MUSCLE MILK SCORES LONG BEACH WIN AHEAD OF EPIC GT BATTLE
Opening lap pass gives Luhr/Graf win while BMW makes it two in a row in GT
Muscle Milk collected its first American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron win under the Aston Martin Racing banner Saturday as Lucas Luhr made an opening-lap pass on Dyson Racing's Chris Dyson. The Lola-Aston Martin coupe sped away to the overall victory at the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach, leading the Mazda-powered Lola by more than a minute before a full-course caution brought the race to a close behind the safety car.
"I had the plan in my head to get around Chris in the first corner but he did a good job staying ahead," Luhr said. "But I could see I was quicker and made my move a few turns later. The car was good. We had some issues in the first practice and didn't do many laps. The car was running perfectly today."
Shortly after Luhr's pass for the lead, attention turned to a furious GT battle led by Joey Hand in the BMW Team RLL BMW M3 GT. While leading the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Patrick Long and the Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin, Hand was caught out by teammate Bill Auberlen, who spun in Turn 2 just before the 30-minute mark and blocked the course as the GT leaders came back around. Gavin seized the moment, promoting his Corvette into the lead on lap 44.
"My eyes were popping out of my head but that's how street racing is," Hand said. "The incident with Bill was interesting. I went to the right and he went to the right. It wasn't his fault because he couldn't see me."
GTC traffic came into play next when Long attempted to use one of the slower cars for a pick on Gavin in an attempt to take the lead 10 minutes later at Turn 7. Hand, who had fallen to third, anticipated the move and passed both Gavin and Long to move back into the GT lead. Long used the Porsche's power to get back around Hand coming out of the final turn but that lead was short-lived. On lap 31 and after dispatching the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia of Scott Sharp - which had just completed its first pit stop - Long made contact with the Turn 9 wall, damaging the suspension and sending the car to pit lane and an eventual retirement. Hand retook the lead, and a flawless pit stop for the BMW Team RLL ensured Dirk Mueller was in position to take the team's second consecutive win.
"It was definitely not easy because we were out of sync with everyone after the pit stop," Mueller said. "The GT battle was fantastic from the beginning. There are so many moments. It an absolute battle and I knew I had to push like crazy… Jan [Magnussen] pushed really hard toward the end, and I was really happy to see the yellow at the end."
The full-course caution came out with less than eight minutes remaining in the race after two GTC Porsches made contact on the backstretch, leaving a car stranded at Turn Nine and a trail of fluid on the course.
The No. 4 Corvette finished second in the hands Magnussen, who set a new GT race lap record of 1:20.552 . Third place went to the hard-charging Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Toni Vilander and Jaime Melo. The team was forced to start the car from the back of the grid after an accident in qualifying prevented Melo from entering a flying lap.
"If you don't like ALMS GT racing, you don't like racing," Hand said of the thrilling GT race. "If I was a spectator, I'd love to see what is going on out there. At one point I was in third and Long was going to the inside of Gavin into a turn and I was thinking, 'This isn't going to work out for them.' I race to put on a show for people watching at home, and I think that's what we all did."
Meanwhile at the head of the field, the Muscle Milk Lola-Aston Martin built as much as a 70-second lead in the 83-lap race after Luhr found himself in the middle of the intense GT battle.
"I had a bit of a moment with the Flying Lizard Porsche," Luhr recalled. "I saw three GT cars battling and that they were getting pretty close to each other. I lifted because I could see something was about to happen. As I got closer, I could see his suspension was broken and he kept going at got closer and closer as I approached."
"Lucas laid the groundwork today," Graf said. "He brought the car to the pit stop very well. We tried to make it on one stop, which meant I had to save fuel. It is very easy to make mistakes here and it means a different driving style. We were pretty much controlling the race and had no problems. This is a big reward for our guys after Sebring where things didn't go to plan."
It is the second Long Beach overall win for Luhr, who qualified on the LMP1 pole and set the fastest lap of the race en route to a win for Audi Sport Team Joest in 2008.
"Against the Audi with that huge amount of power and torque, the Aston Martin is quite easy to drive," Luhr said. "It was easy to spin the Audi out of the hairpin. Your right foot had to be so much more sensible. The view from inside the (Lola-Aston Martin) is much better than I expected. But it's two completely different cars. The handling on the city circuit is better in the Aston Martin."
In LMPC, polesitter CORE autosport faced off against Intersport Racing. The pivotal moment came on lap 56 when Gunnar Jeannette's ORECA FLM09 passed Kyle Marcelli for the lead in Turn 1. It was the first win for the new LMPC team and defending Cooper Tires Prototype Lites championship team but the second in a row at Long Beach for Jeannette. Finishing third overall with Ricardo Gonzalez, Jeannette also set a new LMPC race lap record at Long Beach, a 1:18.620.
"I'm so happy to be up here for CORE autosport's first win," Jeannette said. "Ricardo did a fantastic job today and put in a monster first stint. We decided to take tires under green, and props to our guys for being able to do a four-tire change under green and get us out behind the Intersport car. I could catch him pretty easily and made the move. It's never easy to win here at Long Beach and any street course in the ALMS. To have two wins here in a row, I have to pinch myself."
"For the team to win in its second season racing and second race in ALMS is fantastic," teammate Gonzalez said. "It's very nice to get a win and I could really get used to it."
Completing the LMPC podium with Intersport's Marcelli and Tomy Drissi were Eric Lux and Elton Julian in the Genoa Racing ORECA FLM09.
Black Swan Racing, which had a rough debut at Long Beach last year, navigated the treacherous streets like veterans this year for its second straight GTC win of the season with Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen behind the wheel of their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry.
"Last year we came here and had a terrible weekend - one of those that you want to forget," team owner Pappas said. "But we decided to come out here this year and be strong. The car was perfect and we didn't have any problems. We kept crossing our fingers all weekend."
"It's great to be back here and win with Black Swan," said Bleekemolen, who did not drive with the team at Sebring. "This race was quite hard. I was able to pull away from the rest of the cars on old tires but had a moment with a prototype that made things interesting again."
The Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup piloted by Bill Sweedler and Leh Keen finished second in GTC, followed by Magnus Racing's John Potter and Craig Stanton, a Long Beach native.
Level 5 Motorsports the LMP2 winner, though the team elected to park the Lola-Honda coupe piloted by Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut after 45 laps.
"We're running Le Mans and going to the Test Day next Sunday," team owner Tucker explained. "One of our goals here was bringing the coupe, which is leaving in two hours. We decided this was the best thing to do in the overall picture."
"I am happy to be here and win at Long Beach," Bouchut said. "It is always a big challenge with traffic. Of course the big race at Le Mans is upcoming and we have a lot to do."
We're running Le Mans and going to the Test Day next Sunday.
MICHELIN. GREEN X. Challenge honors went to LMP1 winner Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing and GT winner BMW Team RLL.
The Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach will be broadcast on ESPN2 from 5 to 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. Following the ESPN2 broadcast, the race will be available on demand at both ESPN3.com and americanlemans.com.
The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron will take its traditional break for those teams preparing to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and return for Round 3, the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, on July 9. The race will be shown live and in its entirety on ESPN3.com in the United States and internationally on americanlemans.com starting at 1:05 p.m. ET. ESPN2 will provide television coverage from 1 to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 10. Visit the American Le Mans Series` schedule page for information on tickets and area accommodations.