Lime Rock is known fondly as BMWs “home ” track in the ALMS season as it is the closest sanctioned race to the NJ headquarters of BMWNA.The track was adorned with new BMW cars at the entry gates and advertisements, touting “Power ” and the “Ultimate Driving Machine ” throughout the park for the weekend. Those are some big statements to make when you are competing against the names Porsche and Ferrari. Fans of the Roundel arrived early to park their cars together in the “corral ” to show some brand camaraderie and discuss what spot would be the best to view the race from.With home track there comes added pressure and expectations, both of which the crew and racers were fully aware of and welcomed with open arms.
The two white BMW ///M3s were sporting some new decals for this race at the beautiful track in the Connecticut hills. The new livery is compliments of the newest rendition of the video game Need For Speed, coming this fall which will showcase the GT2 M3 and driver Tommy Milner. The Efficient Dynamics emblems were also given a more befitting scheme making the cars look a bit more finished.
The cars looked good but but during qualifying on Friday it was easily noticed by the crew and fans alike that one of the cars just did not sound right. You add in the fact both cars were hung up in traffic and you end up with P4 and P5 for the Saturday start. The issue with the one car ended up only being a cracked header so nothing overly major. The one thing that should be noted about this team is that they leave nothing to be status quo; the crew rebuilds any component they can the night before a race. They even go so far as to re-valve the shocks, which is not necessary but done anyways.
Unlike much of the field the ///M3 BMWs are true 4 seaters when they begin their life as street cars. Once you remove the seats and all the creature comforts from the street car the front to rear weight balance becomes increasingly more towards the front and not ideal for racing. The BMW Motorsport ‘s engineers moved the engine further back and also placed the transmission in the rear of the car, giving it that 50/50 split that is needed at such levels of competition. Not wanting to waste space, those same engineers mounted the oil tank for the dry sump lubrication system into some of that space the transmission would have otherwise occupied (impressive if you ask me). The Rahal Letterman Racing team is very involved in the inner workings of the car by providing data and input as to what the cars are doing and where they need to go; the R&D is completed in Germany by BMW Motorsport. The team at RLR runs a tight ship and a top class operation, their race planning and management is second to none.
What was eye opening to see was the involvement of Dunlop when it comes to the tires. There were five or six tire specialists in the pits, measuring air and track temperatures all the while calculating tire wear, the proper pressures and what was the ideal compound to run. Tires were in no short supply in the pits, Dunlop was on top of it. The drivers and the team as a whole commented on how great the support from Dunlop has been and how they have been putting in the hours to help keep up with the other race; the tire race. Michelin appeared to have an advantage earlier in the season but as it stands now the gap is marginal from what everyone is saying.
Come start time, the crew and drivers were ready and willing. After the official required a restart they were off and running. Early on both cars looked good, making it up to P3 and P4 while staying on the heels of the Risi Ferrari. The Flying Lizard Porsche was literally “flying ” as it had been in the previous 3 races. From the pits the team was poised and running as planned. A bump sent Bill off track and he lost some time in the process. Tommy was running nice and steady.
After his stint Tommy Milner explained, “the car is the best it has been and I was running right with the top cars if not faster, it is great to be in a car that is setup like this. It likes to be driven hard even when it is a little loose. ” I later asked about the use of Traction Control in these cars and found it interesting that these ///M3s have 12 settings for TC. Tommy explained that in essence 7-12 are for rain, 5 and 6 if it is damp and on a nice sunny day (like this race) 1-4 are used and depends on tire wear. The TC does not bog the car down or inhibit performance in any way, he said that it is quite the opposite and if used properly it makes you even faster.
Bill Auberlen is a veteran of Lime Rock and has finished more races on the podium than just about anyone. He was not pleased with going off track and losing some time, as is to be expected but said that this team is shooting for first and every member gives it their all.
With Joey Hand and Dirk Müller navigating the track things were looking up. The cars were gaining on the leaders and separating from the rest of the field. Midway through the race Joey was going for a pass and the back end of the car stepped out in the turn, he tried to correct but there was no getting it reined in. He spun several times off course into the wet puddle ridden grass. He luckily was able to get the car back on track without causing any damage or losing any positions; just time. Time was getting short. At this point Dirk was in the pits for an extended stay thanks to a broken half shaft. The crew feverishly replaced the broken part and got him back on his way but he lost a great many laps and was out of contention.
Both cars ended up finishing the race. The 90 car of Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand taking the podium for third, their first podium of the year. While it was not the race everyone had hoped or planned for, the end result was commendable. These two cars had there fair share of mechanical and off track issues but both made it to the finish and the team came home with its third podium of the year. A few tweaks here and there and you may see the BMW Rahal Letterman team running 1 and 2. A first season of a race program always has some growing pains, but this team does not look back; they are looking forward to the next race in Ohio.
After the race I was able to catch up with Dirk Müller and ask him what he though of the track, as he has only been on it a few times. He explained to me that the track is not as difficult to drive as one might think but what makes it difficult is planning your passes and anticipating the moves of the other drivers on this type of circuit. It is a mentally tough track and he said he thoroughly enjoyed it. As for the car “It was running great before the half shaft went out and the team did what they could to get me back out there. “
When I asked Joey Hand about his merry-go ’round ride, he said the car caught some air off another and just lightened the rear up enough to allow it to break loose. He was happy that he and the car were in one piece and that he was able to get it back out on the track without spinning it again on the wet grass. Like the other members of the team had said, they go all out in the name of victory.
The Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long extended their GT2 win streak to four races. Risi Competizione’s Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer in their Ferrari F430 GT placed second.