August 22, 2010 – Klaus Graf (Germany) could almost see the checkered flag as he wheeled his race-leading Muscle Milk Porsche RS Spyder around turn #12 of the 14-turn, four-mile sports car course at Road America, and then he felt a sudden loss of power. The more powerful Lola/Judd of Johnny Cocker (England) was four seconds behind, but gaining fast, and a slower GT Challenge car was blocking Klaus’ path.
Graf had emptied the fuel tank – the team kept him out there near the end as it their only chance to win the race overall – and the charging Cocker passed him only 200 yards from the finish.
“We were saving fuel like crazy in the last 30 minutes as we were trying to complete the race with just one stop. The yellow flags helped us out, but we knew it would be hard to hold off the former LMP1 Lola/Judd. Still, we could have held them off if we didn’t run out of fuel, and the car started to lose power three turns from the end. I just couldn’t hold him off, and we were barely able to make it up the hill to the finish line. The Muscle Milk team did a great job of rebuilding this car after Mid-Ohio, and Timo Bernhard’s stint at the start put us in a position to win. It was great to have Greg Pickett here this weekend – he motivated all of us to succeed. We picked up a couple of points on the Highcroft team, and we are still in the running for the championship,” said Graf.
Timo Bernhard (Germany), the Porsche factory driver who was substituting for car owner Greg Pickett, who was injured when the car crashed at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago, was also disappointed with the close second-place finished, but thought the team produced an all-out effort.
“It was a nice weekend to be here with Muscle Milk Team CytoSport. The team welcomed me really well and I got accustomed to them quickly. It’s not always easy to come in for just one race weekend but that wasn’t the case here. At the Start, there was nothing I could do as the quicker cars on the straight overtook me. But afterward I
stayed in their reach for the first half of my stint, but, near at the end, although I was starting to get a lot of oversteer, I still was able to make it to second place before my stop. We then had a great driver change and pit stop and gained a position in the pits. Everything was going great, but unfortunately in the last corner we ran short of fuel and lost the win. It’s tough to take but you have to see the positive side of it; the team gained a little bit back in the championship points and I think we can be proud of the outcome,” said Bernhard, a two-time LMP champion in the Penske Porsche RS Spyder, including an overall win at Road America in 2007.
The reason the team was able to attempt to finish the race on one fuel stop was the frequency and length of yellow flags during the first part of the race, enabling the car to go more than one hour and 25 minutes without a pit stop to begin the race. LMP cars normally have to stop for fuel every 65 – 75 minutes.
In the GT class, Patrick Long (USA) and Joerg Bergmeister (Germany) turned in a gritty performance to finish second in class in their Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, extending their driver points lead from eight to 18 points. Bergmeister, who started the car from the fourth position on the grid, was not optimistic about his chances to pick off the BMW and Corvettes that qualified ahead of him.
“At the start, I lost a few positions to the other cars that were faster on the straight line. Over my stint, I was able to regain some positions; after the first stop, the car was really good. The guys did an awesome job on the pit stops – when I turned the car over to Patrick, they got him out of the pits ahead of the No. 62 Ferrari and the No. 90 BMW and we gained several positions. A great result today and we advanced in the drivers’ championship points – now leading 119 to 101 – we’ll need everything we can get as we go into the last two races,” said Bergmeister.
The bigger-engined BMW got by Long on the re-start after the drivers change, and, while he was never able to regain the lead, he spend the last 60 minutes fighting off the Corvettes and the Ferrari to keep his position.
“This was absolutely the hardest hour of racing I’ve ever experienced. On the final restart, we were in the lead, and it was tough watching the BMW (the No. 90) pass me on the outside as we got to start finish. But I knew I had to keep my head down because I had [Jan] Magnussen – Corvette, [Gianmaria] Bruni – Ferrari and [Oliver] Gavin -Corvette behind me – three of the best road racers in the world. From there, it was about holding them back while I tried to gain on the BMW. It was an hour of the craziest lines and raw, flat-out driving – we were running at such high speeds and we were all searching for inches of racetrack to try and advance. I’ve never been thrilled with second but I guess there’s always a first time for everything – we are all delighted with the result today,” said Long.
The two other Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs in the race also had a good showing, although the overall finishing position doesn’t tell the whole story. The Seth Neiman/Darren Law Flying Lizard entry finished ninth in class, but had a flawless run and crossed the finish line on the same lap as the class leaders. And the Team Falken Tire Porsche of Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers finished tenth in class, but were winners of the Michelin Green X Challenge for GT cars, an award that combines performance with fuel efficiency and overall carbon footprint.
In the ALMS GT Challenge class for matched Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars, Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands) and Tim Pappas (USA) scored their fourth victory of the season in their Black Swan Racing Porsche, and now have a commanding 21-point lead in the championship standings, despite the fact that they missed the opening event at Sebring and finished eighth at Long Beach. Team owner Pappas, who has improved his racing skills since teaming with the defending Porsche Supercup champion, credits the hard work of the crew along with the experience of Bleekemolen for their success.
“He’s really helped me learn how to be a better driver, and I’ve done a better job of handing him the car in good shape to put us in a position to win. I feel that Jeroen and our good preparation and pit work has been the key to our success,” said Pappas.
The Galen Bieker/Robert Rodriguez Porsche was second in GTC, followed by the veterans Vic Rice and Shane Lewis in third.