RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING READY FOR ALMS DEBUT AT ST. PETERSBURG HILLIARD, Ohio - After a strong debut at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Rahal Letterman Racing's ALMS Porsche GT2 program returns to the track this week at the Acura Sports Car...
RAHAL LETTERMAN RACING READY FOR ALMS DEBUT AT ST. PETERSBURG
HILLIARD, Ohio - After a strong debut at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Rahal Letterman Racing's ALMS Porsche GT2 program returns to the track this week at the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. Although this is the inaugural visit for the American Le Mans Series to the scenic 1.8 mile street course, RLR has raced three times previously at St Pete with its open-wheel program.
RLR first raced at St. Pete in 2003 when Michel Jourdain Jr. finished second in the Champ Car event. Buddy Rice enjoyed strong runs RLR at the track in 2005 and 2006 and Danica Patrick posted her top street course result, a sixth place finish, at St. Pete in 2006.
"Certainly there are other teams in ALMS (Penske, AGR, Fernandez) that have raced here in IndyCar, but RLR is the only team in GT2 to have previous experience with the course," said Jay O'Connell Technical Director for RLR. "Does that guarantee us success? No, but it does help ease the learning curve heading into a weekend where track time is at a premium."
RLR's No. 18 Bellmicro Porsche finished sixth in class at Sebring, despite an opening lap incident that saddled the team with a 12 lap deficit .
"It was a good run considering the early problem," said Ralf Kelleners who was caught in the opening lap scrum. "For a first time out I was really impressed with where we fell in the scheme of things. We are still slightly off the pace of the Ferrari's, but I am confident that we can close that gap. RLR has a lot of team depth and that will pay off over the course of the season. We rolled off the truck with our best set-up at Sebring and hopefully we will be pretty close at St Pete, because you just don't have a lot of time to fine tune the set-up before we race."
"If it wasn't for the radiator problem on the first lap, we would have been on the podium for GT2," said Tom Milner. "I think we can carry the momentum from the end of Sebring into St. Pete. I have heard a lot of great things about the atmosphere around this event, and I think it is great for the ALMS to be here. This is the first of four street races on the schedule and the first of three straight. Qualifying is more of an emphasis here because passing is at a premium so you really need a good starting position."
MILNER AND KELLENERS FORM FOUNDATION OF RLR GT2 PROGRAM
A first year program leans heavily on the experience of its people and RLR's ALMS Porsche GT2 program is no different. One of the key components for Bobby Rahal in assembling this team was to find drivers who had experience in the ALMS and in the GT2 program. Rahal paired veteran drivers Ralf Kelleners and Tom Milner to forge the foundation of his first year team.
Kelleners, a 38-year-old native of Dinslaken, Germany, has professional sports car experience dating back to the early 90s and has driven factory entries at Le Mans for Porsche and Toyota and for Ferrari at Sebring and Daytona. Last season he split his season between ALMS for Ferrari (3rd at Sebring) a one-off run in Grand-Am and a run in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring for BMW in Germany. Kelleners is a second-generation driver whose father Helmut was a three-time European Touring Car champion.
"It's exciting to be back in a Porsche with a team in Rahal Letterman that brings such a prestigious name to GT racing," said Kelleners. "As a team we all have a steep learning curve to adapt to a new series, new car and kind of racing. We will have to be very good to be able to compete with the teams that have been around for a long time. I think everyone knows it is going to be a tough fight."
Milner, a 21-year-old native of Washington, Virginia, joins RLR with two full seasons of sports car experience, including last season in the ALMS GT2 series when he drove for Multimatic Motorsports and posted nine top-ten results in ten races. Milner is the son of Team PTG owner, Tom Milner and has spent his entire life in racing and around the family business of racing.
"I'm really excited to finally be here at Sebring for the start of the season," said Milner. "Obviously, this is a special race for RLR as it's their first sports car race. As a new team, Sebring is probably the last race you want to be your first but everyone at RLR hasn't underestimated the challenge. They've worked hard to be prepared for the race and I think that will show on Saturday. 2007 brings a whole new challenge to the race with a huge list of GT2 cars all capable of winning the race. Everyone has stepped up their game and it's going to take a flawless race to win. I'm up for the challenge; I know the team is up for it; and I know my two co-drivers Ralf and Graham are up for it. I can't wait for the race to start."
"In Ralf and Tom I think we have found a combination of experience and potential that will serve as an excellent foundation for our Porsche GT2 entry," said Rahal Letterman co-owner Bobby Rahal. "We had a lot of interest in these opportunities from drivers in ALMS and from other series. I feel strongly that in a first year program it is important to have a level of familiarity in the program with the series and the competitors. Our drivers will set the tone for our program and they will certainly have a wealth of input in our on-track efforts in 2007. Nobody at RLR is underestimating the enormity of the task that competing in GT2 will comprise."