Joey Selmants, ALMS Correspondent
- Heavy rain in Ohio shortens race
- Luhr takes lead, Graf keeps it
- Team Falken earns 1st series GT win
Wild ending in pouring rain for ALMS teams at Mid-Ohio, Muscle Milk takes win
The scenic and challenging Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has historically provided some great battles for the American Le Mans Series and the 2011 running of the race certainly did not disappoint. Round five of the ALMS had a little bit of everything; fierce on-track action, a heap of penalties, first time winners, a rain shortened event due to a heavy rain shower and even a safety car failure.
In LMP1 Dyson Racing’s Guy Smith started from pole and with a very consistent drive, managed to pull out a healthy lead over the Muscle Milk Lola Aston Martin of Lucas Luhr. Unfortunately for Smith and teammate Chris Dyson, the race’s first full courses caution came out after Gunnar Jeannette made a rare mistake and beached the CORE Autosport LMPC car in Turn 11.
You needed a boat or kayak but not a race car.
The caution allowed Luhr to close up the gap Smith had pulled out. Smith tried his hardest to maintain his lead when the race resumed, but Luhr’s powerful V12 in the back of his Aston Martin allowed him to slot into the lead into Turn 1 where the team would stay for the remainder of the race. Luhr set the fastest lap of 1:14.108 before handing the Muscle Milk car over to Klaus Graf who brought it home for the win as the race ended under red flag conditions.
Graf’s last stint was far from easy, however, as he had to deal with extremely treacherous track conditions. Team owner Greg Pickett was present to watch his two German drivers deal with both challenges: taking the win to stand on top step of the podium and dealing with the monsoon.
“I’ve been saying that the track here changes,” Graf said, “[the track] has so many grip changes, there’s new pavement and old pavement. In the dry the new pavement has a lot of grip but in the wet it’s the opposite. I was really using all kinds of experience from many years in racing.”
Graf’s teammate, Luhr was sympathetic to the drivers who had to deal with the heavy rain showers.
“It was dreadful. You needed a boat or kayak but not a race car,” Luhr joked.
Dyson Racing teammates Dyson and Smith ended second followed by a trio of the Oreca FLM09s in their own fight for the LMPC class win.
In the highly competitive LMGT class, the rain provided a spectacular finish and produced a first time winner in Team Falken’s Porsche GT3 RSR. At the final restart with rain falling heavily, Porsche factory driver, Wolf Henzler finally got a chance to showcase Falken’s wet weather tires and they did not disappoint.
The German driver found himself in sixth place as the green flag waved for the race’s final restart and quickly pulled past the RLL Team’s BMW of Bill Auberlen and the Extreme Speed Ferrari of Johannes van Overbeek as the BMW and Ferrari struggled for grip on the pit straight. From there Henzler set his sights on the two Corvettes ahead of him, but was gifted two positions when both Corvette drivers spun their cars off track in the treacherous conditions.
Henzler capped off his dramatic drive from sixth to first place in exactly one lap as he pulled past the leading Porsche of Patrick Long (paired with Joerg Bergmeister) on the front straight. Shortly afterwards the race was red-flagged for heavy rain, deservedly handing Henzler and Bryan Sellers the win. It was the first ALMS victory for the Team Falken Porsche team.
“The tire was so good in even these conditions,” an enthused Henzler said. “Everyone was going on the inside and it was so slippery they were having a difficult time but I was not really. I went on the outside so much quicker that’s how I could pass everyone.”
Fellow Falken driver Sellers scored his first ALMS victory and knew in the back of his mind that Team Falken’s rain tire would eventually prove to be the team’s trump card.
“We knew from the beginning that we had rain [on the way] and we knew from previous events we had a great rain tire”, Sellers said. “The rain tire was fantastic”.
Taking second were Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen for the Corvette Racing team. Third went to Auberlen and Dirk Werner for the local home team of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing who fought back after getting spun by their BMW teammate Dirk Mueller.
LMPC produced another first time winner in Canadian Kyle Marcelli as he piloted the Intersport Racing machine to victory. The LMPC race was far from predictable as many drivers had to deal with some rather aggressive driving and a handful of penalties in the class. Young Marcelli’s first win was extra special for the team as a whole as he led home an Intersport 1-2 finish as he led Jon Field to the line at the team’s home track.
“It was a good battle with Jon (Field),” Marcelli said. “It was a really good weekend for the team. Jon has a lot of family and friends here so it was important for him for the team to do well. I think he’s pretty happy now.”
Co-driving with the Canadian was his teammate for this weekend, Tomy Drissi.
Spencer Pumpelly and Duncan Ende carried over the momentum from their Mosport victory and pole position for Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio as they capped off a great performance in GTC for TRG with the duo’s second straight victory.
“It was a good win. We didn’t unload this weekend really good,” Pumpelly noted. “I feel like we typically unload a good car every now and then and when you don’t and it really tests the team. But we made a great transition making it the car we needed it to be.”
Be sure to catch the ALMS at round 6 of the 2011 Championship as the series heads north to fast and wide open Road America for the Time Warner Road Race Showcase on August 20.