Lizards Sweep 2009 ALMS GT2 Titles
October 11, 2009 - Salinas, California - Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long brought the Flying Lizard No. 45 Porsche in for a hard-fought win at Saturday's Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The team swept the 2009 ALMS GT2 titles: Bergmeister and Long won the Drivers' Championship, the Lizards won the Team Championship and the No. 44 Porsche, which finished fifth in GT2 in the race, won the Michelin GreenX Challenge Championship for the GT class.
Going into the four-hour race, Bergmeister and Long had a 19 point lead over Jamie Melo and Pierre Kaffer of the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari; with 25 points at stake for the win, if they finished tenth or better, they would win the championship, regardless of the finishing position of the No. 62. If the No. 62 finished third or worse, the No. 45 would win, even if they did not finish the race.
By race start, the cold morning fog had lifted but temperatures remained cool and the track was still cold and slippery. Bergmeister started in the No. 45 fifth on the grid. In the No. 44 Porsche, Johannes van Overbeek started in thirteenth. The No. 3 Corvette was on the pole, and the No. 62 started second.
At race start, the No. 4 Corvette moved immediately to P2. The No. 62 was P3, the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche P4 and the No. 45 P5. Over the next hour, the GT2 lead pack stayed in that order, with the Corvettes gradually building a gap to the rest of the GT2 field. Nearing the one-hour mark, the second caution of the race was called to remove a Challenge Car from the gravel. Still in fifth, Lizard chief strategist Thomas Blam called Bergmeister immediately into the pits as soon as they opened under yellow. All of the GT2 leaders also pitted for driver changes, tires and fuel. The No. 62 and the No. 92 (which had been farther back in the field) did not change tires. After a fast pit stop, Patrick Long was now at the wheel and made it out of the pits ahead of the No. 87, moving him up a position. After the round of GT2 pit stops was complete, just after the restart, the No. 4 Corvette, which was in second, and the No. 92 BMW got together, sending them both back to the pits with damage. After a visit to the garage for repairs, the No. 4 Corvette returned to the race, but was several laps down.
The No. 62 was now in the lead, the No. 3 Corvette in P2 and the No. 45 in P3. In the No. 44, van Overbeek had moved up 4 positions from the start to P9. Just before the 90-minute mark of the four-hour race, an incident between the No. 62 and the No. 33 sent the No. 62 back to the pits with a damaged radiator, putting the No. 3 Corvette into the GT2 lead with the No. 45 in P2. With no chance of a podium finish, and facing a lengthy repair, Risi retired the No. 62.
The Lizards now had both the drivers' and team championships secured. Blam notified Patrick Long that he could now race for the win. Long was now in P3 with the No. 21 PTG Panoz in P2. Shortly before the race halfway point, in the middle of a lengthy caution to remove several Challenge cars, the No. 45 pitted just after the pits opened. A lightning fast pit stop sent Patrick out again ahead of the No. 3 Corvette, which had pitted just before him. Once the rest of the GT2 field pitted, the No. 45 now had the lead - which they held for the rest of the race.
Long did a double stint, working to pace himself and the tires but still keep a gap between the No. 3 Corvette in second. Over the next 30 minutes, the No. 3 gradually closed the gap to seven seconds. With less than an hour to go in the race, the No. 45 pitted under green for its final stop for driver change, tires and fuel. After a third seamless pit stop, Bergmeister drove by the No. 3 Corvette, just one pit stall down, which had pitted at the same time but was still in the pits .
Once the field resorted after the pit stops, Bergmeister retained the lead in the No. 45 and the No. 3 Corvette was P2 - 14 seconds behind the No. 45. In the No. 44, Johannes van Overbeek, back in the car after Seth Neiman's stint, was now P7.
Now it was a race against time for Bergmeister in the No. 45 as he battled traffic to stay ahead of the No. 3 Corvette. 20 minutes left to go and the No. 3 Corvette had halved the gap - now 7 seconds behind. Ten minutes later the gap was less than 4 seconds. Bergmeister narrowly avoided disaster when coming into Turn 11 when the No. 15 prototype got loose and braked hard, forcing Bergmeister to brake. Luckily he was able to keep from impacting the wall, but had flat spotted his tires. This allowed the No. 3 to close the rest of the gap and they were now bumper to bumper. Over the next seven minutes, the two cars drove nose to tail, making contact on nearly every corner and trading positions several times as the No. 3 Corvette tried unsuccessfully to get by.
With two laps to go, both cars were neck and neck on the front straight with the No. 3 on the inside when the No. 3 suddenly went off track, short cutting through pit lane to overtake Joerg, which is not allowed by IMSA rules. Race control notified the cars to switch positions and Joerg retook the lead.
Starting the final lap, it was clear that both drivers were giving it everything they had to cross the finish line first. It came down to the last hundred yards: the two cars flew through Turn 11, the No. 45 in the lead, when the No. 3 Corvette made contact with the rear of the No. 45, allowing him to get next to the No. 45 on the inside going down the front straight. As they neared the finish line, the No. 3, now nearly touching the inside wall, but still slightly behind the No. 45, pushed to overtake the No. 45 on the inside. The No. 3 moved to go past the No. 45, but without enough room to maneuver, the two cars made contact, sending the No. 3 spinning across the track in front of the No. 45, with a hard impact into the far concrete wall. The No. 45 took the win, with the No. 3 second. The No. 44 finished fifth in GT2.
Bergmeister said, "It definitely was not the way that I wanted to finish out the race. I hope that Jan (Magnussen) is OK and I am sorry that the race ended in contact. A huge thank you to the team: this race was won in the pits. I'm honored to be part of the 100th Porsche win and my second championship in a row with Flying Lizard."
Patrick Long reflected on the season, "Our five wins in a row in the first half of the season built a foundation for the championship. To drive the way that we needed to over the season to win the title required flawless strategy, engineering and pit work, the 100 percent reliability provided by Porsche and the performance of the Michelin tires. And in the end we were able to race for the victory."
Long added, "The sweetest feeling in racing is to win both a championship and to go out winning in the final race. A huge thanks to the team for the incredible number of hours they put into the program this year, and our partners and sponsors who made this possible. The pit work in the race today was incredible and in both pit stops we were out ahead of our competition, allowing us to first take and then extend our lead."