Klaus Graf, Greg Pickett and Muscle Milk Team CytoSport earned their first overall victory in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón with a stunning victory Saturday in the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. Graf outdueled Patrón Highcroft Racing’s David Brabham in the final half-hour that saw the PHR HPD ARX-01c pushed off track as the two leaders went past the start-finish line in heavy traffic.
The Porsche RS Spyder received a stop-and-go penalty but Brabham’s car had a punctured right-rear tire that forced a late pit stop. Graf took the checkered flag by 27.81 seconds for the team’s second victory of the year. Pickett, Graf and Sascha Maassen were LMP2 winners at the season-opening Sebring race.
“Our ironman over here Klaus… spent almost two full hours in the car today in this heat, and battling a world-class athlete like David Brabham and holding him off,” said an elated Pickett, who drove the opening 45-minute stint. “This is a track that creates traffic. Getting through that traffic is extremely important, Klaus is a master at that. With our technical partners at Michelin, we opted for a softer compound here and they performed excellently. And our partners at Porsche gave us a perfectly engineered car.”
A perfectly executed pit stop with just less than an hour left put Graf in position. He was able to maintain the lead he gained on the 93rd lap over Brabham, and the pit stop was more than seven seconds quicker than Patrón Highcroft’s previous. Graf’s lead grew to as much as 20 seconds before Brabham started reeling in the Porsche and give hope to the hometown PHR squad.
The climactic moment came with 12 minutes to go. Brabham had whittled the lead down to 2.214 seconds and caught Graf when the leader was held up in GT traffic on the frontstretch. Brabham used his momentum to fly beside Graf, and the Porsche veered slightly right to force the HPD prototype to put its two right wheels off track.
Race officials penalized Graf for blocking, but the move was far costlier for Brabham and Patrón Highcroft. It marked the second year in a row that a late puncture cost PHR an overall victory at its home track.
“I had to go a little wide because the GT cars got a little wide,” said Graf, who also has won in the Series driving a GT2 Porsche. “I wasn`t expecting David to be there. He is a great competitor and I pushed very, very hard – almost two hours. There is no bad blood or anything. We all know it was hard and fair racing. In this series you find the best drivers in the world. I knew it was going to be very, very hard to keep David behind me.
“I didn`t get frustrated (after the penalty),” he added. “I was so focused and intense. I didn`t have time to get upset. Sometimes it works out like that. This was a very, very hard day.”
The Porsche also won the prototype portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge, which rewards entries for going the farthest distance the fastest with the least amount of environmental impact. Graf also climbed to within 7 points of Brabham and Simon Pagenaud in the LMP championship.
Elton Julian won in LMP Challenge for the second time this year. G-Oil Green Earth Team Gunnar’s ORECA FLM09 crawled to the finish when the car lost fuel pressure on the final lap with Jeannette at the wheel. But the car had enough momentum to finish the last quarter-lap to beat PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ entry of Tom Papadopoulos and Alex Figge.
“We did this on one stop and knew it would be close on fuel,” Jeannette said. “We wanted to stretch it. Because of Lime Rock we knew there`d be a lot of yellows. Our engineer did a great job. We thought there`d be a lot more yellows at the end but he kept telling me not to hold back and keep going but I think he was off by just 0.3 of a mile so that shows how great of a calculation he made. I can tell you though that the battery and the starter motor do really well. It was my victory coast today, not so much my victory lap.”
It was a last-to-first run in class for the GETG entry. The car started 28th overall after a mechanical issue during Friday’s wet qualifying session. But Julian had the car up to sixth overall and third in LMPC after 21 laps. Julian pitted the ORECA for the only time at the 1:35 mark and handed off to Jeannette. He took the lead when Papadopoulos pitted and handed over to Figge at the 1:49 mark.
“We ran a great race today,” Julian said. “I really, really enjoyed the battle. We kept it clean and made our really good single stop. When I went out to qualify Friday in the rain I was stuck in second gear. So I couldn`t get the car going. Then about halfway through the warm-up (on Saturday), the team fixed it. It was great to watch Gunnar drive today and keep it clean.”
