What a story this ALMS race weekend was for BMWNA Motorsport and Rahal Letterman Racing. It was a tale of never tossing in the towel, getting up when you have been knocked down and going for it all.
Many fans thought that the torrential rains that came in with a vengeance on Friday had washed away the ///M3s chance for reaching the podium. The rain had turned the famed tarmac of Lime Rock into an amusement park flume ride and slowed the aerodynamically refreshed E92s to a crawl. Qualifying 9th and 13th usually does not leave much in the way of hope for a podium but the team never felt that way; they were upbeat and knew they had a long way to the front but nothing was impossible.
Lime Rock is BMW ‘s North American home track, there is a large enthusiast fan base that travels from all over the North East and many of the BMWNA employees (including the top brass) from New Jersey make the trip with families by their side to cheer for the Weiss mit Blau. Does the support help? You bet, when you have people cheering you on there is always an added urge to perform and that is just what the drivers and cars did.
Beginning with morning warm ups it was apparent that the 90 and 92 cars had more in their bag of tricks than qualifying had shown, they were the two fastest cars through the session. After being debriefed by the RLR team the drivers were met outside the trailers by a line full of eager fans for an autograph session. Full of smiles after warmups the drivers signed their names with pride on items ranging from hats and posters to Carbon Fiber parts of the former aero kit of the 90 car.
Pre-race from the paddock, Martin Birkmann, BMW of North America Motorsport Manager briefed the loyal crowd dealing with mid 90 ‘s temperatures compounded by equally high levels of humidity.He spoke of the new improvements that had been completed on the cars since the last race. The updates include a new front, rear, and side aero kit which add increased down-force while decreasing weight and overall drag (amazing what having your own wind tunnel can yield). The sleek carbon fiber mirrors help contribute to the significant aerodynamic improvements. Out back the kit is boring (M Sport anyone?), and looks just blah but has one benefit the prior version did not; it can now hold a rear facing camera for TV as those that watched on SPEED saw a great deal of.
Tommy Milner, after his stint in the car explained that the new kit creates much more stick because of the down-force but a bit less straight line speed. He also added that the team can tune the kit to meet the demands of each track.This new aero package was put into action at Le Mans and will be used moving forward. The car also now features CF window frames to add window stability and make closing the doors easier.
To cap the morning off BMW RLR had a live auction, with proceeds going to charity, of signed or used race parts. The auction featured items ranging from a signed team exclusive shirt to race used gear sets plus much more. After much bidding and money raised the team began to get into the mind set of conquering the challenge ahead of them.
The drivers fought through traffic and battled the weather for another day but this time they would not be held back, they did the unexpected by having not one but two cars represented on the podium. Drivers Tommy Milner and Bill Auberlen finished 2nd, while co-drivers Dirk Muller and Joey Hand scored 3rd place and set the fastest GT-class lap of the race (Hand) at 0:55.943 seconds. A good showing from BMW at its “home ” track and we were happy to be there.
Official BMWNA Release:
In the biggest story of accomplishment at Saturday’s American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team M3 GTs scored 2nd and 3rd place finishes in a triumph of race strategy at BMW’s home track. Recovering from an unfortunate qualifying result which placed the team at the rear of the starting grid, drivers Tommy Milner and Bill Auberlen finished 2nd, while co-drivers Dirk Muller and Joey Hand scored 3rd place and set the fastest GT-class lap of the race (Hand) at 0:55.943 seconds.
With this result, the team continues the success streak of the BMW M3 at Lime Rock Park. BMW of North America has never raced an M3 at Lime Rock Park without scoring a podium finish, and today there were two. In five races elapsed this season, the two-car team has scored seven ALMS GT podium finishes.
“Today we showed the power of the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team, and to come back from such a frustrating qualifying session to battle for the lead all day is very satisfying,” said Bobby Rahal, Team Principal. “The entire team fought hard on a very tough and hot day on a race track where you are constantly in traffic. We extended our podium streak and are looking forward to picking back up at Mid-Ohio in two weeks.”
Tommy Milner (No. 92) started from the 9th spot on the grid and began the attack, quickly reaching 7th place by Lap 9. Also by lap 9, Dirk MÏller (No. 90) had reached 9th place. Twelve minutes into the race saw the first full-course caution period, and both BMWs pitted for fuel. During the stop, the No. 90 was able to rejoin just ahead of the No. 92, putting MÏller in 5th and Milner in 6th at the 34-minute mark. The race’s 3rd full course caution period fell at the 40-minute mark, with MÏller 3rd and Milner 4th. During the caution, the BMWs stayed out on track, boosting them to the 1st and 2nd places at the restart.
The team finally chose to pit the M3 GTs on Lap 91 (Car 90) and Lap 93 (Car 92), about one hour and forty minutes into the race. During the stops, Joey Hand took over for MÏller and Bill Auberlen took over for Milner. The drivers re-joined the race in 4th and 3rd places, respectively. After one of the lead competitors pitted, the BMW duo took over the 3rd and 2nd slots, and held them for the remaining 68 laps despite several attempts by Auberlen to challenge for the win, and several attempts by Hand to challenge for 2nd place. As if putting an exclamation point on the team’s accomplishment, Joey Hand was the only ALMS GT driver to set a lap time under 56 seconds Saturday.
“Today was full of good news,” said Martin Birkmann, BMW of North America Motorsport Manager. “We continued our streak of finishing on the podium this season, and we led a few laps which is something we’ve also done at all previous races this year. The bad news of course is that a win remains elusive. I keep promising the fans a win and as long as we continue to be in good shape I expect we will deliver. If you told me Friday night that today we would be able to pass so many competitors and challenge for the win, I wouldn’t have believed it. This is a good result and our team – especially our pit crew – is incredible.”
With seven podium finishes in the first five races of the season, BMW is now second in GT Manufacturer points. Round Six of the 2010 American Le Mans Series is scheduled to run Saturday, August 7 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Follow the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for real-time updates.
This coverage would not have been possible without the gracious hospitality of BMWNA and RLR. We give our sincere thanks for the support and access to the team during the race.