The 4,0418 miles 14 turn track at Road America is known as one of fastest circuits in the American LeMans series. As of last Sunday, it will also be remembered as the track where BMW Rahal Letterman scored their first victory in the ALMS competition. It has been a year since the official announcement at the Chicago Auto Show 2008 and the BMW Rahal Letterman Team has shown significant progress throughout the year, therefore an imminent win was on the horizon. Drivers Bill Auberlen, Joey Hand, Tommy Milner and Dirk Müller have monopolized the Road America race to bring a 1-2 win for BMW and its partner Rahal Letterman Racing Team.
But how did they get to this win? Let’s take recap the events that led to their first victory for the BMW Motorsport GT2 program.
The cars looked during qualifying on Saturday and delivered an all-BMW M3 front row for the upcoming race. Historically the BMW M3 GT2 has been very fast through turns during the season and with 14 turns, the Road America track was a match for the car’s capabilities.
Joey Hand driving the M3 GT2 No.90 came in the first position with its teammate Dirk Muller and car No.92 in second. As Martin Birkmann, BMW of North America Motorsport Manager, said the day before the race, “Great grid positions are important, and we have seen that especially in the last two races….”
Beside scoring P1-P2 on the race grid, the results boosted the team’s confidence and that is something we have noticed immediately on Sunday while speaking to Tommy Milner and Dirk Muller. Their attitude was very positive and they were eager to go on the track and make a memorable race.
Spending some time around the car gave me the chance to learn more about the amazing M3 GT2 that I fell in love the first time I saw it at Chicago Auto Show. Compared to the previous generations, the M3 GT2 car looks quite different.
First, elements of the BMW EfficientDynamics are present in the GT2, one of them is the reduced internal friction which increases horsepower and reduces the cooling load.
Second, the aerodynamics of the car have been far improved by reducing the size of cooling openings and channel the air more efficiently. Inside, the car features a new “on-demand” air conditioning system.
The M3 GT2 keeps the famous BMW 50/50 weight distribution, same as in the street car, but not easily achieved. Several modifications were needed to maintain this ration: the engine sits further back and the transmission was moved at back of the car. As a curiosity, the Dynamic Traction Control in the M3 GT2 features twelve settings.
The two cars were also sporting new ///M decals on their roof and of course, the mini-video cameras for the Speed TV broadcast.
Courtesy of BMW North America and especially Matt Russell, Martin Birkman and Bill Cobb, yours truly had the privilege to watch this race right from the team’s pit stop, an unique experience that gave me the opportunity to learn more about the team and of course, to bring you some amazing photos and footage.
Prior to the start, thousands of fans present at Road America had the opportunity to join the ALMS teams on the track, spend some time around the drivers and photoshooting their cars. A great initiative that helps the teams connect with their fans, all part of the show that makes this competition so attractive.
Tommy Milner and Dirk Muller took advantage of the front row positions placing themselves at the top of this race. Fifteen minutes into the race, an early yellow flag was raised which caused some controversy. Bill Auberlen and Tom Milner were waved around the pace car due to their position on the track. This gave the BMW Rahal Letterman drivers a significant advantage over the rest of the GT2 drivers. This has been a controversy at previous races as well where it has not worked in BMW’s favor. The officials explained that the two M3 GT2 cars were waved around as a safety measure because they were in between the two leaders who were driving the much faster P1 cars.
At this point, Tommy and Bill were the leaders in the race with over a lap ahead of the other cars.
The green flag came back at the 31-minute mark, but prior to this, both M3s were able to pit for fuel. It was a great opportunity for myself to see the Rahal Letterman crew in action and determine if they live up to their name as the fastest crew in the GT2 competition.
Matt Russell, BMW Product & Technology Communications Motorsport, says: “BMW chose Rahal Letterman Racing as its logistics and operations partner for many reasons, but for fans the most tangible reason may be the benefit the team delivers on the pit wall. Watch one pit stop where the crew changes tires, adds fuel, and swaps drivers, and you’ll instantly understand why BMW felt RLR was the best fit. ”
At the 60-minute mark, the second yellow came out during the pit stops. In this period of time, both M3s were serviced and driver changes took place: Dirk Mueller stepped in along with Joey Hand. Even though Dirk pulled ahead during the pit stop, at 1-hour 20-minute mark, a penalty was assessed to the BMW Rahal Letterman team, more specifically to Dirk Mueller who was charged with a stop and go penalty plus 60 second penalty for too many men over the pit wall.
The race continued with Joey Hand at the lead. A bit over the 2-hours mark, Hand pitted one more time for fuel and new Dunlop tires. Despite the race penalty, Dirk Mueller maintained his second position and giving BMW Rahal Letterman, not only the first win in the championship, but also a 1-2 finish.
A great win for BMW Rahal Letterman and for the talented drivers who can now confidently look forward to the next races. Also, it is imperative to mention the great job done by the engineers at the Motorsport division in Germany, some of them present at this race.
Last but not least, kudos to Dunlop who has proven to be a strategic partner for BMW Rahal Letterman team and their continuous effort in improving their tires, an important element in any race.
It is hard to describe the joy among the team members at the end of this race and I could tell how relieved they felt after this race, an important step in the championship that showed they are on the right track.
This has been my first time attending an American LeMans race and the experience has been more intense and exciting that I have ever imagined. Regardless if you’re watching the race from behind the pit stop or the seats surrounding the circuit, the ALMS GT2 competition will keep you entertained and will guarantee a good time.
Now if you’re a BMW fan, then watching these two amazing M3 GT2 cars live is a no-brainer.
Enjoy the multiple photos taken around the circuit, in the pit and the paddock.