Level 5 Motorsports’ Scott Tucker and Andy Wallace placed third. It kept Tucker in the class championship lead, but Jeannette closed the gap to 4 points.
Jörg Bergmeister won at Lime Rock for the fifth consecutive year and second in a row with Patrick Long in GT. Long beat BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team’s Bill Auberlen (driving with Tommy Milner) by 1.495 seconds in a thrilling battle. The top three cars were separated by just 4.079 seconds.
Porsche hasn’t lost in the class at Lime Rock since 2004, and early pit strategy by the Lizards helped extend that streak. It didn’t hurt that the championship-leading Risi Competizione Ferrari of Jaime Melo and Gimmi Bruni went out on the 23rd lap after being hit from behind by one of Corvette Racing’s Corvette C6.Rs. It brought out the second of the race’s three full-course cautions.
“During the early yellow, we got to do the old fashioned ‘fake `em out’ and put everyone on the wall and really play to our own strategy,” said Long, who regained the class championship lead with Bergmeister. “With the 62 out and with them being our main rival, we could have sat back and let this just be a points day. But then we would have gotten run over.”
Long started and finished the race while Bergmeister drove the middle portion. The strategy worked to perfection as the second Risi Ferrari was on a different pit cycle. Mika Salo led up until the 1:56 mark before pitting for fuel, tires and driver change to Pierre Kaffer. That put Long and the two BMWs within eight seconds of each other for the lead and victory. From there on out, it was full-on to the finish with Long describing the race as being “like I was swimming with sharks and I had a bloody foot!” It was that tough.
“It was a hot day in the office today,” Bergmeister said. “We planned from the beginning we’d do two driver changes. I think that was smart, because it was so hot. And what you really need here is a lot of patience and a really good car; the track suits the Porsche I think. You need a lot of good traction and that’s what they bring.”
After the Auberlen/Milner BMW, Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller placed third in their BMW M3 GT. The BMWs occupied two podium spots for the second time this year; At least one M3 GT has been on the GT podium at each of the five rounds so far.
The Salo/Kaffer Ferrari won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge.
In GT Challenge, TRG’s Andy Lally and Henri Richard won their first Series race with Lally winning a fantastic battle over Black Swan Racing’s Jeroen Bleekemolen. The TRG entry ended BSR’s two-race win streak.
Lally took the lead for good when Bleekemolen had to pit at the 2:15 mark for left-side tires. The Black Swan car pitted again shortly with damage to its front nose while TRG drove the final two hours without incident, an important trick on a track as short and crowded as Lime Rock.
“For me it was all about staying out of trouble,” said Richard, who drove the opening stint. “We know guys at this track can get cranky. The double yellow happened early and I knew I needed to be in a good position and the strategy played out. The best thing that happened today too was we took over the points lead, in team and in drivers. We had trouble at Sebring with a mechanical issue. It took away a lot of points and we`ve been chasing the lead since then. So hats off to the team for battling all season and getting the win today.”
Indeed, Lally and Richard lead the class by 7 points with Pappas and Bleekemolen only 11 points behind.
The TRG and Black Swan cars were the dominant ones in the class, along with ORBIT Racing’s entry. The Black Swan car lost time early when it collided with the Muscle Milk prototype but rebounded to lead more than 70 minutes before the final pit stop sequence.
“It was just a pretty wild start. We watched as everyone went crazy at the beginning,” Lally said. “I thought that was going to be the tone for the rest of the race. Henri made a great start staying out of trouble and had a great stint. I was pleasantly surprised to keep it green the rest of the way when I finished. We saw on the long green flag run at Utah that with a little more track temperature and a little more wear on the tires, we`d be able to really push the tires and they`d stand up to the abuse and green flag racing.”
The Velox Motorsport entry of Shane Lewis and Jerry Vento placed third in class.
The next round of the 2010 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón is the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge. The two-hour, 45-minute race from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is set for 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, August 7. Live race and qualifying video will be streamed online at americanlemans.com. Live radio coverage will be available on American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche – a production of Radio Show Limited – as well as Sirius Channel 127 and XM Channel 242. The race will be broadcast at 12:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports. Visit the Series’ schedule page for ticket and accommodation information. Live Timing and Scoring, track schedule, entry list and much, much more will be available on Racehub at americanlemans.com.
