Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD pairing Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf resumed their domination of the American Le Mans Series with a straightforward win on the championship's debut at Virginia International Raceway.
The rival Dyson Lola-Mazda only got close at the start, when Chris Dyson tried to go around the outside of Graf for the lead. As Dyson backed out of the move, his teammate Michael Marsal locked up and spun right behind, causing carnage throughout the pack, particularly among the LMPC field.
Graf and Luhr pulled away thereafter, ultimately winning the four-hour race by three laps after Dyson and team-mates Guy Smith and Johnny Mowlem had issues including a pit procedure penalty and a seatbelt problem at a driver change.
“It was very good to win, especially when you know that we are always the quickest car on track,” Luhr said. “In the last two races we were as fast as we were today, but we had some small technical issues. It's nice not for just us drivers but for the whole team to finally be rewarded for their hard work.”
“It was difficult to manage the traffic,” added Graf. “There were certain places where you could just not get around slower cars. It also depends on what class you're overtaking. Overall everybody had some incidents but we saw a really good race. We came here doing what we wanted to do. We drove hard, we went fast, and the team didn't make a mistake. (Finishing 70 percent at Petit Le Mans) is not the easiest thing to do. We'll go back to the shop and regroup. It will be a big team effort.”
The LMP1 title battle will still roll on to next month's Petit Le Mans finale, but GT was resolved at Virginia. Corvette's Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner wrapped up the crown with a class victory, coming home comfortably ahead of the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche and the No. 01 Extreme Speed Ferrari, with which Johannes van Overbeek had fought hard with Gavin in the opening stint.
“I was hoping things would go well for us, with this being my 100th start,” Gavin said. “When I managed to get through the melee in Turn 1, I thought this could very well be our day. Things worked out for us today, but we've worked at it. We made our own luck. We clambered and put ourselves in the right position. We executed that four times this year, and that's why we won the championship.”
The Challenge classes were both settled, with CORE Autosport's Alex Popow becoming LMPC champion and Alex Job Racing's Cooper MacNeil clinching GTC.
Third was sufficient for Popow, sharing with Tom Kimber-Smith, as their teammates Colin Braun and Jonathan Bennett took the class win.
“It hasn't sunk in,” Popow admitted. “It is amazing. Today we were running strong, but we had troubles during the race. We were hit, our steering wheel broke in half … so it was eventful. The team did an awesome job as always. They have been the key to winning this championship. I have to congratulate Jon and the job he has done putting together this group of professionals.”
GTC came down to the very last lap, when the Chris Cumming/Michael Valiante JDX car had to pit from the lead as its fuel ran low, and MacNeil's Alex Job partner Leh Keen held off the NGT Porsche of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Henrique Cisneros to win.
All three LMP2 cars received at least one penalty for contact in traffic. Eventual winners Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker had two, yet still took victory. The sister No. 95 Level 5 car lost second place to flying Conquest driver Martin Plowman on the final lap.
“Here it is not easy to overtake,” Bouchut admitted. “It is hard to evaluate when you have to (make a move) and when not to go. Sometimes it is a bit crazy. I started to get a little desperate, and I was penalized. We had to push that much harder to get back and be able to win the race, which is what we did.”
Results - 135 laps:
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Time/Gap
1. P1 Luhr/Graf Pickett HPD 4h01m17.294s
2. P1 Dyson/Smith/Mowlem Dyson Lola-Mazda + 3 laps
3. P2 Tucker/Bouchut Level 5 HPD + 4 laps
4. P2 Plowman/Heinemeier Hansson Conquest Morgan-Nissan + 4 laps
5. PC Bennett/Braun CORE FLM + 7 laps
6. PC Junco/Franchitti PR1 Mathiasen FLM + 8 laps
7. PC Popow/Kimber-Smith CORE FLM + 8 laps
8. GT Gavin/Milner Corvette + 9 laps
9. GT Bergmeister/Long Flying Lizard Porsche + 9 laps
10. GT Sharp/van Overbeek Extreme Speed Ferrari + 9 laps
11. GT Muller/Auberlen RLL BMW + 9 laps
12. PC Junqueira/Drissi RSR FLM + 10 laps
13. GT Neiman/Holzer Flying Lizard Porsche + 10 laps
14. PC Richard/Ende Dempsey FLM + 11 laps
15. GT Sweedler/Bell Alex Job Lotus + 11 laps
16. GT Henzler/Sellers Falken Porsche + 12 laps
17. GT Magnussen/Garcia Corvette + 13 laps
18. PC Burgess/Sanchez/Lux Merchant FLM + 14 laps
19. GT Muller/Summerton RLL BMW + 15 laps
20. GTC MacNeil/Keen Alex Job Porsche + 17 laps
21. GTC Cisneros/Bleekemolen NGT Porsche + 17 laps
22. GTC Cumming/Valiante JDX Porsche + 17 laps
23. GTC LeSaffre/Faulkner Green Hornet Porsche + 17 laps
24. GTC Di Guida/Pumpelly TRG Porsche + 19 laps
25. GTC Benitez/Benitez NGT Porsche + 19 laps
26. GTC Faieta/Avenatti Competition Porsche + 21 laps
GT Miller/Maassen Miller Porsche 98 laps
P1 Marsal/Patterson/Dyson Dyson Lola-Mazda 94 laps
GT Brown/Cosmo Extreme Speed Ferrari 93 laps
PC Marcelli/Downs Merchant FLM 32 laps
P2 Tucker/Diaz/Gonzalez Level 5 HPD DSQ