The Muscle Milk Lola Aston Martin of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf took its first win in the LMP1 class at the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach race.
Luhr took the lead from the pole-winning Dyson Lola Mazda in Turn Five on the first lap and never lost it, cruising home comfortably with a 24-second margin.
“I had the plan in my head to get around Chris [Dyson] in the first corner but he did a good job staying ahead," Luhr told ESPN3. "I could see I was quicker, and made my move a few turns later. The car was good. The car was running perfectly today. For me, this is very special.
“I had a bit of a moment with the Flying Lizard Porsche. 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 and got closer and closer as I approached.
BMW won in GT for the second race in a row, with the #56 M3 of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand beating the #4 Corvette of Jan Magnusson and Oliver Gavin.
Hand spoke to ESPN3 about the race. "We’ve been coming out of the trailer really, really good this year. The BMW has been so strong.
"I don’t know the last time I started a race but it is very nerve-wracking. I had to get the car to Dirk, and the way things were shaking out it was a race of near-misses. If you don’t like ALMS GT racing, you don’t like racing. If I was a spectator, I’d love to see what is going on out there."
In LMPC, Gunnar Jeannette got his first win with his new team, after a good fight with Kyle Marcelli in the #89 Intersport car. “I’m so happy to be up here for CORE Autosport’s first win," he said. "Ricardo [co-driver Ricardo Gonzalez] 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.
"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." (Jeannette won in 2010 driving for Green Earth/Team Gunnar.)
Black Swan picked up its second win of the season, with team owner Tim Pappas and co-driver Jeroen Bleeckemolen using pit strategy as well and quick driving to finish ahead of the #23 Alex Job Porsche of Leh Keen and Bill Sweedler.
"“Last year we came here and had a terrible weekend—one of those that you want to forget" Pappas told ESPN3. "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."
The final battle in P1 didn’t materialize as the race ended under caution. After taking the lead on the first lap, Lucas Luhr brought the Aston Martin in for fuel and a driver change on lap 44, with 54 minutes left in the race. Chances are the big 6-liter Aston Martin V12 would have been too thirsty to last ‘til the end without a splash of fuel. Had not the final seven minutes of the race been run under yellow, things might have gotten extremely exciting.
Chris Dyson in the Dyson Lola Mazda came in a lap after the Aston Martin and opted not to change tires, hoping to get out ahead of the Muscle Milk car, which changed all four. For some reason, the tire engineer decided to check and change tire pressure on all four tires, taking as long as changing all four, would have. This wasted the Dyson team’s advantage—the car went out still in second place, and with old rubber.
Even so, the Dyson car had a chance; if he conserved fuel, and the Aston needed another stop, Guy Smith could have brought the turbocharged Mazda home ahead.
Unfortunately for Dyson, Dion von Moltke in the #68 TRG GTC Porsche touched wheels with Craig Stanton in the #77 Magnus Racing GTC, sending von Moltke spinning hard into the wall near Turn nine. Safety crews were not able to clear the debris in time, and the final five laps were under caution.
Muscle Milk might have gotten lucky or they might have had a few pints of fuel in hand; no one will ever know. But the crew at Dyson will certainly never make the mistake of wasting time checking tire pressures again. New tires or no tires; there is nothing else to consider.
GT: Banging, Bashing, Hard Racing
Rahal Letterman BMW took its second GT win of the season, but not because the opposition didn’t fight hard—and not without some drama generated by the team itself.
Paul Gentilozzi stuffed the #98 Rocketsports Jaguar XKR into the tires at Turn Eight after only six minutes of racing, bringing out a full-course caution. On the restart, Bill Auberlen in the class-leading #55 BMW spun in front of his teammate Joey Hand in the #56 car, letting Oliver Gavin in the $#4 Corvette to push past both cars. It looked as though Auberlen missed a shift or lost power briefly while accelerating.
Hand was not willing to accept second place—or third place, when Patrick Long in the #45 Flying Lizard Porsche pushed past.
Hand hounded the leading pair, who were fighting hard between themselves. On lap 25, Long stuck Gavin behind a GTC car and cut under to try to take the lead. Hand, sitting back and watching it all unfold, was quicker, and dove under both cars to go from third to first in a single move. On a track where passing is supposed to be a challenge, Hand showed what skill, alertness, timing, and gusto can accomplish.
Patrick Long made a few attempts to get back in front of Hand, drawing even but not quite gaining enough. The luck—and traffic—interfered again, as Scott Sharp pulled out of the pits right in front of Joey Hand’s speeding BMW. Long wasted no time pushing his Porsche into the lead, but then made an extremely rare error, bouncing off a curb and locking his front wheels, skidding across the track and slamming the wall on the far side.
The accident was a disaster for Patrick Long and the Flying Lizards, and nearly a disaster for Lucas Luhr in the Aston Martin, who came up on the scene unaware and nearly wrecked into the Porsche.
That didn’t end the GT battle, even though Hand opened a healthy lead. Behind him, the two Corvettes and the #17 Falken Tire Porsche fought hard for the rest of the podium. The #62 Risi Ferrari 458 joined the action, after having come from the back of the field after Jaime Melo wrecked in qualifying.
On lap 61 Craig Stanton created some unwelcome drama, spinning his #77 Magnus GTC Porsche right in front of the Falken Porsche and a GTC car. While those cars were sorting themselves out, Scott Sharp in the 01 Extreme Speed Ferrari 458 locked his rear wheels and went wide, letting the Risi Ferrari by.
Ten laps later Sharp lost the back end in a big way in Turn One, sliding backward into the barrier and trashing the right rear corner. Fortunately for everyone else, he was able to limp into the pits. A few seconds earlier, Bryce Miller in the #48 Miller Porsche, which had been running fairly well, got whacked in the rear by Olivier Beretta in the #03 Corvette, ending Miller’s day.
Seven laps more and the GTC cars of Craig Stanton and Dion von Moltke had their moment, effectively ending the race.
Gunnar Jeannette, who won at Long Beach in 2010 driving for his own team, won here in 2011 driving for Core Autosport. Though Tommy Drissi and Kyle Marcelli in the #89 Intersport Oreca put uip a good fight Jeannette and co-driver Ricardo Gonzalez were too fast.
Jeannette had an 18-second lead when the final yellow flag waved.
In GTC, Black Swan won yet again. Fresh off a victory at Sebring and a dominant performance in 201, Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen fought off a hard challenge from Leh Keen and Bill Sweedler in the #23 Alex Job Porsche.
The American Le Mans Series had had two excellent races in two months. Now comes the dreaded Le Mans break; the next race will be at Lime Rock on July 9.
The American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park is a great race to see because the picturesque setting among the Connecticut hills provides numerous excellent vantage points, and because the track is short, there is non-stop action.
Tickets are available through the Lime Rock Park website.
The race will be shown live on ESPN3 at 1:50 p.m. ET on July 9, and a race summary will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. ET, July 10.