BMW Wins Third Consecutive GT3 Manufacturer's Title, Simo Scores First Driver's Championship at Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, Calif., Oct. 24, 1998: Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group (PTG) BMW M3 team secured BMW's third consecutive Professional Sports Car Racing (SPORTS CAR) GT3 manufacturer's championship and Mark Simo's first-ever GT3 driver's title in today's wet and wild Visa Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway.
PTG BMW M3s finished second and fifth behind the class-winning Alex Job Racing Porsche to give BMW a 191-175 advantage in the season-ending GT3 manufacturer's standings over Porsche.
Simo co-drove the No. 6 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 coupe that finished second to close out the season with a 177-175 edge in the driver's standings over PTG teammate and 1997 driver's champion Bill Auberlen, whose No. 1 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 four-door was fifth today.
"We're very happy to have brought BMW another title, and we're very proud of the progress Mark Simo has made this season," said Milner, whose PTG team also captured its second consecutive team championship with five wins in the eight SPORTS CAR events this season. "Mark started the year with very little experience driving these types of race cars, and he's proven to be a very quick study. We finished on top, across the board, and everyone deserves a pat on the back for that."
"It's been an outstanding season by an excellent group of individuals," added Scott Doniger, M Brand Manager, BMW of North America, Inc. "Tom Milner and his team went above and beyond the call of duty in a season that became much more competitive than anyone expected."
For Simo, who co-drove to three SPORTS CAR wins this season, it was an unlikely championship when the day began. He started four points behind Auberlen in the driver's standings and was slated to co-drive the No. 1 team car with him. But a last-minute change of strategy in cold and rainy conditions at the start of the 2-hour, 30-minute event saw Simo get into the No. 6 PTG BMW M3 after Peter Cunningham. Cunningham then replaced Auberlen in the No. 1 car.
Midway through the race, Cunningham made contact from behind with a slower car, damaging the No. 1 PTG BMW M3's radiator - a problem that cost two laps in the pits for repairs. Simo, meanwhile, cruised to the runner-up finish.
"Funny how things work out," Simo said. "It wasn't really my weekend, but I leave here with the driver's championship. Luck of the draw, I guess. As close as we (PTG) drivers were in the points coming into this race, it could have been any one of us. But it turned out to be me, and I consider it a team championship. It's been a huge learning experience for me all year, with a little bit of magic at the end."
All was not lost this day for Auberlen, who got behind the wheel of the No. 2 Riley & Scott BMW V8 World Sports Car after finishing his opening stint in the PTG BMW M3 and went on to score his first overall SPORTS CAR victory.
"The BMW M3 was perfect, as always, but it was an unfortunate turn of events that cost me the driver's championship," he said. "That's the way it goes. On the other hand, I'm absolutely thrilled after jumping into the WSC car and winning the race overall. I've been a part of the WSC program all season long, as well (in European-based International Sports Racing Series), so I'm truly blessed to be involved with two such first-rate programs."
PTG and BMW's sweep of the SPORTS CAR GT3 championships today makes it a double-sweep, of sorts, for 1998. PTG BMW M3s won four of the five events on the revived United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) this season to win the GT3 manufacturer's title in that rival series, the team title for PTG, and the driver's championship for Ross Bentley.
FINAL SPORTS CAR GT3 POINTS STANDINGS Drivers Manufacturers Team
Mark Simo 177 BMW 191 PTG 191 Bill Auberlen 175 Porsche 175 Alex Job Racing 129 Peter Cunningham 173 Ross Bentley 164