Sunday
May182008

Utah: Race Report

Photo Credit: John ThawleyPenske Racing and Porsche were back to their winning ways Sunday at Miller Motorsports Park, as Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas claimed the overall victory in the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels, the fourth round of the American Le Mans Series season. The dynamic duo led a Penske 1-2 result and a LMP2 sweep of the top six positions overall in the event-filled race.

Dumas led the 24 laps around the 3.048-mile outer loop course, taking over the top spot after Simon Pagenaud pitted his de Ferran Motorsports Acura for a late stop. The No. 7 Porsche RS Spyder then opened up to a healthy lead over the team car of Patrick Long and Sascha Maassen, taking the checkered flag by over 22 seconds.

“When I got in there was little more than one hour to go, so I knew I had to be careful in my stint so I had to be careful,” Dumas said. “So I knew to keep a good gap and not get caught if there was a safety car. This was better for me, a nice clear run to the end, not like the street races for me.”

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photo by: American Le Mans Series
It was Bernhard and Dumas’ third class win this season and second overall triumph after upsetting the Audis at the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring. Bernhard, who started the car from pole, felt the race fell into their hands after clever pit strategy called by team owner Roger Penske.

“It was very tough race, very close race,” Bernhard said. “The key to the victory was the race strategy. They brought me in during the second yellow and put me out of sequence so I had a clear run to the end. I was pushing quite a lot. It was hard because I couldn’t see the other people from the P2 class so all I had was the split time on my dash and I knew I just had to keep pushing.”

Long, meanwhile, held off a hard-charging Series debutant, Pagenaud, in the closing stages of the two-hour, 45-minute race to bag second. All weekend long, Pagenaud and owner/driver Gil de Ferran proved to be one of the forces to beat. Despite starting from the rear of the field because of a tire change, the No. 66 Acura ARX-01b quickly became a race contender and only missed out on a possible win because of pit strategy. Pagenaud ran the closing laps without radio communication, making his run even more challenging. He gained over 30 seconds on Long by reeling off quick lap after quick lap.

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photo by: John Thawley
“I have no words,” de Ferran said after the race. “Simon proved how good he was. He made up a lot of time and the guys did a good job on the stops. The Acura was unbelievably fast. We just caught some bad luck with the yellows. I can’t go away without congratulating my old team at Team Penske.”

Dyson Racing’s Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger overcame a stop-and-go penalty to finish fourth, 46 seconds adrift from race winners Bernhard and Dumas. The No. 20 Porsche RS Spyder was ahead of the No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura of Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez, who suffered slight nose damage from an incident. Dyson’s No. 16 Porsche of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson came home in sixth.

Audi once again faced misfortune, this time with both of its R10 TDIs, which got caught up in on-track incidents. Both diesel-powered LMP1 cars were out in front midway through the race thanks to an early caution when both cars pitted. But trouble stuck the No. 2 entry of Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr on the car’s second pit stop, as Luhr lost 25 seconds after getting away slowly. Things got worse just a few moments later when Luhr and the No. 28 LG Motorsports Riley Corvette C6 made contact, cutting the Audi’s tire and sending the car spinning. Luhr later received a stop-and-go penalty for “avoidable contact”, dashing any hopes of an overall win.

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photo by: John Thawley
“Of course we are disappointed,” Werner said. “At the beginning things were running well. We had the pace. You can’t do more than come to the pits after your stint as the leader. But from that moment on everything went wrong. First the car did not start properly and Lucas had a very slow first lap that cost him a lot of time. Then there was contact with a GT car which touched him in the rear. He got a stop-and-go penalty for that. You can discuss about this, for me this was not okay. It destroyed our race. It’s a shame.”

Luhr soldiered on to finish seventh overall, taking top honors in LMP1. It was the duo’s third consecutive class victory, but bitter sweet, as they knew they had the speed to win overall again.

“We were in a strong position until a slower car hit me in the right rear,” Luhr said. “I got a puncture and additionally a stop-and-go penalty. I can’t understand these rules. At least we were able to clinch another LMP1 victory. And we had the speed to win.”

