Guy Smith and Dyson Racing were on the other end this time around at Road America. A year after missing out by 0.112 seconds, Smith delivered victory for Dyson Racing on Saturday in the closest overall finish in the history of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón – 0.083 seconds.
Despite starting next-to-last on the grid, Smith and Chris Dyson won the four-hour Road America Road Race Showcase in an epic finish. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Lucas Luhr appeared to have the race won by passing Smith in the final corner, but Smith and the No. 16 Lola-Mazda won a drag race up the hill and to the checkered flag.
“It was too close for comfort,” Smith said. “Last year was really close, I never expected something to beat that.”
The overall finish was one of a handful of magic moments on the day. CORE autosport clinched its second straight Prototype Challenge championship with a 1-2 finish led by Alex Popow and Tom Kimber-Smith.
BMW Team RLL’s Bill Auberlen and Jörg Müller won in GT in another hard-fought battle. Conquest Endurance’s Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson won their second P2 race of the year and led overall twice.
Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen won in GT Challenge for Alex Job Racing. Their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup won by 2.459 seconds in a back-and-forth affair.
Dyson took the start of the race from the 34th position after missing qualifying due to a faulty gearbox. on lap 22 when then-leader Muscle Milk Pickett Racing brought its Honda Performance Development ARX 03a-led into pit lane with a broken hose clamp.
“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 tires were fantastic. We needed to get to the front and I just never looked back.”
Klaus Graf lost four laps in the pits, but he and teammate Luhr fought hard to get back on the lead lap with about 45 minutes remaining. A late full-course caution took nearly a minute out of Smith’s lead with less than 30 minutes to go. The two cars ran nose-to-tail for the last three laps, and memories of 2011 surely came flooding back for both teams.
Luhr pressured Smith relentlessly over the last two laps and finally got around the Lola on the inside of the final corner. Smith had too much power on the long climb up the final hill and got back by Luhr just before the finish line.
“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.”
The victory ended Muscle Milk’s five-race win streak, but Graf and Luhr retained the lead in the class driver championship. Eric Lux, Michael Marsal and Tony Burgess placed third in the No. 20 Dyson Lola-Mazda after running second for most of the day.
The other big story was CORE’s championship run. Kimber-Smith in the No. 06 ORECA FLM09 outdueled teammate Colin Braun in the No. 05 entry throughout the last half of the race and won by 0.423 seconds. It was the team’s second 1-2 finish of the season and came at the best possible time as championship moments usually do.
“I didn’t think it was possible to win (two championships) in such a short amount of time,” said Bennett, who formed CORE in 2010. “It’s frightening to see my little team having such great drivers and responsibilities already. This has been a bit of a fairy tale.”
It was that kind of day for Popow, who began the day racing in Montreal and hopped on an airplane to make his opening stint in the CORE entry. He held the car steady in the second position, setting up Kimber-Smith to successfully fight with Braun down the stretch.
“We tried to manage everything,” said Popow, who leads the class driver’s championship. “It was heartbreaking to almost lose another one today (he was second in Montreal). But Tom did a great job fighting back.”
Kimber-Smith had Braun on his bumper throughout the second half of the race. The two CORE cars ran 1-2 for the final one hour and 53 minutes but Braun – whose car started from the rear of the field – could never overtake his sister car. This despite the two teammates exchanging fastest race laps multiple times inside the three-hour mark.
“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.”
Merchant Services Racing’s trio of Kyle Marcelli, Chapman Ducote and James French were third in the No. 8 entry.
For the third time in four years, BMW Team RLL won the GT class with its BMW M3 GT. Auberlen and Müller took advantage of good strategy and a little bit of luck for a 2.631-second victory over Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister.
“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.”
The penultimate yellow proved to be the key. Auberlen pitted for fuel and tires with 57 minutes remaining and just before a caution came out for a crash involving the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche. Another yellow period minutes later brought in the bulk of the GT leaders and gave Auberlen a lead he didn’t give up.
“As it got later, the car got faster and faster,” the 2009 GT winner said. “We tuned the car all the way up to morning warmup and made some more adjustments. We even tuned it during the race; we usually never do that. Then we got some luck with the yellows and kept the BMW in the front. I had a grin from ear to ear at how well this car was handling. It felt so good.”
Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek were third in class in the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia.
Plowman and Heinemeier-Hansson each took turns leading the race overall but were more than content to win again in P2 with their Morgan-Nissan prototype. It was another tough fight with Level 5 Motorsports – the class championship leader – but lengthy late-race stops doomed chances for either of Level 5’s HPD ARX-03b prototypes to win.
Dempsey Racing’s No. 27 Lola-Judd finished second, the highest finish in ALMS for the pairing of Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster.
“It’s really cool to see your name up on the board (leading overall), especially at a place like here,” said Heinemeier-Hansson, who made his ALMS debut here last year. “We knew it wouldn’t last, but it was very cool to see. It was nice to go the whole weekend without making a lot of mistakes and keep a nice perfect weekend.”
Plowman, the class pole-winner, had to fend off both Level 5’s Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker in the second half of the race. Bouchut led with 40 minutes left but had to pit with engine and exhaust issues. That dropped the No. 055 entry down to fourth in class before Tucker brought Level 5’s No. 95 HPD into the pits with electrical issues.
“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.”
Tucker and Bouchut finished third and maintained their lead in the P2 championship.
Late-race strategy and pit work gave AJR its third GTC win of the season. MacNeil and AJR increased their leads in the class driver and team standings, and Bleekemolen won for the third time this year for the third different team. Saturday marked the second time this year that the Alex Job Porsche won from the class pole.
“All weekend we’ve had a fast car,” 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.”
(Image: Dyson Racing)