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Luhr, Graf Win Again at Mid-Ohio for Muscle Milk

(via American Le Mans Series/ALMS.com)

Corvette’s Gavin and Milner collect third GT win of 2012

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing completed its drive for five Saturday with a victory in the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge and sixth round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the second year in a row and led for 108 of 123 laps in their No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03a.

The P1 driver’s championship co-leaders have not lost an ALMS race since finishing second in class at the season-opening race at Sebring in March. Saturday, Graf finished a lap ahead of Dyson Racing’s duo of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith in their No. 16 Lola-Mazda coupe.

Luhr won pole position Friday and stayed in front for the entirety of his stint. He said, however, it was no walk in the park. The differing types of tire rubber laid down on the track surface from each of the competing series over the weekend made finding grip a hard chore early in the race. Luhr said he noticed a difference after the day’s only caution period 30 minutes in.

“It was difficult during the first stint,” he explained. “After the restart, I was a little bit worried because Guy was immediately behind me. But I saw I could pull away. I was constantly holding the gap. For us, everything was going to plan. Our car was running fine.”

During the driver change to Graf at the 1:35 mark of the race, the car did not start immediately when Graf tried to fire the car following the pit stop. It happened again on another stop 40 minutes later. Graf said it served as a wake-up call that there is nothing easy about winning ALMS races.

“It looks easy from the outside, but we struggled a bit,” Graf said. “It proves we have to keep getting better and better. It's not easy to drive around here. When the car is not that easy to drive, you can make a small mistake and lose the championship. Yes, we are leading and we have five in a row, but we really have to keep focused.”

The GT battle once again went down to the last lap with Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin winning by 0.283 seconds in the No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1. It was the third victory of the season for the Corvette duo, this one over the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Long.

Gavin made the winning pass after a Flying Lizard pit stop with nearly an hour to go. But he had to contend with Bergmeister staying on the Corvette’s rear bumper for the final 20 minutes.

“I could see that I was catching up on Jörg on his out-lap,” Gavin said. “I knew if I caught him, I had to nail it and I got a good run off the straight. Our tires seemed to come (up to temperature) straight away. That was what really won us the race – the out-lap and the job our team did in the pits getting us out so quickly.”

Class-pole sitter Jörg Müller led early for BMW Team RLL before Long and Milner each got around. Those three plus Antonio Garcia in the other Corvette, Joey Hand in the second BMW and Guy Cosmo in Extreme Speed Motorsports’ No. 02 Ferrari F458 Italia ran seemingly in a train for the better part of 25 minutes before the second round of pit stops.

“We are super close, super competitive,” Milner said. “I was giving Pat as much trouble as I could but it's hard to pass since we are so competitive. You just try to stay close to him so if he makes a mistake you make your move. The (No. 4 crew) made really good changes and predicted the conditions for the setup before the race. For me the car was really good, so the team hit it on the head.”

The BMW of Müller and Bill Auberlen finished third but won the GT portion of the MICHELIN GREEN X Challenge. It was the cleanest and most efficient of all the GT cars while still showing impressive speed.

Level 5 Motorsports returned to winning form in P2 with a victory for Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker. Bouchut in the No. 055 HPD ARX-03b won by 7.153 seconds over Conquest Endurance’s Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson. It was a reversal of the class results from two weeks ago at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park where the No. 37 Conquest Endurance Morgan-Nissan snapped Level 5’s five-race winning streak.

“Fortunately we had a really good setup and we didn't have to compromise,” said Tucker, who drove the opening stint. “I was really happy that the tires came in as quickly as they did at the start. By the time we got in to the GTC cars in traffic, I got in a bad spot and (Heinemeier-Hansson) was able to get around me. Luckily the team worked us back and Christophe could make a move to get us back in the lead.”

