BMW Team RLL’s #55 M3, driven by Bill Auberlen, Jörg Müller, and Jonathon Summerton, finished third in the GT class at the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta. The class win went to Toni Vilander, Johannes van Overbeek, and Scott Sharp in their Ferrari 458, and second went to Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Jordan Taylor in the #3 Corvette.
Both Müller and Auberlen led in the second half of the race in the #55 M3. After night fell, Auberlen fought for the lead with Garcia; the two cars had pitted out of sequence with Vilander’s Ferrari. When the M3 and the Corvette pitted, Vilander regained the lead, but it looked like it would be a shootout for second between the M3 and the Vette. It might even have been a battle for the lead, as it was not certain that Vilander had enough fuel to go the distance.
But Team RLL made a rare mistake on Auberlen’s stop, violating the rules by raising the car to change tires before the fuel hose was removed. They quickly realized their mistake, and lowered the car again, but the damage had been done, and #55 had to come in for a drive through penalty. After that it ran third, where it would eventually finish.
In the end, the Ferrari’s gamble on fuel paid off; it ran for the last 70 minutes of the race without stopping, winning ahead of the Vette and the M3.
The #56 M3, driven by Dirk Müller, Uwe Alzen, and Summerton, who ran in both Team RLL cars, finished fourth in class, two laps down from the winning Ferrari. It was a long climb through the pack for #56. The car was hit by a prototype just twenty minutes into the race, and a long pit stop to repair the brakes, which were damaged in the incident, set the car back three laps. After that it ran a strong race, moving up to fourth near the end, but it was never a contender for the lead.
The overall win went to the Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota driven by Neel Jani, Andrea Belicchi and Nicolas Prost. The favored Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD prototype piloted by Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf spent over an hour in the pits after an incident early in the race, but it returned to finish enough laps to win the P1 drivers’ and team titles.
Petit Le Mans was the final race of the 2012 American Le Mans Series season. Car #55’s finish at Road Atlanta left BMW third in manufacturers' points behind Chevrolet and Porsche. GT drivers’ points champions Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin had clinched the manufacturers’ championship for Chevrolet in the previous race at VIR in September. Their Corvette was set back at Road Atlanta when a steering rack had to be replaced. It finished twelfth in class.
The American Le Mans Series announced the schedule for its 2013 season on the weekend of the Road Atlanta race. The 2013 season, the series’ last separate year of competition before the 2014 merger with Grand-Am, will once again begin at Sebring in March and end with the Petit Le Mans race in October. The only new track on the schedule is the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, which replaces the series’ Mid-Ohio round. ALMS will run a joint event with Grand-Am at Road America in August. The entire schedule appears here.
While BMW made no announcement at Road Atlanta regarding its plans for next year, it will almost certainly be back in the ALMS in 2013. It is currently attempting to homologate the Z4 GT3; if that does not happen, the M3s could return. An announcement is likely in December.—Brian S. MorganBack to News