MONTEREY, Calif. - The Rahal Letterman Racing squad started fourth in the American Le Mans Series GT2 class for the fourth time this season in today's Monterey Sports Car Championships, with two of the previous three starts resulting in podium ...
MONTEREY, Calif. - The Rahal Letterman Racing squad started fourth in the American Le Mans Series GT2 class for the fourth time this season in today's Monterey Sports Car Championships, with two of the previous three starts resulting in podium spots.
Today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the #18 Bell Micro-sponsored entry occupied spots throughout the top five, including ripping around the 2.238-mile layout in the lead both with Tom Milner and Ralf Kelleners at the wheel, but in the end a fast Ferrari and a fuel-starved Porsche 911 GT3 RSR dropped the team back to third, where the RLR squad registered its fourth podium in its last five races.
Kelleners was in the car for the last 60 minutes of the four-hour finale, wresting the lead from the frontrunning and eventual GT2 class champion Risi Competizione Ferrari with 45 minutes left in the race. Kelleners led the #21 Panoz driven by Bill Auberlen as the clock swept under 30 minutes, but the Ferrari chased Kelleners down after its final pit stop as the German veteran battled flat-spotted tires and the need to try and conserve fuel.
Mika Salo would go on to take the win after passing Kelleners, while the RLR team dropped to third behind Petit Le Mans nemesis Dominik Farnbacher when Kelleners had to stop with two laps to go for a final splash of fuel after the team's conservation method came up just short.
"It was a very tough race. I had to work very hard to keep position," said Kelleners. "The car was good, but with about 45 minutes to go it got very hard to keep pace because of a flat-spotted tire that kept getting worse, and the need to try and save fuel. We are pleased with the result however, and are happy with the way the season ended."
The end was a little bittersweet for Milner as late-race contact between Kelleners and Auberlen knocked the Panoz team off of the podium, a fact that affected Milner since his father runs the Panoz GT2 squad that fell from third to sixth after the incident.
"Certainly, mixed emotions for me tonight because we had a podium finish, but it came at the expense of my father's team and I know how hard those guys have worked - just like we have," Milner said. "We are pleased with the race today, especially after we had some trouble in the warmup session. It was the last race of the year and we really wanted to go for the win, but I think that we did pretty well to score a podium and wrap the season strongly."
Kelleners also lamented the contact with Auberlen, but stated that after a long race in which he personally had a pair of long, fierce battles with the Risi Ferrari, he wasn't going to give up with 10 minutes to go in the race.
"I am sorry that he (Auberlen) went off because of the contact but I had to drive hard," Kelleners said. "He would have gotten me eventually but he had to be a little more patient. I wasn't really in a position to move over and let him go at that point. We were running second and we were going for it."
The team ended its first full season of sportscar competition with five podium finishes in 12 races, including second-place runs at Lime Rock and Road America. The team finished in the top 10 in class in all but one of the year's events and placed both Milner and Kelleners in a tie for fourth place in the driver standings. The championship result was the best for Kelleners since 2003 and is the best of Milner's two seasons in ALMS competition.