GT Finale: Victory and titles for BMW ALMS final - Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, 6 October 2001 Munich. Victory in the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta crowns an exciting season in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) for GT...
GT Finale: Victory and titles for BMW
ALMS final - Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, 6 October 2001 Munich. Victory in the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta crowns an exciting season in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) for GT manufacturer champion BMW. On Saturday, Hans-Joachim Stuck and his two American partners Bill Auberlen and Boris Said drove the BMW M3 GTR of the American BMW Team PTG to a GT class victory in the 1000-mile race on the 2.54-mile roller-coaster circuit in the U.S. state of Georgia. "The new V8-powered M3 GTR is a fantastic car and such a pleasure to drive," said a delighted Stuck. "Everything went brilliantly for us today."
Second place in the ALMS final went to the two Mullers - Dirk and Jorg - in the M3 GTR fielded by Team BMW Motorsport and also driven by the 450 bhp V8 engine. That means one Muller has stepped into the shoes of the other, with Jorg becoming new GT champion in the ALMS sharing a car with the previous title-holder. For Jorg Muller this is the first championship title that hasn't been claimed in a single-seater car. The 31-year-old has won titles in Formula Ford, Formula 3, and in the Formula 3000 European Championship. From 1997 to 2000 he worked as a Formula 1 test driver.
"I came here with the aim of winning the title," he says. "I tried to go easy on the car, and now of course I'm incredibly thrilled and relieved that it has worked out. But," he regretted, "I'm deeply disappointed that I can't celebrate the title together with JJ." JJ Lehto (FIN) and Jorg Muller shared a BMW throughout the season and claimed a total of four victories. They had split up for the final race to maximize their chances. "JJ deserves the title as much as I do," Muller was at pains to point out.
Up to two hours before the end of the race, Muller/Muller looked certain to win. But then a one-minute stop-and-go-penalty set the duo back. During a driver changeover, Jorg had helped the mechanics with cleaning the windscreen. The regulations state that the driver may only be assisted in getting into the car and buckling up. "Apart from that it was a great race," said Dirk, "Even though it was pretty tough with just two of us driving."
JJ Lehto, who finished the season in second place, was in the second M3 GTR of Team BMW Motorsport, alternating at the wheel with Karl Wendlinger (A) and Fredrik Ekblom (S), who celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday. Luck wasn't on Lehto's side for the final. During night practice on Thursday he got involved in a serious accident that left his M3 GTR so severely damaged that it took until just before Friday's qualifying to be repaired. The fact that Lehto nevertheless managed to clinch the pole position was celebrated like a victory by the delighted team. Along with Ekblom, the Finn led the first two-and-a-half hours of the race. Following a collision he then had to make an unscheduled pit stop, thereby losing a lap to Muller/Muller. Later on in the race, Wendlinger also made contact with a rival. "It affected the wheel track," explained a disappointed Lehto. "That meant the car was extremely difficult to drive and there was no question of catching up again."
The second M3 GTR, fielded by Team PTG and driven by Americans Brian Cunningham and David Murray together with Niclas Jonsson (S), was forced to retire about four hours into the race due to a broken cardan shaft disc.
BMW Motorsport Team Manager Charly Lamm summed up the race: "I'm absolutely thrilled at our winning manufacturers', team and drivers' classifications. Today's race was extremely tough, and there was no respite in the pits either. With ten safety car stages, it was impossible to get into a proper rhythm because we were constantly having to change tack."
Brand-new car in the top export market
"The teams and drivers put in a superb performance in this year's ALMS venture," noted BMW Motorsport Director Dr. Mario Theissen. "Because of the vast distance covered, the logistical demands were enormous, plus we had to get the new BMW M3 GTR race-ready in the course of the season. Seen against that kind of background, this season's successes can't be rated highly enough." Added Theissen: "They're also extremely important for BMW, with North America being our biggest market after Germany. In fact, when it comes to M cars, the U.S.A. is our largest market worldwide. The BMW fan community over here is also impressively well-organized in a large network of clubs, and they can experience the brand's sporting credentials at the trackside."
35,000 miles on business
For Germany's Team BMW Motorsport in particular, the season was marked by unusually long journeys to work. The Team rolled to ten races spread across six American states, Canada, England and Spain. If test sessions are included, the trucks clocked about 7,000 miles in Europe and almost 28,000 miles in North America. Team members sometimes spent an entire month in the U.S.A. and the shortest home visit was just five days. The Team didn't have any permanent facilities in the States as there wasn't enough time between the races. Work had to be carried out in the various paddocks. The BMW Team PTG of Tom Milner ran its operations from Winchester, Va.
Seven victories and six poles in ten races
Following the ALMS season opener in Fort Worth, Texas, at which both the German and the American BMW teams were still running last year's cars, the new BMW M3 GTR made its debut at the Sebring 12 Hours. This endurance race in Florida served as the first test drive for the GT sports car - which stayed the course around the clock. "But," said Charly Lamm recalling the subsequent inspection of the car, "It would hardly have lasted another mile." The March race at Sebring saw Lehto/J. Muller claim the first podium place for the BMW M3 GTR.
The subsequent European guest appearance at Donington (GB) saw both BMW cars retiring from the race. But the next event in Jarama (E) was to provide compensation with the coupe claiming its first one-two victory (winners: Ekblom/D. Muller). Sears Point in California saw BMW contesting the race in the new sports cars with its full team complement. From then on, PTG also fielded two M3 GTRs. At Sears Point, victory went to Lehto/J. Muller, with the following race in Portland claimed by Stuck/Said. In Mosport, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca, one-two victories were gleaned by Lehto/J. Muller ahead of Ekblom/D. Muller. The final had Auberlen/Said/ Stuck claiming victory number seven for BMW.
<pre> GT Class results Petit Le Mans: 1. Bill Auberlen (USA)/Boris Said (USA)/Hans-Joachim Stuck, BMW M3 GTR, 360 laps 2. Dirk Müller (D)/Jörg Müller (D), BMW M3 GTR, 359 laps 3. Lucas Luhr (D)/Sascha Maassen (D), Porsche 911 GT3, 355 laps 4. Fredrik Ekblom (S)/JJ Lehto (FIN), Karl Wendlinger (A), BMW M3 GTR, 355 laps 5. Randy Pobst (USA)/Christian Menzel (D), Porsche 911 GT3, 353 laps 6. Christophe Bouillon (F)/Johnny Mowlem (GB)/Michael Petersen (USA), Porsche, 344 laps
Final standings GT Class ALMS 2001, drivers: 1. Jörg Müller, BMW, 191 points 2. JJ Lehto, BMW, 186 3. Sascha Maassen, Porsche, 177 4. Lucas Luhr, Porsche, 176 5. Boris Said, BMW, 169 6. Dirk Müller, BMW, 164 7. Fredrik Ekblom, BMW, 159 8. Hans-Joachim Stuck, BMW, 158 9. Randy Pobst, Porsche, 148 10. Christian Menzel, Porsche,148
Manufacturers 1. BMW, 204 2. Porsche, 180 3. Callaway, 22
Teams 1. Team BMW Motorsport, 194 2. Alex Job Racing, 180 3. BMW Team PTG, 170 4. Seikel Motorsport, 112 5. Kyser Racing, 106 6. Petersen, 104