Road America: Rahal Letterman Racing race report

RLR MATCHES SEASON-BEST FINISH WITH SECOND-PLACE RUN AT ROAD AMERICA ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - It is a time-honored adage in racing that you can not win a race on the first lap. And while that remained true after Saturday's American Le Mans...

RLR MATCHES SEASON-BEST FINISH WITH SECOND-PLACE RUN AT ROAD AMERICA

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - It is a time-honored adage in racing that you can not win a race on the first lap.

And while that remained true after Saturday's American Le Mans Series Generac 500 at Road America, the Rahal Letterman Racing squad showed that the first lap can pay huge dividends. The first-year team used shrewd strategy and timely pit calls during a first-lap caution to score its second runner-up finish of its first ALMS season.

The RLR Porsche 911 GT3 RSR was in the right place at the right time for most of the four-hour race, as racing luck finally smiled on a team that has seen more than its share of heartbreak during its inaugural campaign. The race took four hours to run with teams completing more than 85 laps around the demanding 4.048-mile circuit, but it was the first lap that made all the difference for the Ohio-based team.

Starting 21st overall and sixth in the GT2 class, the Bell Micro-sponsored machine, co-driven by Ralf Kelleners and Tom Milner, was called into the pits for fuel after a first-lap tangle between Terry Borcheller and Dominik Farnbacher brought out a full-course caution.

Innocuous as it seemed at the time, the extra fuel allowed the team to stay on track for a handful of extra laps at the end of the opening fuel stint while others pitted. Normally the strategy pays off as the team that can stay out longer can run faster laps than the rest of the field, owing to a lighter fuel load than those cars that stopped for new payloads of Ethanol. But this time, Mother Nature gave the Rahal Letterman Racing team a little bonus.

A heavy storm blew through the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin just after the other cars in the GT2 field pitted for their first stops for fuel and tires, and the timing of the rain couldn't have been better. Due to its ability to run extra laps due to the stop to top off the tanks during the first-lap caution, Milner was able to bring the car in just as it started to rain, not only for fuel, but for Michelin rain tires as well. When those cars that had already pitted for fuel needed to stop again for new rain shoes, the RLR team found itself promoted to the lead.

"Luck was on our side today, but this result belongs to the team because all of the decisions about pitting and tires and strategy worked out perfectly," said Kelleners. "It was tight at the end on fuel and we thought we had a chance to get the win at the end, but it was a great result for the Bell Micro team."

The fierce storm forced the cars to run under caution for more than an hour as officials waited for the rain and lightning to clear the area. The team found itself in a fight with its nemesis Ferrari out of the Risi Competizione stable once the green flag fell, with both cars pitting for the final time with 67 minutes left on the four-hour race clock.

With Kelleners in the car and Jamie Melo in the Ferrari, both drivers spent the last stint in fuel-conservation mode as they tried to make the remainder of the race without having to stop. Kelleners made his fuel last to the checkered flag, but Melo did as well, leaving the RLR car to settle for a season-best second-place finish.

"It was an interesting race and the call at the beginning of the race to pit made all the difference," said Milner. "It's great to see the team continuing to build and get strong results and we hope to keep it going at Mosport."

The ALMS cars will have the next weekend off before heading to the Great White North for the Grand Prix of Mosport August 24-26 in Bowmaville, Ontario, Canada.

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Ralf Kelleners , Dominik Farnbacher
Teams HART