By Lisa Davidson
- Pickett's team takes overall victory with AMR
- Hand & Mueller win the GT class battle
- CORE Autosports earns first LMPC win
Klaus Graf & Lucas Luhr Muscle Their Way to an Overall Win At Long Beach
"The car was running perfectly today. For me it was something special.
The LMP1s of Muscle Milk and Dyson Racing's entry driven by Guy Smith and Chris Dyson dueled during Friday's qualifying, trading the pole position nine times in 15 minutes. It did not work that way today. By turn 6 on Lap 1, starting driver Lucas Luhr powered the Muscle Milk Aston Martin Lola right past their rivals and never looked back, lapping the entire field for most of the race, and losing the class and overall lead only briefly due to a pit stop. It was a total rout for the Milkmen.
Luhr commented, "The car was running perfectly today. For me it was something special". Tonight's win was Luhr's 32nd class and 7th overall. Graf, on the other hand has won 3 times overall and 5 times in his class.
Graf added, "Lucas laid the groundwork today. He brought the car to the pit stop very well today. We tried to make it on one stop which meant I had to save fuel. It is very easy to make mistakes here and it means a different driving style. We were pretty much controlling the race and had no problems. This is a big reward for our guys after Sebring where things didn't go to plan."
By contrast, the very competitive GT class saw pole sitters Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller battle their teammates Bill Auberlin and Marco Werner for the class lead early in the race, only to have the ever wily Corvette of Oliver Gavin sneak in to grab the lead from them both. Hand, who said earlier in the weekend that "if you don't like ALMS GT racing, you don't like racing". Proving his point, moments later, Hand, in his RLL BMW battled both factory Porsche ace Patrick Long and Gavin for the lead again, going from third to first in class at one turn.
Oliver Gavin again took the lead while the BMW boys changed drivers, Hand for Mueller. When Gavin pitted and changed places with co-driver Jan Magnussen, Mueller was able to re-take the lead and never relinquished P1 for the rest of the race. Post race, he commented, "the GT battle was fantastic from the beginning. I was lucky enough to drive a long time with other brands, and right now, you want to be on Dunlops...They were so spot-on that it was unbelievable".
Hand commented, "The BMW has been so strong. I don't know the last time I started a race but it is very nerve-wracking. I had to get the car to Dirk, and the way things were shaking out it was a race of near-misses."
Also unbelievable, but for different reasons, was the performance of the LMP2 class, which consisted of only two cars, neither of which qualified, and only one of which even started the race. In the words of team principal Scott Tucker, "We're running Le Mans and going to the test day next Sunday. One of our goals here was bringing the coupe here, which is leaving in two hours. We decided this was the best thing to do...The car did OK here." One wonders, at what they did "OK", in what was a decidedly deliberate and minimalist participation in the Long Beach race.
One of the LMPC drivers it turns out did have a good excuse not to drive, as Anthony Nicholosi has as broken leg. With 4 healthy legs between them, CORE Autosports teammates Ricardo Gonzalez and Gunnar Jeanette had no serious competition within their class, giving Jeanette his 5th class win and Gonzalez his first.
"For the team to win in its second season racing and second race in ALMS is fantastic. It's very nice to get a win and I could really get used to it," said Gonzalez.
It was no surprise to see Black Swan Racing end up in the winners' circle in the GTC class. Jeroen Bleekemolen placed the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup on the pole but did comment after the race, "This race was quite hard. I was able to pull away from the rest of the cars on old tires but had a moment with a prototype that made things interesting again."
Team owner and driver Ted Pappas said, "The car was perfect and we didn't have any problems. We kept crossing our fingers all weekend."
Also worth noting is the best ever finish of Jaguar RSR, the Paul Gentilozzi led effort which has finally stopped running mostly at the back of the back, posting a 6th place in class and a 12th overall with this year's addition of Brazilian Champ Car veterans Bruno Junqueira and Cristiano da Matta.
Many of the teams are looking forward to June's trek to the wilds of Le Mans, but first those who will compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans head over to France for next weekend's pre test day for the 2011 prestigious sportscar race. Therefore, the ALMS calendar has three months off, with their next race scheduled for Lime Rock Park in July.