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Aston Martin, BMW Win At Long Beach

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 18 2011

The BMW M3s had a big day in Long Beach. (Photos courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Aston Martin scored its first over-all victory in the ALMS at Long Beach when the Muscle Milk team beat the only other LMP1 car in the field of Dyson Racing. But it was the fierce street fight for the GT victory that provided the action for most of the two-hour race.

The crash of the leading Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche midway in the race and a full-course caution with eight minutes remaining insured a second straight victory for the BMW M3 GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

The factory Corvette C6.R of Jan Magnussen, co-driven by Oliver Gavin, was giving chase when the final caution period fell. “I had to push like crazy because you never know what’s going on,” said BMW’s Muller of his final stint. “Luckily, I saved my tires because Jan pushed really hard at the end. I was happy to see the yellow at the end, to be honest!”

The winners needed to bounce back from a bizarre incident with the fellow Team RLL entry. Bill Auberlen spun his BMW in the opening minutes after getting passed by the Flying Lizard Porsche of Patrick Long and hit by the Corvette of Tommy Milner. As he tried to resume nearly a minute later, Auberlen blocked class leader Hand in the tight confines around the fountain, enabling Gavin and Long to get past. “Bill just didn’t see me,” said Hand.

Pole winner Hand overtook both Long and Gavin 14 minutes later at Turn 5 when the two leading GT’s were balked by a GTC class Porsche. Long’s side-by-side maneuver on the front straight failed to regain the lead, but he slipped by two laps later. Long subsequently crashed while leading. The irate Porsche driver laid blame on Ferrari driver Scott Sharp, who blocked the class leader off the line while coming out of the pits on cold tires.

Sharp was busy using his mirrors for “doing his hair,” said Long after the debris he picked up on his Michelins caused him to slide into the Turn 8 wall just in front of Sharp.

“Going into Turn 8, I was on the inside and braked in my normal position but I had so much debris on my tires that I couldn’t get the tires stopped and hit the concrete wall in the exit,” said Long. “At any other track, that would have meant just two wheels off in the dirt but unfortunately here that was the end of our race.”

After returning to the lead, Hand pitted early for the exchange to Muller, enabling the Falken Tire Porsche of Wolf Henzler to lead and also the Jaguar XKR GT of Bruno Junqueira, in front for less than a lap before pitting. It was the first ever stint in the lead, albeit brief, for the Jaguar team of Paul Gentilozzi, who crashed the second XKR at Turn 7 to bring out the first caution at the five-minute mark.

After the pit stop cycle, Magnussen began his charge, but ran out of time. “In a race like this you have to take so many chances. After the race I had a walk around the car and looked at all the places where I’d tapped the walls. It’s a shame we weren’t closer at the finish, we could have had a good fight.”

The Risi Competizione Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Jaime Melo finished third in class after starting 28th on the grid following a qualifying session ended early when contact with the wall by Melo ripped off the F458 Italia’s rear wing.

Guy Smith won the pole in the Lola-Mazda B09/86 of Dyson Racing. But Muscle Milk’s Lucas Luhr was able to pass starter Chris Dyson in Turn 5 on the first lap after the team resolved some problems during practice. “I had the plan in my head to get around Chris in the first corner but he did a good job staying ahead,” Luhr said. “But I could see I was quicker and made my move a few turns later.”

Luhr’s winning co-driver Klaus Graf was leading Smith by one minute when the caution came out. “We thought we had an opportunity to win, but it turned out we did not have the pace in the race that we had in qualifying,” said a disappointed Smith.

Patron Highcroft Racing elected to skip the event to focus on the upcoming test for the Le Mans 24-hour on April 24. Level 5 Motorsports drivers Scott Tucker and Christophe Bouchut ran 45 laps — slightly more than half — to win LMP2 before parking their Lola B11/80-Honda to preserve it for the Le Mans test.

Gunnar Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez were the winners in LMPC and Jeroen Bleekemolen and Tim Pappis took honors in the GTC category.

After the break for Le Mans (June 11-12), the ALMS will resume on July 9 at Lime Rock Park.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, April 18 2011
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