Following the epic race at Road America last season, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) once again delivered again to produce the closest ever finish in the championship’s history – only 0.083 covered the top two cars in LMP1 after over four hours of racing.
Last year, the Dyson Racing pairing of Yorkshire’s Guy Smith and Chris Dyson lost out by 0.112 seconds – at the time closest ever ALMS finish until last weekend. Yet despite starting second last on the grid, they were not to be denied a year on and it was Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s turn to lose out – despite a storming effort from Lucas Luhr. The second Dyson Lola-Mazda was third.
The Muscle Milk HPD had lost four laps to the leader earlier in the race due to a broken hose clamp when Klaus Graf was at the wheel.
“It was too close for comfort,” Smith said. “Last year was really close, I never expected something to beat that.”
“We knew Muscle Milk had the advantage on pace all weekend,” Dyson said. “The main thing was to get to the front and not make any contact. We tried to play the yellows right and just be in contention. I was able to have a really good first stint. The tyres were fantastic. We needed to get to the front and I just never looked back.”
“I knew they were going to be close on the final restart,” Smith said. “[The Dyson team] kept telling me, ‘Push Guy, push.’ I told them I was pushing and they said to push a little more.”
“Going into the final corner, Lucas was all over me,” he recounted. “I thought I had it covered, and to be honest he made a really good move. But I knew the way he got around me I could get back to him if I could slingshot around him. We opted over the weekend for the low downforce strategy. So we thought if we had to drag them in the straight line we could keep them behind us. In this case, the strategy worked for us.”
Despite the last corner pass by Lucas Luhr, it ended Pickett Racing’s five race winning streak.
It wasn’t just in the LMP1 class that there was action, as CORE Autosport managed to wrap up the LMPC title. It was a similarly close finish as Tom Kimber-Smith managed to win by just under half a second as he battled the sister car for the victory.
“It’s hard to dice with your sister car,” said Kimber-Smith, who won for the first time in ALMS. “If it was anyone else, we probably would have been off-track. Thanks to Jon for supplying such a great team and such a great car. To clinch the team championship today is just fantastic.”
There was drama in the GT class as well, as the championship leading cars collided in the last few minutes. Oliver Gavin, driving the #4 Corvette, came into contact with the #56 Dirk Muller driven BMW. No action was taken on the incident, but meanwhile, the sister BMW of Bill Auberlen and Jorg Muller was able to take a slender victory over the Flying Lizard Porsche team.
“We were lacking the straight line speed, so we knew to try to gain the strategy in the pits or with other options,” said Müller, who won for the first time in ALMS since 2001. “In the practices we were struggling on the pace – almost two seconds behind – but the sun came out and the car got fast. We had the right strategy and were really lucky with the yellows.”
Meanwhile, Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson took the honours in LMP2 – taking a comfortable win, despite a big battle with Level 5 Motorsport earlier in the race. Level 5 however, continue to lead the championship
“Today I turned up the aggression up so I could keep ahead of people,” Plowman said. “I put down a lot of quick laps to try and stay ahead of Bouchut. When I saw I was making a gap on him, I really started to push harder so that I could keep ahead of him. I’m really glad we pulled this off for the team, we won the correct way so we showed everyone we could win outright and during competition.”
Lastly, the GTC victory went to Alex Job Racing duo of Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen as they increased their lead in the drivers’ and teams’ standings with their third win of the season, prevailing in a closely fought battle.
“All weekend we’ve had a fast car,” Cooper MacNeil said. “Jeroen put it on pole and was fast. My job was to give the car over to him and keep it clean. That’s pretty much what I did. Being my first year in the ALMS, a driver championship would be fantastic. We still have three races left so we are just going to focus on what we’ve been doing all season – work hard, make the car fast and try to have a perfect race.”
JDX Racing’s Martin Ragginger and Chris Cumming placed second. Damien Faulkner and Peter LeSaffre were third for Green Hornet Racing.
Bleekemolen took the lead for good when Faulkner pitted from in front with 48 minutes remaining. Instead of going from third to first in the waning minutes as he did in 2011, Bleekemolen held Faulkner and JDX Racing’s Martin Ragginger at bay as all three set their cars quickest laps of the race in the closing laps.
“The strategy and pit stops were really great,” said Bleekemolen, who won in class at Road America for the third straight year. “We still had some errors but overall, what a great race for us. We knew we had a good chance. The only question was with 40 minutes to go, would the No. 34 car have to come in. In the end they did, but they were only a few seconds behind me at the end. I had a nice little gap but I was able to keep it with a little push.”