BMW Inches Closer to Manufacturer's, Driver's Titles After 'Eventful' Petit Le Mans Endurance Challenge
BRASELTON, Ga., Oct. 10, 1998: Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 team overcame more than its share of setbacks to move BMW and Bill Auberlen closer to Professional Sports Car Racing (SPORTS CAR) GT3-class manufacturer's and driver's championships at today's inaugural Petit Le Mans 1,000-mile endurance race at Road Atlanta.
Milner's PTG BMW M3s placed second, third and fourth on a day that saw one of his cars crash heavily, one stop on course with electrical problems before resuming, and another needing to have its differential replaced.
"Second, third and fourth is not as good as first, second and third (the way his trio of GT3-class entries qualified for this race on Friday), but today, I'll take it," said Milner, whose team already clinched its second consecutive SPORTS CAR GT3 team title last month at Sebring, Fla. "Whatever could go wrong for us today, did. That was the case for many of the teams here today. It was a fast-paced test of attrition on an incredibly grueling track. But we persevered, and the entire team and our drivers showed their character."
"I'm proud to be associated with this team," said Scott Doniger, M Brand Manager, BMW of North America, Inc. "We showed our mettle today by overcoming every mechanical obstacle we faced. We're still in the hunt for the manufacturer's championship, and it's guaranteed one of our drivers will win another championship this year. The inaugural Petit Le Mans proved that sports car racing is back in the U.S., and, along with the 40,000 people who packed this place today, we see it as a stepping stone to a very bright future."
Ross Bentley, Darren Law, David Besnard and Jeff Shafer shared the runner-up finish in the No. 6 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 coupe. They finished seven laps behind the GT3-class-winning No. 76 Porsche 911. Most of that time was lost due to wheel bearing problems during the seventh hour.
"That's one of the strangest days I've seen with this team," Bentley said. "But, in racing, I guess we all must go through these things. Every one of our cars had at least one significant setback. But we came through like champions nonetheless."
Peter Cunningham, Brian Simo, Terry Borcheller and Javier Quiros finished 39 laps behind their runner-up teammates for third place in the brand new No. 1 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 four-door. Their problems included a differential that needed replacing during the fourth hour. The car then stopped on course with electrical problems and lost several laps while the PTG crew delivered a new "black box" that driver Borcheller replaced on course. Then, they were in and out of the pits fighting driveshaft problems during the closing hours.
The No. 10 Yokohama/Fina BMW M3 four-door of GT3 points leader Bill Auberlen, Mark Simo and Andy Pilgrim was leading by five laps during the eighth hour when Simo crashed heavily into the tire barrier outside Turn 12.
"All I have to say is, BMW makes a great car because I hit the wall hard and it kept me in one piece," said Simo, who trails Auberlen by four points in the driver's standings. "Something broke because I turned and turned on the wheel and kept going straight." "Thankfully, Mark is all right and that's all that matters," said Auberlen, the defending GT3 driver's champion. "We've got another race and our points leads are intact as a result of our chief competition (the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche) having even bigger problems today. That's the way this team is. Give us your best shot, and we find a way to rise to the challenge."
The SPORTS CAR season concludes at the Visa Sports Car Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 24.
SPORTS CAR GT3 POINTS LEADERS (Provisional - After 7 of 8 events)
Drivers Manufacturers Team
Bill Auberlen 160 BMW 170 PTG 170** Mark Simo 156 Porsche 150 Alex Job Racing 104 Ross Bentley 154 Peter Cunningham152 ** Clinches Team Championship Cort Wagner 123