Last-lap pass, repass gives Lola-Mazda win over Muscle Milk Honda
ELKHART LAKE, WIS. – Last year's American Le Mans Series race at Road America saw the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team edge the Dyson Racing machine by about a tenth of a second at the finish after four hours of racing in a finish that couldn't possibly be repeated.
That's true – because this year's finish was better.
The No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith lost the lead to the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing No. 6 of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr HPD ARX-03a in the final corner, but Smith repassed Luhr coming up the front straight to take the overall and P1 class win Saturday by just 0.083 seconds at Road America, the seventh of 10 rounds in the ALMS season. It was the closest margin of overall victory in series history.
I knew the way he passed me, I'd be able to get back inside and slingshot by.
After stalking Smith for the last 20 minutes, Luhr dove inside Smith, who barely left a lane open, and held a clear lead on the exit of Turn 14. But because of Luhr's shallow entry to the corner, Smith was able to get a run on Luhr and squeaked by as Luhr edged him toward pit wall.
“It was too close for comfort,” Smith said. “Last year was pretty close, and I didn't think anything was going to beat that. I thought I had (the inside lane) covered. I knew the way he passed me, I'd be able to get back inside and slingshot by.”
In other classes, the Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan driven by David Heinemeier Hannson/Martin Plowman won the P2 class; pit strategy helped Bill Auberlen/Jorg Muller to the GT win in their BMW; the CORE Autosport Oreca-Chevrolet of Alex Popow/Thomas Kimber-Smith/Jonathan Bennett held off teammates Colin Braun/Bennett by two-tenths of a second to win PC; and the Alex Job Racing Porsche of Cooper MacNeil/Jeroen Bleekemolen won GTC.
In P1, the Graf/Luhr car dominated every track session and the first 40 minutes of the race, pulling away by four to six seconds a lap from the start, but an early problem at the rear of the car saw Graf in the pits for an extended time and fall four laps behind Dyson, who started last in the 35-car field after a gearbox issue in qualifying.
Superior speed and timely yellow flags helped Graf and Luhr get back on the lead lap, and on a restart with less than 20 minutes to go, 22 cars were between Smith and Luhr on the track. On the first green lap, Luhr passed 18 cars and was 14.457 seconds back of Smith. A lap later, the gap was 10.9 after a 1:52.318 lap by Luhr. 8.2 seconds on the next lap. Next time around, with 11 minutes to go, Luhr squeezed under Lux in Turn 14 for second, although he lost half a second to Smith getting past. But when the cars crossed the line with six minutes to go, Luhr was right on Smith's tail.
Smith and Luhr fought through lapped traffic over the next three laps, but they had a mostly clear track ahead as the white flag waved (with five seconds remaining). Luhr took a couple of peeks inside and outside Smith, but he didn't have a real passing opportunity until his last-corner slide job.
“I knew if Lucas got behind me, I was going to make it very difficult to pass,” Smith said. “At the end there, it was just basically pure adrenaline. You can't wait in traffic; you just gotta make the gaps where you can.”
With the top seven qualifiers in GT within one second of each other, the class win appeared up for grabs going into the race. The front-running was made mostly by the Flying Lizard Porsches of Jorg Bergmeister/Patrick Long and Seth Nieman/Marco Holzer and the Corvette of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner, but under a yellow flag with 40 minutes to go, those cars made their final stops, putting the BMWs of Bill Auberlen/Jorg Muller and Dirk Muller/Jonathan Summerton in front.
Auberlen held on for the win from there over a raging, bump-laden war that saw Bergmeister/Long get back to second place and the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari of Scott Sharp/Johannes Van Overbeek finish third after Van Overbeek nerfed Jan Magnussen's Corvette into a spin on the last corner.
“At the moment, I think we're lacking a little bit of straight-line speed, so we need to work with different pit strategies,” Jorg Muller said.
“As we got later in the race, the car got faster and faster,” Auberlen said. “We just beat the yellow flag in (to the pits), so that got us out front,”
Actor Patrick Dempsey earned his first podium in P2, finishing second in class with Joe Foster and Ben Devlin. The Level 5 Motorsports machine of Scott Tucker/Christophe Bouchut was third.
Road America president George Bruggenthies announced before the race that next year's ALMS race at the track will be the Sunday of the Road Race Showcase weekend, instead of the traditional Saturday event. Also, the Showcase weekend is set for Aug. 10-11, a week earlier than usual.
Other races at Road America
In other races Saturday at Road America, Scott Anderson took the lead from his second starting spot and led flag-to-flag to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race, finishing 1.69 seconds ahead of Spencer Pigot. Matthew Brabham, who won both of Friday's races, placed third.
Tristan Nunez took the overall win in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites class, finishing the 19-lap race 3.475 seconds ahead of Daniel Goldburg to sweep the series' two-race weekend. Class winners were Jon Brownson (Masters, fourth overall), Scott Tucker (L2, eighth) and Ryan Booth (UNC, 13th).
Sean Johnston also swept the all-Porsche IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge doubleheader, winning Saturday over Madison Snow. The 45-minute race finished under a yellow flag after a three-car wreck that started at the exit of Turn 14 and blocked the track near the entrance to pit road, but Johnston held a lead of more than five seconds before the caution. Melanie Snow, one of the drivers involved in the crash, was taken to a local hospital with ankle and back pain. Tucker, pulling triple-duty, won the Gold class, finishing 12th overall.