RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING SCORES ITS FIRST-EVER ALMS PODIUM WITH SECOND PLACE RUN AT LIME ROCK
LAKEVILLE, Connecticut - The fledgling Rahal Letterman Racing squad had been showing flashes of brilliance during the first half of the 2007 American Le Mans Series season, but those flashes had been as fleeting as lightning in a summer storm.
The RLR #18 BellMicro Porsche 911GT3 RSR squad turned up the intensity Saturday afternoon at Lime Rock Park and stormed to its first-ever series podium, finishing second in the GT2 class with drivers Tom Milner and Ralf Kelleners at the wheel.
Starting fourth in the GT2 class, Milner piloted the BellMicro Porsche around the tight 1.54-mile road course for the first stint, putting the car in position to score its first podium, while Kelleners buckled in for the latter half of the race and brought it home in second place.
"We're finally on the podium!" Milner exclaimed. "Things went really well for us today until the end, but it was good for us to do well today. We feel that we've closed the gap to the top Porsches and it shows we are improving."
As has been the case in a number of events this year, racing luck left the RLR squad just when it needed it the most, wresting a chance of victory from the capable hands of Milner and Kelleners. The team made its strongest on-track march of the season, powering through the field to harass the leading Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche that was in the hands of Johannes van Overbeek.
But a pit stop dropped the RLR Porsche 20 seconds in arrears to the Flying Lizard machine, requiring Kelleners to get up on the wheel in order to run down the leader. Fresh Michelin tires enabled him to do just that, as he made up chunks of time and reeled in the leader, only to be sidelined when one of the lapped LMP1 machines had contact with the RLR machine, sending the Porsche down Pit Lane to replace a cut tire. The short Lime Rock layout meant that the tire change would automatically put the team a lap down, costing the RLR squad a shot at the GT2 win, Undaunted, Kelleners returned to the circuit and brought the car home in second place, setting a new high-water mark for the first-year squad.
"I think we've really stepped up our game and it showed today," Kelleners said. "We are starting to learn what we need to do to make the car more competitive. Sometimes a race is about using your head and staying out of trouble, instead of just going fast. That's what helped us today when a lot of other teams didn't do that."
Those problems made Saturday's strong podium run even more important in the point standings as two of the top-three teams in the points had troubles and did not score championship points. The combination of the two vaulted Milner and Kelleners from 10th in the GT2 points to sixth, just four points out of fourth.
The ALMS drivers will have the week off before the team hits its 'home' track of Mid-Ohio on July 21. The ALMS cars will attack the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as the support event to the IndyCar Series, running on Saturday evening.