STRONG PERFORMANCES FROM BMW M3, YOKOHAMA RAISES OPTIMISM LEVEL FOR BMW TEAM PTG Sebring, Fla. - So far, BMW Team PTG's return to the American Le Mans Series has gone well. Actually, make that very well - so well in fact that team owner Tom...
STRONG PERFORMANCES FROM BMW M3, YOKOHAMA RAISES OPTIMISM LEVEL FOR BMW TEAM PTG
Sebring, Fla. - So far, BMW Team PTG's return to the American Le Mans Series has gone well. Actually, make that very well - so well in fact that team owner Tom Milner has been genuinely surprised.
"Yes, I'm a little surprised at how well it's going so far," Milner admitted Wednesday, the final day of the American Le Mans Series Winter Test. "It speaks well for Yokohama as a product and BMW as a product. Yes, we haven't raced for a couple of years, but it feels like nothing has changed."
So begins the first full season in the Series for BMW since 2001, when the prestigious German marque won the GT class championship. Things have started well for BMW Team PTG, as evidenced by Joey Hand's fast lap in Wednesday morning's practice session. He turned a 2:03. 355, the best GT2 lap of the week, that was about 1.5 seconds better than the class qualifying record (2:04.804 by Timo Bernhard). Not bad for a car that has been sitting in the team shop for a year-and-a-half, Milner said.
He credited not just the team, but also long-standing tire partner Yokohama, which has been working on creating new compounds and tire constructions for BMW Team PTG's return to the Series.
"I was well aware with the past relationship, and from the day I walked in the door it was going to be a top priority," said Robert Dole, Yokohama's product promotions manager. " We're very committed to the American Le Mans Series in general, but to be specifically involved with BMW Team PTG was something we wanted to rekindle.
"Over the last few years, we've made improvements," he added. "We started with some basic setup things we had during the last race (2003 Petit Le Mans). We made some estimates with where we want to go."
For the most part they've been dead-on, said Bill Auberlen. A driver for Panoz Motor Sports in 2005 and 2002, Auberlen is back with BMW for 2006. There's definitely a comfort level there, as some of Auberlen's best moments came with Milner and BMW in the early years of the American Le Mans Series.
"As a driver, it's fantastic," Auberlen said. "To come back into the American Le Mans Series with the BMW M3 is the best thing you can do in racing. I had so much success with Tom and PTG. Then to reincarnate that relationship with Yokohama is a tremendous positive. This thing is going to be a winning program."
How long that will take is what everyone wants to know. Auberlen knows all too well how good the class is, having won in the Panoz Esperante last year. And Milner knows the strengths of Porsche and the Esperante efforts from Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz.
"This is just a test, but from the reports I've gotten and have seen, and for the first time out with the tire situation, I'm pretty happy," Milner said. "We're very happy to be back in the American Le Mans Series, and we realize that life won't be very easy.
"We haven't raced in the Series for four years," he added. "To say we're going to come to Sebring and say we are going to win wouldn't be fair. We believe that during the course of the year we can be competitive."
The American Le Mans Series begins its 2006 season with the 54th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The 12-hour endurance classic is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EST on March 18 at Sebring International Raceway and will be televised on SPEED Channel. American Le Mans Series Radio will have flag-to-flag coverage available at www.americanlemans.com, along with IMSA Live Timing & Scoring.