PTG BMW M3 FINISHES SEBRING 12-HOUR IN TOP 10 DESPITE DIFFICULT START TO AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES
SEBRING, Fla. (March 20, 1999) -- A hoped-for third-consecutive GT class victory at the 47th Annual Exxon Superflo 12 Hours of Sebring didn't materialize for Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group (PTG) BMW M3 team today, with both cars falling out of the race. The #7 BMW M3, however, was credited with a ninth-place finish in the inaugural event of the American Le Mans Series, while the #10 M3 finished 11th.
The #7 car completed 238 laps to finish 26th overall in the 58-car field. The #10 car was 31st overall, with 200 laps run. 17 cars competed in the GT class.
Both of the Yokohama/Flextronics International/Level One BMW M3s started strong in the notoriously grueling endurance event, commanding first (#10) and second (#7) place in the GT class for most of the first four hours. The #10 M3 was then forced into the pits twice, to replace the brake pads and the ignition box. Powerful driving, shared equally by Boris Said of Carlsbad, Calif.; Hans Stuck of Austria and Peter Cunningham of West Bend, Wis., returned the car to third place before a suspected engine problem resulted in an early retirement from the race after almost 10 hours.
Just past the halfway point, the #7 M3, with drivers Mark Simo of Carlsbad, Calif.; Brian Cunningham of Danville, Ky. and Johannes van Overbeek of San Francisco, moved into the GT class lead, holding on to first place for most of the next 90 minutes, until the M3 lost its left-front wheel. Van Overbeek was able to drive back to the pits on three wheels, where lengthy repairs were undertaken. The car returned to the race with Simo at the wheel, only to have the differential fail with about an hour to go before the checkered flag flew.
"We were just turning good, consistent laps on the track and starting to move up," said Cunningham, driving the #10, "but without warning the motor dropped to five cylinders exiting turn one and expired soon thereafter. It was the end of our day, unfortunately, but everyone knew we were here. We'll be back in a few weeks in Atlanta and try to show them who's the boss."
Veteran Stuck, who has collected three overall victories in the 12 Hours at Sebring, was surprised with the team's results. "It's very unusual for these cars to have engine problems. But we're adding more revs, we have better-sticking Yokohama tires and we're pushing closer to the edge now," he said. "We expected to come home with points from here. We'll have to do our homework for Road Atlanta. We're still going for the championship, of course, and I have no doubt this talented PTG crew will find the problem and we'll be back on course."
"Florida used to be so good to us. It's really tough to experience," said Scott Doniger, M brand manager for BMW of North America, Inc. "The PTG team was so prepared and the cars were running so well. Unfortunately, it's disappointing to start a brand-new series without the consistency we've had for the past few years. We're looking forward to Road Atlanta to regain our leadership position."
The PTG BMW M3s led the way in GT class testing and practice for the historic endurance race on the 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway. The #10 M3, driven by Boris Said, qualified second in class in two minutes, 10.596 seconds at an average speed of 101.99 miles an hour. The #7, qualified by Mark Simo, started third (2:10.881 / 101.77).
The PTG BMW M3 team will compete next in the Road Atlanta Grand Prix at the Road Atlanta road course in Braselton, Ga. on April 18.
BMW V12 WINS IN ITS DEBUT
The new #42 BMW V12 LMR car, driven by Tom Kristensen of Denmark, J.J. Lehto of Finland and Jorg Muller of Germany, took the overall victory at Sebring by 9.202 seconds over the second-place #20 Riley & Scott MKIII Ford. It was the closest finish in the history of the 12 Hours at Sebring.
SPORTS CLASS WIN
The #14 BMW 328 won the sports class in Friday's Motorola Cup race, with an overall placing of seventh. The car was driven by Howard Liebengood and Scott Harrington.