BMW Team RLL finished second and fourth in today’s American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans. The 16th annual1000-mile race, held at Road Atlanta in Braselton, GA, concluded the debut season for the new BMW Z4 GTE with BMW finishing second in the GT class Manufacturer’s standings and BMW Team RLL second in the Team standings. Dirk Müller finished second in Driver points for the 2013 season.
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Both BMW cars reached the top of the podium twice during the ten-race 2013 season. The No. 55 machine won at Long Beach and the No. 56 at Lime Rock Park. The team has also scored five additional podiums, four pole positions, and eight top-5 finishes.
John Edwards started the race in the No. 56 Z4 GTE from fifth on the grid. Edwards drove a strong opening 1.5 hours before handing off to Dirk Müller on lap 62. Under the race’s third caution, Bill Auberlen took over on lap 143 with 3.75 hours complete. The No. 55 car was started by Jörg Müller from the ninth spot. He stayed in the car for almost three hours before turning the car over to Maxime Martin on lap 120.
The first half of the race was slowed by four caution periods and intermittent rain that put a premium on smart strategy and pit work. At the end of five hours and 487 miles, BMW Team RLL had raced the No. 56 car to second position, with Auberlen behind the wheel and battling from 2.75 seconds behind the leader. The No. 55, then being driven by Maxime Martin, followed four places in arrears.
The rain abated as the race entered its sixth hour and the track remained dry for the duration of the race. Edwards went back behind the wheel of the No. 56 machine on lap 202 as the team changed the rear wing to take advantage of the dry track. Uwe Alzen took his turn in the No. 55 car one lap later. Jörg Müller replaced Alzen on lap 253 and Edwards, who would double-stint, pitted on the next lap for fuel and new Michelin tires.
The lap count clicked to 312 just past the eight-hour mark with Maxime Martin back in the No. 55 car running third and Dirk Müller in the No. 56 holding second while acclimating to the increasing darkness, both ready to race to the checkered flag. They continued to chase the leader, Müller only four seconds behind. The final pit stop came on lap 337 for Müller and lap 344 for Martin. The race’s final caution period closed up the field with the green flag waving on lap 364 to begin a ten-lap sprint to the finish. Martin was passed by the No. 62 Ferrari two laps later to bring the No. 55 car home fourth. Müller hounded the leader but ultimately finished .741 seconds behind the winning No. 17 Porsche to record the second runner-up finish of the season for the No. 56 car.
“This was a tough, hard race,” said Bobby Rahal, Team Principal. “I’m pretty happy with 2nd and 4th, I have to say. We’ve really got a deficit on the straights and that’s a killer at Road Atlanta, so to have 2nd is really darn good. It’s a shame we couldn’t win the championship for Dirk but P2 for him is a good consolation. The first year with the Z4 GTE was far better than the first year with the M3 GT, that’s for sure, and I think if we will be allowed to use a little more power we can make it a truly great and competitive year in 2014.”
“This was a great finish to a wonderful season with the debut of the Z4 GTE,” said Gordon McDonnell, BMWNA Motorsport Manager. “Two wins and five podiums were better than we expected at the start of the season. Our big thanks go to Bobby Rahal and the entire RLL team. These cars were basically assembled by them in a very short time and showed immediate success. We’re very happy to end our chapter with the ALMS on a high note, and now really looking forward to starting a new chapter with Tudor United Sports Car Championship at Daytona.”
John Edwards, driver No. 56 Z4 GTE – (P2) – “It was really close. I was nervous at the end watching Dirk… I’m always more nervous when I’m out of the car. Of course we’re happy with 2nd place; it was a good race and anything can happen. You try to stay out of trouble but I got hit twice by the No. 4 Corvette and it felt like we were qualifying for the entire two-plus hours of my stint. I’m a lot more confident now at the end of the year than I was going into Sebring. I’ve gelled with the team and I feel like we can really push together.”
Dirk Müller, driver No. 56 Z4 GTE – (P2) – “Hell of a race. I really, deeply wanted to win this one. I spent the last two hours trying to catch the Falken car. They were very fast so congrats to them. I really opened everything up and drove maximum attack. We had a very good second place and everybody knew we couldn’t do more. I’m happy for the team and for BMW; we’re all P2 now in the championships. Not a bad way to end the last year of ALMS. Thank you to the organizers of ALMS for an amazing run and for making it possible to see such great racing. And now we look forward to a bright future.”
Bill Auberlen, driver No. 56 Z4 GTE – (P2) – “That is as perfect of a race as I’ve ever seen at Petit Le Mans. Everything came together and we squeezed out a P2 finish. Everyone can see how handicapped we are on the straights… it’s ridiculous. This team makes up for a substantial power shortage on the straights and makes us look really good. I’m a little sad about the end of the ALMS; I’ve done these races from the Series’ start to its finish. I’ve won and here and been beaten, but the future brings new hope and as long as I’m sitting in a car with a Roundel on the hood, with my guys behind me, that’s all I care about.”
Maxime Martin, driver No. 55 Z4 GTE – (P4) – “I’m a bit disappointed for the team. Thanks to lots of hard work by the crew, we had a good enough race to be there at the end, and I feel we earned a podium finish, so I’m sorry I cannot hand that trophy over to the guys.”
Jörg Müller, driver No. 55 Z4 GTE – (P4) – “At the end, I’m partly crying and partly laughing. We were so close to holding onto the podium. The car handled fantastically, and we always came back from bad spots, and we led the race at least once. On one hand I’m happy we earned points for BMW but I really wanted us to be on the podium.”
Uwe Alzen, driver No. 55 Z4 GTE – (P4) – “Well I’m a little bit disappointed we couldn’t push harder. We had a little problem with the brake balance, with a little bit too much brake in the rear, so we couldn’t attack like we wanted to, but Maxime and Jörg did a great job and we stayed in the fight as much as possible. I’m on to another race next weekend at the Nordeschliefe, so I hope that I can finish that one on the podium to end the year with a good result.”