American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
1. (2) Greg Pickett, Crystal Bay, NV; Klaus Graf, Germany; Porsche RS Spyder (1, LMP), 171.
2. (1) Simon Pagenaud, France; David Brabham, England; HPD ARX-01c (2, LMP), 171.
3. (29) Elton Julian, Santa Monica, CA; Gunnar Jeannette, Salt Lake City, UT; Oreca FLM09 (1, LMPC), 162.
4. (9) Tom Papadopoulos, Long Island, NY; Alex Figge, Denver, CO; Oreca FLM09 (2, LMPC), 162.
5. (8) Patrick Long, Bellaire, FL; Joerg Bergmeister, Langenfield; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (1, GT), 161.
6. (18) Tommy Milner, Leesburg, VA; Bill Auberlen, Redondo Beach, CA; BMW E92 M3 (2, GT), 161.
7. (25) Dirk Mueller, Monte Carlo; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; BMW E92 M3 (3, GT), 161.
8. (13) Pierre Kaffer, Germany; Mika Salo, Finland; Ferrari 430 GT (4, GT), 160.
9. (14) Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Oliver Gavin, England; Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (5, GT), 159.
10. (17) Andy Wallace, England; Scott Tucker, Leawood, KS; Oreca FLM09 (3, LMPC), 158.
11. (15) Scott Sharp, Jupiter, FL; Johannes van Overbeek, San Francisco, CA; Ferrari 430 GT (6, GT), 157.
12. (22) Seth Neiman, Burlingame, CA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (7, GT), 157.
13. (10) Wolf Henzler, Germany; Bryan Sellers, Braselton, GA; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (8, GT), 156.
14. (24) Henri Richard, Los Altos Hills, CA; Andy Lally, New York, NY; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (1, GTC), 152.
15. (21) Marc Goossens, Huntersville, NC; Ryan Dalziel, Orlando, FL; Jaguar XKRS (9, GT), 152.
16. (23) Tim Pappas, Boston, MA; Jeroen Bleekemolen, Netherlands; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (2, GTC), 151.
17. (16) Ed Brown, Las Vegas, NV; Guy Cosmo, West Palm Beach, FL; Ferrari 430 GT (10, GT), 150.
18. (26) Jerry Vento, West Palm Beach, FL; Shane Lewis, Jupiter, FL; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (3, GTC), 149.
19. (20) Christian Zugel, Holmdel, NJ; Tom Sedivy, Raleigh, NC; Oreca FLM09 (4, LMPC), 146.
20. (27) Bret Curtis, Valencia, CA; James Sofronas, Newport Beach, CA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (4, GTC), 146.
21. (30) Luke Hines, England; Bryce Miller, Summit, NJ; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (5, GTC), 140.
22. (5) Jon Field, Dublin, OH; Clint Field, Dublin, OH; Lola B06/10 AER (3, LMP), 140, Mechanical.
23. (28) Bill Sweedler, Westport, CT; Romeo Kapudija, Lincolnwood, IL; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (6, GTC), 123.
24. (4) Paul Drayson, England; Jonny Cocker, England; Lola B09 60/Judd (4, LMP), 113.
25. (19) David Murry, Atlanta, GA; Andrea Robertson, Ray, MI; Doran Design Ford GT (11, GT), 110.
26. (7) Brian Wong, Newport Beach, CA; Kyle Marcelli, Barrie, ON; Oreca FLM09 (5, LMPC), 108.
27. (12) Johnny O`Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (12, GT), 35, Accident.
28. (11) Jaime Melo, Milan; Gianmaria Bruni, Italy; Ferrari 430 GT (13, GT), 22, Accident.
29. (3) Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, England; Lola B09 86/Mazda (5, LMP), 7, Mechanical.
30. (6) Scott Tucker, Leawood, KS; Christophe Bouchut, France; Oreca FLM09 (6, LMPC), 0.
© RIF | ALMS