Mid-Ohio Raceway, BMW Team RLL’s home track, was not kind to the local heroes this year. Despite starting first and second on the GT class grid, the two BMWs fell back soon after the start and never regained the class lead. But near the end of the race, running sixth and eighth in class during a deluge, they held on when others spun off in treacherous conditions and recovered to finish third and fourth in class.
Joey Hand qualified car #56 on the GT pole, just ahead of Dirk Werner in car #55. The fast times came despite new intake restrictors imposed on the cars by the ALMS. The cars' handling, Dirk Müller observed in a pre-race interview, appeared to overcome any handicap caused by the restrictors.
Müller started #56 and led for a lap, but then he fell to third behind the Corvette of Jan Magnussen/Oliver Gavin and the Risi Ferrari of Toni Vilander/Jaime Melo. Werner got caught in traffic at the start and quickly dropped to fifth. For the rest of the race, the M3s would play catch up, running near the front of the pack much of time, but not in the lead.
Both BMWs pitted just before the one-hour mark in the 2 ¾ hour race. The stop was a bit slow for car #56. As Müller charged back to regain his lost position, he tagged #55, now driven by Auberlen, and spun him. Auberlen recovered, leaving #56 in third and #55 in fourth. (text resumes after photo)
While rain had threatened early in the day, the sun was out at the time of the start. But the rain came with a vengeance near the end of the race. When Müller pitted to turn the car over to Hand at the 1 ½ hour mark, the team elected to stay on slicks even though a few rain drops were falling. However, just over twenty minutes later the rains came in earnest, and both cars had to pit to change to wet weather tires.
When a full-course yellow began at the two hour mark, #55 was sixth and #56 was eighth. When the track went back to green #56 collided with the Risi Ferrari, bringing out another yellow and taking the Ferrari out of the race.
Conditions were so bad when the track went green for the last time that several of the GT front runners spun. Wolf Henzler, displaying his own prowess and the effectiveness of the rain tires on the Falken Tire Porsche that he shared with Bryan Sellers, moved up from fifth to first, while Auberlen and Hand stayed out of trouble and moved up to third and fourth, behind the second-place Corvette of Jan Magnussen. These would be the final finishing positions; the track went back to yellow because of the conditions, and then a red flag was thrown, ending the race thirteen minutes early.
Team principal Bobby Rahal said, “It was a tough day for us. We had a bad first pit stop with the No. 56 M3 GT and that ultimately forced our hand with a strategy call which may have worked if it had not rained. Third and fourth is not a bad way to end today, but we always come to finish one-two.”
Third and fourth were enough to preserve Hand’s and Müller’s tie for first in drivers’ points, BMW’s lead in manufacturers’ points, and BMW Team RLL’s lead in team points going into the series next race at Road America on August 20.—Brian S. Morgan, motorsports editor, bmwcca.org
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