Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won for the third straight year at Long Beach as Muscle Milk Pickett Racing cruised to its first victory of the season in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón on Saturday. Graf beat Rebellion Racing’s Nick Heidfeld by 36.329 seconds in the LMP1 class of the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach.
Luhr started the race third in class and dropped to mid-pack during a caution-filled middle of the race. The team made its one driver change during a stop 25 minutes in, and Graf battled back through the field to take the overall lead for good with 47 minutes remaining in the No. 6 Honda Performance Development ARX-03a.
The two lead cars pitted for the final time with an hour to go. Heidfeld replaced Neel Jani in the Rebellion Lola-Toyota, which also took fuel. Meanwhile, Graf took just fuel and left the pit lane well before Heidfeld. That proved the difference.
We’ve definitely had 100 percent the right strategy,” Graf said. “The way the race unfolded, it was perfect. The guys did an awesome job in the pits — no mistakes.”
The victory moved Luhr into a tie for ALMS career victories (42), a mark he shares with Olivier Beretta.
“Sometimes, endurance racing is like this,” Luhr said. “Sometimes you have the busier day and sometimes you have the easy day. Of course I would have loved to drive more, but at that time you put your ego or your selfishness back a bit, and look at the big picture to do what it takes to win the race. If you have a problem with that attitude, you’re in the wrong business.”
BMW Team RLL — co-owned by IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal, late-night television star David Letterman and Chicago businessman Mike Lanigan — won in GT in just its second race with its new BMW Z4 GTE as No. 55 co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin led a 1-2 finish in class ahead of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in the No. 56. Auberlen got around Dominik Farnbacher in the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R when Farnbacher went wide into Turn 1.
“Unbelievable. This thing was a rocket all day,” said Auberlen, who scored his first Long Beach win after a number of close calls in a variety of series. “I’ve wanted to win this thing forever and never have. What a great day for BMW.”
It didn’t look too promising early. Martin lost time on the track early when he went into the Turn 1 runoff after going into the corner carrying too much speed. He regained a couple of positions before handing off to Auberlen, who pitted twice to top off the BMW’s fuel tank during the race’s final caution period.
Farnbacher and Marc Goossens placed third for SRT Motorsports and the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R.
Colin Braun and team owner Jon Bennett took the Prototype Challenge presented by Continental Tire class victory for CORE autosport. Braun in the No. 05 ORECA FLM09 finished third overall after leading the race near the midway point. Bennett pitted from third in class at the 40-minute mark, and Braun assumed the lead for good five minutes later on the race’s final restart.
Braun led overall for 10 minutes before Graf got around him.
“This was my first time leading an ALMS race overall. I did it for what felt like forever,” he said. “I thought maybe we could have won it. I had a great coaching from the pits to help me conserve the fuel to get it all the way to the end. What a great win.”
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ Luis Diaz and David Cheng finished second in class, followed by class pole-winner Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende for RSR Racing.
NGT Motorsport’s Sean Edwards held of a late challenge from Spencer Pumpelly and won with Henrique Cisneros in GT Challenge by just 2.130 seconds. Both NGT teammates led during their stints, and Edwards took the lead for good shortly after the race’s last restart.
He went nearly 80 minutes on the same Yokohama tires and fuel.
“I was in fuel-save mode the whole way,” Edwards said. “I had an afternoon of short-shifting and trying to manage the gap (back to Pumpelly), and keeping the gaps as even as possible. I wish all races were as easy as this. We had a strong car today and the team did a great job with setup.”
The NGT crew won the race with its only pit stop; the No. 30 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup took 15 seconds less to complete its stop than the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche.
Nelson Canache Jr., drove with Pumpelly in the runner-up No. 45. The No. 44 Flying Lizard Porsche of Brian Wong and Dion von Moltke placed third.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón is the American Le Mans Monterey from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 11.