, that you feel empty because you didn't.”
Luhr added, "I have to say, I'm really proud of everyone on the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team. What the boys achieved in the last few weeks, it's amazing. Even if everybody is down and disappointed right now with today's result, they can be very proud of themselves, truly from the bottom of my heart, I'm really thankful to be with this team. We showed today that as a small team we can put pressure on the factory efforts because we have a lot of good guys who all have the will to compete.”
They will head to Long Beach second in the P1 title hunt by four points. Pagenaud is contesting the IndyCar Series this year. "The car ran really well, the engine was reliable and we were running some very decent lap times. At the end of the day, when you look at the big picture, we had a good week and a good day even if we didn't finish because of the fuel issue,” he said. “But it's racing and Sebring, just like Le Mans, is such a difficult race to finish.”
"The day I'm going to win this race, I will be very happy because it's hard. I hope to be back with Muscle Milk in the future to try and win it,” added Pagenaud.
Scott Tucker, Bouchut and Barbosa earned the P2 win in their #055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b. First for the ALMS teams in the Prototype Challenge were Leitzinger, Dobson and Junco.
The fight at the end was in the GTE-Pro class, where it is normal in the ALMS for the top manufacturers to hold their breaths until the checkered flag is waved! Tonight it was the BMW of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and their rookie driver Jonathan Summerton who took the victory on the final lap in dramatic fashion. Hand lost the lead to the AF Corse #71 Ferrari F458 Italia (WEC) when Olivier Beretta overtook him with less than one minute remaining on the clock.
However, the BMW Team RLL was not about to let Beretta take the overall GT class victory and as the two headed for the checkered flag, Hand placed his #56 E92 M3 into the lead after sliding off track when the two had side-by-side contact. He returned to the track in first place.
Hand commented on the final laps: “Coming down the last laps, we stinted 1 and a half or 1 and 3/4 and we just took fuel at the end. I was a little surprised. Then Berretta got around me, then I got back around him again. We got sideways again, the next thing I was around him. I can’t be here all year, I can help all I can. Summerton did an excellent job, he really impressed me. He didn't make any mistakes. In a car to car competition, you have no chance making the move Beretta tried, it worked out for me, mainly because I was expecting it. When I was spinning, I kept it straight, but I knew he had a right front flat, so I knew if I could get up to him and get him jammed, it would be easy to get around.”
With the two series combined in one race, Beretta lost the overall podium but still notched the WEC GT win. Watching the action from their pit box and of course, cheering for their teammate was Muller and Summerton, and the rest of the team. “We knew we had the smartest guys, starting with Bobby Rahal, then BMW, Dunlop, a lot of great people,” said Hand.
Muller said, “Definitely feels great to win, you can’t expect a victory at Sebring. The last two hours was rough, I double stinted before, the last 6 hours were really, really hard. We were doing 2 minutes at the last 2 hours to the end. We were within 2 or 3 tenths the entire time. This wasn’t GT, this was touring car, we were flat out like a sprint the whole time! The win was really fantastic, Joey mentioned everybody, it's not a driver's job, it’s a team sport. Where we are now with the team is really special. We caught a few times with the yellows I thought, this isn't possible, this is just too much good luck.”
Second place for the season-long ALMS GTE-Pro class was taken by the #3 Corvette Racing C6 ZR1 with Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Jordan Taylor in his first Sebring race with the team. Corvette was using the 03 number for this race. Third was their #4 sister car with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and third driver Richard Westbrook.
Alex Job Racing’s #023 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup earned the win in the GT Challenge (GTC) with drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, and Dion von Moltke.
The ALMS teams head to Long Beach for the second race of the new season.