Road Atlanta: Rahal Letterman Racing race report

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING EARNS PODIUM FINISH IN FIRST RUN AT PETIT LE MANS BRASELTON, Ga. - During a 1,000-mile race, one flat tire amounts to little more than a nuisance, two flat tires are a cause for concern, and as the Rahal Letterman Racing...

RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING EARNS PODIUM FINISH IN FIRST RUN AT PETIT LE MANS

BRASELTON, Ga. - During a 1,000-mile race, one flat tire amounts to little more than a nuisance, two flat tires are a cause for concern, and as the Rahal Letterman Racing Bell Micro-sponsored GT2 Porsche team found out today, three flat tires can kill a chance for victory.

In today's 1,000-mile odyssey known as the Petit Le Mans, three flat tires may have kept the first-year American Le Mans team from scoring its first series win, but the team of Ralf Kelleners, Tom Milner and Graham Rahal battled to the very last mile to score third place in the day-long endurance race.

"We finished a very long race with no technical problems and it was very good for us," said Kelleners. "The team showed that it could put together a strong car that would be fast over a long day. If luck would have been on our side we could have won, but we are pleased with the way we finished."

Kelleners suffered the first bit of misfortune on the day when he suffered a cut tire after contacted initiated by the LMP1 machine of Jon Field. The resulting pit stop for new Michelins dropped the team a lap down, but Milner took over in his first stint and worked his way back to the lead lap, marching up to fourth before handing the #18 Porsche over to the young Rahal.

Graham took over and immediately matched the pace of his more experienced teammates, running the team's fastest lap of the race during that stint. He marched past one of the two Flying Lizard GT2 squads into third, caught a timely caution that erased a 80-second advantage for the class-leading Risi Competizione Ferrari driven by Mika Salo, and took the lead when the Risi squad rolled into Pit Lane for its driver change soon after.

"We got our lap back midway through the race, our guys did a great job and my co-drivers were awesome," Rahal reported. "We were leading during my stint and were fighting with the Flying Lizard team that won the race, but those guys didn't have a single problem. It was a good drive for us. If you look at the big picture, if we didn't have all the problems we had, we would have been further up the list but it was still a great day for us."

Kelleners took back over for Rahal after 180 orbits (the GT2 winner would ultimately run 353 laps) and kept the team up front during his second stint, but a pair of untimely cautions dropped the RLR machine 55 seconds out of the lead. Getting right back to work, the German gobbled 15 of those seconds back up before handing the wheel back to Milner for the final stint of the evening.

But Milner suffered a punctured tire just 17 laps into his run, dropping him a lap down, and then collected the team's third flat just 38 laps later after contact with the Mazda Speed LMP2 machine. Undaunted, Milner went back to work after getting a new tire, along with serving a stop-and-go penalty for exceeding the pit-lane speed limit.

The final caution of the night flew with 24 laps to run when the Lista Doran Maserati crashed in Turn 12, which brought Milner to the rear of the second-placed Tafel Racing Porsche driven by Dominik Farnbacher. Milner got around Farnbacher on the first lap after the restart, but the tenacious Tafel car battled back. Milner blunted charge after charge from Farnbacher as the two spent the next 10 laps within a second of each other, but a last-lap spin by Milner promoted the Tafel car to second while the RLR squad scored third - taking its fourth podium of the season.

"It wasn't the best ending for us, but third place isn't bad," lamented Milner. "I got a good run out of (Turn) 10b and was able to get around Dominik and we went on to have a good battle. The spin at the end was my fault but we brought the car home and that's what counts. The crew did a great job and the car had great pace all night. Third isn't bad, but we are looking to take the next step."

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Ralf Kelleners , Graham Rahal , Dominik Farnbacher
Teams Risi Competizione