Bouchut assumed the lead for good with 32 minutes remaining. He chased down Plowman in the first 30 minutes of his stint and made the pass. He did give Level 5 a dramatic moment after contact with Gavin’s Corvette. The left-rear bodywork was damaged but it wasn’t enough to upset the balance of the car.

“Fortunately I was able to get (Plowman) held up enough (in traffic) that I could make my move,” Bouchut said. “When I was getting in the car, I had a big gap to make up. We were in a very soft tire but good grip. I was really on the limit, but I made up a lot of tenths by laps. I got back and luckily got to make the pass.”

Level 5’s No. 95 prototype of Tucker and Ricardo Gonzalez placed third in class.

All wasn’t lost for the Conquest entry. It won the prototype portion of the MICHELIN GREEN X Challenge. Like the BMW, it showed impressive efficiency and quickness.

PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports wrote a remarkable comeback story with its first Prototype Challenge victory of the season. Marino Franchitti and Rudy Junco won in the No. 52 ORECA FLM09 when leader Ryan Dalziel ran out of fuel in the No. 06 CORE autosport entry. Dalziel had to pit for a splash of fuel two laps from the end and lost the lead to Franchitti on the stop.

Franchitti didn’t get to drive in the race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park after a three-car crash early that knocked out the PR1 car. The team rushed an older car to Ohio after the Canadian race and began prepping it immediately. Franchitti paid the PR1 crew the ultimate tribute for its work Friday with a class pole position.

“The guys were just telling me, ‘The gap is 15 seconds,’” Franchitti said, “so I started pushing and the guys said, ‘He might need fuel.’ I thought no way so I just kept pushing. Then I came over the crest of the hill and I saw him in the pits.

“Great job from the team, and it was a pleasure working with Rudy all weekend,” he added. “Driving in the race it was really tough. The rubber felt like it was almost being picked up, and even the sealant. It was very strange. But great job to the team this weekend. This was a very fun win, an exciting time. I'm looking forward to the next race for sure.”

Like many others, Junco said the start was difficult with a greasy track due to the heat and number of cars competing on the weekend.

“Most definitely, it was very different than during the practices,” he said. “Our setup was really good, but it took a while for it to really come in. When it did we could go really fast. The guys have been working nonstop to put this car together for today. This was a fantastic weekend. I loved working with Marino and I learned a lot today.”

Dalziel and Alex Popow finished second in CORE autosport’s No. 05 ORECA FLM09. Kyle Marcelli and Antonio Downs were third for Merchant Services Racing and its No. 8 entry.

Tim Pappas and Jeroen Bleekemolen retrned to GT Challenge competition with a one-lap victory in JDX Racing’s No. 11 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Pappas and Bleekemolen won the class in 2010 at Mid-Ohio, and they shared the 2010 class championship; Pappas claimed the title in 2011.

Needless to say, they enjoyed their Mid-Ohio return.

“Coming back to GTC with JDX and Jeroen was a last-minute decision, but I was really looking forward to it,” said Pappas, who began the season in P2 with his Black Swan Racing team. “I’ve missed being out here with everyone and we’re excited to be back. I think that the somewhere in the middle of 2012, the GTC class got a lot stronger and its continued to build. I’m not sure that its any more difficult than it was last year, but there are still very, very good teams and I was very impressed with JDX and they definitely deserve this win.”

TRG’s Spencer Pumpelly and Al Carter were second in class Saturday in the No. 66 Porsche, just ahead of Green Hornet Racing’s No. 33 entry of Bob Faieta and Patrick Huisman.

Bleekemolen made the winning pass on Peter LeSaffre in the No. 34 Green Hornet Porsche early in his stint. He held on comfortably to give JDX its first ALMS victory.

“We really had a good car. In the middle of the race we were definitely the fastest out there,” he said. “I had old tires, so I wasn’t pushing that hard, but it looked like we had everything under control. I saw (LeSaffre) not too far ahead of me early in my stint, so I knew if I was staying behind him, I was fine. I was trying to save the tires. I think we really had a good car today.”
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