BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team Earns 2010 ALMS crowns
After 4,000 miles of some of the fiercest competition in auto racing, the battle for the 2010 American Le Mans Series Manufacturers and Team championships came down to the very last mile of GT action Saturday night at Road Atlanta.
And it was during that last mile that a season’s worth of toil paid off for the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team as it clinched both the ALMS Manufacturers and Team titles in just its second year in the series, topping the highly-competitive GT category by just a single point. Finishing fourth while one of the Risi Competizione Ferrari’s were leading would have left the BMW RLR squad one point out of the top spot for the season, but when the Ferrari ran out of fuel less than a mile from the finish line, the title switched hands.
“Anyone that thinks that there’s no drama in racing obviously wasn’t watching tonight,” beamed team co-owner Bobby Rahal after the race. “To win this championship in just our second season for BMW in one of the toughest categories in motorsport is a great testament to the efforts of BMW Motorsport, BMW of North America, Rahal Letterman Racing and all of our partners. I take great pride in our team and I think that we have one of the best teams in racing. To win a championship, no matter what the series, is a great accomplishment.”
The championship was the first road-racing title in Rahal Letterman Racing’s 19-year history and its first team championship since its inaugural year in 1992 when Bobby Rahal drove his fledgling team to the top of the Indy Car standings. The season crown is the first in the ALMS GT category for BMW since 2001, and came in a year where the powerful M3s finished on the podium in each race except the final one.
“I can say that we have done almost everything that we set out to do when we put this program together,” said BMW North America Motorsport Manager Martin Birkmann. “The team did an outstanding job, did great work in the pits and that’s what made the difference in this race. This team really deserves this championship.”
Entering the final race of the season, the team needed to finish ahead of the Porsches, and keep the Ferraris from gaining 11 points in order to claim the coveted titles. But the Ferraris swept the top four spots in qualifying, and problems with the #90 BMW M3 in the first hours of the race left it up to the #92 car driven by Tommy Milner, Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner to carry the flag. Shrewd strategy and hard driving allowed the team to bounce back from falling a lap behind the leaders and the fastest pit stops in the GT class allowed the team to gain ground every time the car stopped for fuel and fresh Dunlop tires. In the end, all of those factors came into play as late-race pit stops for fuel ended up telling the story in the end.
“This was truly a team victory because all of the aspects of the team were needed to win this championship,” Rahal said. “We didn’t have the fastest car out there, but the drivers drove hard, the pit stops were fast and the strategy was great. All of it came together when we really needed it to and we are very proud of the effort. I would like to thank Escort, NEC, RAYS Wheels and Dunlop for supporting us and helping us win this title.”
The season-long lineups of Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand in the No. 90 car and Auberlen and Milner in the No. 92 M3, were joined by Andy Priaulx and Werner at Sebring and Road Atlanta. The roster scored podium placements in eight of the year’s nine races and led laps in every race, demonstrating the consistency that carried the M3s to the title.