Graf, Luhr win third straight Long Beach race
ESM, BMW Team RLL take 1-2 finish in classes
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won for the third straight year at Long Beach as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing cruised to its first victory of the season in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on Saturday. Graf beat Rebellion Racing’s Nick Heidfeld by 36.329 seconds in the P1 class of the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach.
Luhr started the race third in class and dropped to mid-pack during a caution-filled middle of the race. But it was all planned. The team made its one driver change during a stop 25 minutes in, and Graf battled back through the field to take the overall lead for good with 47 minutes remaining in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03a.
The two lead cars pitted for the final time with an hour to go. Heidfeld replaced Neel Jani in the Rebellion Lola-Toyota, which also took fuel. Meanwhile Graf took just fuel and left the pitlane well before Heidfeld. That proved the difference.
“We've definitely had 100 percent the right strategy,” Graf said. “The way the race unfolded, it was perfect. The guys did an awesome job in the pits - no mistakes. The Michelin street soft tires ran excellent - we ran the entire race on just one set. It was such a great weekend, and I am so proud of everybody.”
The victory moved Luhr into a tie for ALMS career victories (42), a mark he shares with Olivier Beretta.
“Sometimes, endurance racing is like this,” Luhr said. “Sometimes you have the busier day, and sometimes you have the easy day. With us two, it doesn't really matter. I can trust Klaus, and I hope he can trust me. You have to do, what you have to do to win. As a team we understand that. Of course I would have loved to drive more, but at that time you put your ego or your selfishness back a bit, and look at the big picture to do what it takes to win the race. If you have a problem with that attitude, you're in the wrong business.”
The No. 12 Rebellion car won the prototype portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge for its superior environmental efficiency combined with its strong competitive performance.
Extreme Speed Motorsports finished 1-2 in its second race as part of the P2 class with Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo winning in the No. 01 HPD ARX-03b. The ESM squad took advantage of trouble for defending class winner Level 5 Motorsports, which suffered contact and penalties in the pits.
“It feels great,” said Sharp, who was a P2 winner at Long Beach in 2008 with Patrón Highcroft Racing. “With the strength of Level 5, we thought it would take longer than this. We really did a great job as a team coming together. The team has been flat out for two months. We knew as a team it would take a while to figure this car out and get some testing in. It's great to be back and winning in a prototype car.”
Cosmo took the winning car’s first lead of the race 14 minutes in, getting around Level 5’s Scott Tucker. Following the mid-race pit sequence, Sharp got around Johannes van Overbeek and the No. 02 HPD with 47 minutes remaining.
Van Overbeek and Ed Brown were second, followed by Level 5’s No. 551 HPD of Tucker and Ryan Briscoe.
BMW Team RLL – co-owned by IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal, late-night television star David Letterman and Chicago businessman Mike Lanigan – won in GT in just its second race with its new BMW Z4 GTE as No. 55 co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin led a 1-2 finish in class ahead of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in the No. 56. Auberlen got around Dominik Farnbacher in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R when Farnbacher went wide into Turn 1.
“Unbelievable. This thing was a rocket all day,” said Auberlen, who scored his first Long Beach win after a number of close calls in a variety of series. “We had some bad luck; that bad luck turned to good luck. Our pit strategy worked out perfect. Everybody here in Long Beach, I’m from Redondo Beach. I’m your neighbor and I love you guys. I’ve wanted to win this thing forever and never have. What a great day for BMW.”
It didn’t look too promising early. Martin lost time on the track early when he went into the Turn 1 run-off after going into the corner carrying too much speed. He regained a couple of positions before handing off to Auberlen, who pitted twice to top off the BMW’s fuel tank during the race’s final caution period with 73 minutes left.
Farnbacher and Marc Goossens placed third for SRT Motorsports and the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R.
Corvette Racing’s pairing of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia won the GT portion of the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. It emitted the least amount of emissions of the class and combined that with optimum speed and fuel consumption.
Colin Braun and team owner Jon Bennett took the Prototype Challenge presented by Continental Tire class victory for CORE autosport. Braun in the No. 05 ORECA FLM09 finished third overall after leading the race near the midway point. Bennett pitted from third in class at the 40-minute mark, and Braun assumed the lead for good five minutes later on the race’s final restart.
Braun led overall for 10 minutes before Graf got around him.
“This was my first time leading an ALMS race overall. I did it for what felt like forever,” he said. “I thought maybe we could have won it. I had a great coaching from the pits to help me conserve the fuel to get it all the way to the end. What a great win.”
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ Luis Diaz and David Cheng finished second in class, followed by class pole-winner Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende for RSR Racing.
CORE’s victory came less than three weeks after team member and Bennett’s business partner Ralph Brown passed away following a brain aneurism in September. That made Saturday even more meaningful to Bennett and his team.
“I took to racing because of the manufacturing company that I own. I get to go racing because I had a great partner back home keeping the business racing,” Bennett said in tribute. “We definitely had some help from above looking over us. I'm really proud to have a win today.”
NGT Motorsport’s Sean Edwards held of a late challenge from Spencer Pumpelly and won with Henrique Cisneros in GT Challenge by just 2.130 seconds. Both NGT teammates led during their stints, and Edwards took the lead for good shortly after the race’s last restart.
He went nearly 80 minutes on the same Yokohama tires and fuel.
“I was in fuel-save mode the whole way,” Edwards said. “I had an afternoon of short-shifting and trying to manage the gap (back to Pumpelly), and keeping the gaps as even as possible. I wish all races were as easy as this. We had a strong car today and the team did a great job with setup.”
The NGT crew won the race with its only pit stop; the No. 30 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup took 15 seconds less to complete its stop than the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche.
“Neither of [Cisneros or Edwards] had driven here before,” Cisneros said. “Straight out of the box we were fast. We had some close calls early and good passing throughout. Sean did a great job keeping it together to the end.”
Nelson Canache Jr., drove with Pumpelly in the runner-up No. 45. The No. 44 Flying Lizard Porsche of Brian Wong and Dion von Moltke placed third.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón is the American Le Mans Monterey from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, May 11. American Le Mans Series at Long Beach is the second round of the 10-race ALMS championship. ESPN2’s coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 12 with live coverage is available on ESPN3 starting at 6:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 11.
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