American Le Mans Series regulars Rahal Letterman Racing returned from Japan with another win in their debut season, victorious in the first of the Asian Le Mans Series.
The team, headed by former Indycar driver Bobby Rahal, pared down its entry from the two BMW M3 GT2 cars normally fielded in the ALMS to a single car effort, with the driving duties shared between Dirk Muller and Tommy Milner.
The team started the race at the Okayama circuit from fourth in the nine car strong GT2 class, but German Muller made his way up to second in the early stages of the three hour race. He then handed the car over to Milner at approximately half distance, and the 23-year old American took the lead, passing Wolf Henzler in the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche after 73 laps in what was one of the many times the lead swapped between the cars.
With an eye on the close battle the team chose only to fuel the car, with Milner staying behind the wheel and the same set of tyres remaining on the car.
The choice saved crucial time in the sort term, but Milner started to lose time to Marc Leib, who had replaced Henzler in the Porsche as they also opted for fresh tyres.
With the extra grip Lieb had caught the BMW with a paltry eight minutes left in the race and began to harry the back of Milner's car.
Despite this the Porsche driver came up short with Milner claiming RLR's second win of the season (after Mid-Ohio) by only 0.2 seconds.
“This was a tough race,” said Milner afterward. “As we didn't change tyres during the pit stop I knew it would be a close finish. Marc Lieb put me under pressure, and I had to fend off his first attacks in order to keep my chances alive. I managed to do that.”
“This is a fantastic result. In qualifying we didn't achieve the maximum, so it was important that Dirk gained some ground after the start,” added Rahal himself. “Our fuel economy and the pace of the car were very good. During our second pit stop we didn't change our Dunlop tyres. Tommy then drove the race of his life. The Porsche managed to close the gap, but just couldn't get by.”
Rahal Letterman have confirmed they, and BMW, plan a full ALMS season in 2010, starting with the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 20th.