Audi Sport North America’s sister R10 TDI of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela looked set to pick up the pieces and deliver a solid result, if not the overall race win. But trouble struck the No. 1 crew as well. Pirro retired from the race on lap 79 after getting hit by the Robertson Racing Ford GT-R. David Robertson was unaware Pirro had slipped to his inside while traveling through a corner, instead concentrating on the Dyson Racing Porsche to Robertson’s outside. This ended with the Ford GT-R making contact with the Audi, sending it into the grass and out of the race with rear suspension damage.

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photo by: John Thawley
Pirro’s accident opened the door for the Intersport Racing Lola B06/10 AER of Jon and Clint Field and Richard Berry to take second in LMP1, their best finish of the season. The small privateer team made an early impression on the race as Jon Field led the opening 10 minutes after rocketing from eighth to second by the first corner. He then got around Werner to take the overall lead for a handful of laps. The car later suffered power steering issues, dropping the trio to a 12th place result overall.

In GT1, the No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R of Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen took class honors, overcoming air-conditioning problems in the race. O’Connell was behind the wheel at the time when the cooling system stopped working.

“I actually took it off when it failed because it’s like having a hair dryer on your eyes,” O’Connell said. “But we practice everything so we knew we could make the changes and get it fixed at the same time. It’s a great tribute to this team and even more practice in preparation for Le Mans.”

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photo by: John Thawley
O’Connell and Magnussen benefited from a refueling problem for the sister No. 4 Corvette to take the lead. More importantly though, both cars concentrated on developments for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans, including using a low downforce setup similar to what the cars will run next month.

“This was a great race for us,” Magnussen said. “We had to really work at keeping the other car at bay. We turned into a test for both cars to get ready for Le Mans and I really think we’re going to be in good shape going to France. We had our problems but every time that happens its something to practice.”

Just ten laps into the race, the scope of the race in GT2 changed drastically. Under yellow, the class-leading No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche of Wolf Henzler was waved by the leaders, effectively gaining a lap on his competition. Henzler kept his pole sitting Porsche out front, handing over to co-driver Jorg Bergmeister, who took the car to a commanding win.

“There was no question,” Henzler said of the wave by. “During full course caution was the key to winning the race….During the caution we were lucky and the leader was between me and Johannes [van Overbeek] so we got our wave by and got a whole lap. So we got an easy race and a great day. Sometimes you get a bit of luck and get a wave by an it worked out perfectly.”

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photo by: John Thawley
Bergmeister cruised to the checkered flag, the duo’s second win of the season. The victory propelled them back into the lead in the drivers’ championship, one point ahead of Tafel Racing’s Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher in the tightest point’s race in the Series.

“It was an easy drive on a Sunday afternoon,” Bergmeister said. “We knew after warm-up we had a great car. I was pretty optimistic and it was a nice way to do it. Wolf did a great job putting the gap between us and the sister car and it was great to get the wave-by. Without the gap we might not have been so lucky. We had the problem in St. Pete that put us behind, but I think that we deserve that we are in the championship lead again. We’ve been working very hard to get back here.”

Henzler and Bergmeister led a Flying Lizard 1-2 finish as the team’s No. 46 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Johannes van Overbeek came home second, benefiting from a late-race pit stop from the then-second place Farnbacher Loles Porsche. The No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GT of Muller and Farnbacher rounded out the podium in third.

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photo by: John Thawley
Farnbacher Loles’ Dirk Werner and Marc Basseng had their race go from bad to even worse after their fourth-place finishing position was thrown out due to a fuel cell capacity violation. This promoted the No. 21 PTG Team Panoz Esperante up a position from fifth.

Risi Competizione continued its streak of bad luck as the team’s No. 62 Ferrari of Jamie Melo and Mika Salo crashed out midway through the race. Melo had brought the car up into a fighting position after starting from the pits but ran into the LG Motorpsorts Corvette, sending the Ferrari flying into the air and into the gravel. The team remains winless this year after last season’s almost-perfect championship run.

With four races now in the books, the Series takes its traditional June break, reconvening at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. on July 11-12 for the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. The scenic 1.54-mile, eight-turn circuit should prove to be a fan and driver favorite, as the facility has undergone major renovations since last year.

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