At the penultimate round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series season, both of the marquee class title chases ended. Dyson Racing and BMW Team RLL confirmed championships they led from the opening round of the campaign, if not in the style they might have liked.
Dyson Racing's P1 title was unofficially confirmed when Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing went behind the wall after three and a half hours to replace a fuel pump. Though the team resumed on track, it was too far back to make up any ground on their Dyson rivals — thus leaving Chris Dyson (ABOVE) and Guy Smith in a position where they didn't need to win the race to secure the class championship. Dyson and Smith entered with a 24-point lead over Muscle Milk's Klaus Graf.
The race itself looked set to go Dyson's way with their two Lola Mazda coupes and the Mazda MZR-R engine holding up well on its home track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but Stefan Mucke in the factory Aston Martin Racing passed Dyson's third driver Jay Cochran with 50 minutes remaining. Knowing the title was in hand and the factory AMR entry wouldn't score points anyway, there was no need for Cochran to defend vigorously with Dyson still on pace to secure full points.
There was one final bit of drama, because Cochran's fraught last stint also included a puncture and spin at the Corkscrew. That dropped him to third behind the team's sister car driven by Steven Kane, Humaid al Masaood and Butch Leitzinger. That car, with Kane behind the wheel in its final stint, made several unscheduled pit stops to shift the positions.
“The goal coming into this weekend was to put the championship to bed,” Chris Dyson said. “We did what we had to do to accomplish that. I'm grateful for Humaid and the Oryx guys for cooperating and making that happen.”
Overall, Mucke's win was a needed breath of fresh air for the factory AMR squad in what has been an undoubtedly challenging 2011 season. Having temporarily abandoned their AMR-ONE open-top prototype program after niggling engine issues and a double retirement with the car's debut at Le Mans, the team reverted back to their original Lola Aston Martin coupe for the balance of the season.
“The car was really good when I went in for the last 1.5 stints,” Mucke said. “I was surprised the temperature helped us a little bit. It was the key thing. The car started to suddenly work. We had an advantage passing other cars, not getting a lot of pickup. But the temperature and conditions really suited the car and made it really fast.”
To boot, the win is co-driver Adrian Fernandez's first overall victory in ALMS — the popular Mexican won eight races in the P2 class in 2009 en route to a championship with his own Fernandez Racing squad. Mucke, Fernandez and Harold Primat wheeled the No. 007 to the overall win Saturday afternoon.
The two Aston Martins actually got into a tiff in the second hour, when Lucas Luhr in the Muscle Milk AMR was assessed a stop-and-hold penalty for avoidable contact with Mucke at the Corkscrew. Muscle Milk argued their case to no avail.
“We struggled a little with our tires and I lost some places in the traffic,” Mucke explained. “Lucas made quite a move and turned me around. Luckily we didn't get in the gravel. Then we got in another skirmish but each time we didn't have any troubles and were able to just keep pushing all through the race. It was a good fighting for sure.”
But within the hour, Luhr had regained the lap he lost, and a fortuitously timed caution flag provided the car with a wave-around to gain the minute he lost on the penalty.
The Kane/al Masaood/Leitzinger entry wound up third ahead of the ailing Muscle Milk entry and the retired Autocon car. Untroubled until the final round of stops, Leitzinger pulled off one of the race's most stellar maneuvers with a three-wide pass on the outside of Turn 10, leaving Mucke on the inside line and Damien Faulkner's Green Hornet/Black Swan car left wondering where that move came from.
“Even I didn't think it would stick,” Leitzinger admitted post-race.
Another car turning in a trouble-free drive was Level 5 Motorsports' new HPD ARX-01g. The Scott Tucker/Christophe Bouchut/Luis Diaz-driven cost-capped P2 car ran the full distance to fourth place overall after only a brief shakedown at Infineon Raceway to gain any prior mileage.
Genoa Racing's Elton Julian and Eric Lux put in a stellar effort of their own to capture the LMP Challenge class win. Their third driver Michael Guasch twisted his ankle hopping over the pit wall getting into the car, and returned to the pits after one lap too uncomfortable to continue.
Julian and title archrival Gunnar Jeannette engaged in a titanic scrap for the lead, with the battle particularly important as Lux entered the race just one point behind Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez for the class title.
While Jeannette had passed Julian at one stage, Julian got him back with 35 minutes remaining and that was enough to confirm the victory after the final round of pit stops. Lux leaves Monterey with an unofficial three-point lead over Jeannette and Gonzalez, who still finished second with Rudy Junco as third driver.