Utah 2008: Penske Porsche takes desert 1-2
19 May 2008
With all the focus at Miller Motorsports Park on the new de Ferran Motorsports Acura entry, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas did what they do best by winning under the radar for Penske Racing and Porsche.
The duo took a hard-fought victory in the Larry H Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels in the deserts of Utah, the pole-winning RS Spyder crossing the line 22.656secs ahead of Patrick Long and Sascha Maassen's sister car. The de Ferran entry, meanwhile, placed third on debut, nearly 29 seconds back.
"The key to the victory was the race strategy," Bernhard said, "They brought me in during the second yellow and put me out of sequence, so I had a clear run to the end. I was pushing quite a lot. It was hard because I couldn't see the other people from the P2 class, so all I had was the split time on my dash and I knew I just had to keep pushing."
Dumas inherited the lead when Audi Sport North America's Emanuele Pirro pitted from first place near the two-hour mark, but still had to withstand challenges from the two diesel-powered R10 TDIs. However, Lucas Luhr suffered a slow puncture with 30 minutes to go, while running within three seconds of Dumas, and Pirro made contact with David Robertson's Ford GT just two minutes later and was knocked off course. The #1 Audi was also penalised three championship points for the incident.
"When I got in, there was little more than one hour to go, so I knew I had to be careful in my stint," Dumas said, "I knew, with 20-30 minutes to go, when the de Ferran car had to pit, I just had to take care of the car and win. Our team made a very, very good strategy and did not make any mistakes. We pushed at the right times."
The first six cars were from the lighter, more nimble LMP2 class, which took advantage of their cornering abilities around the 15-turn, 3.048-mile, Miller circuit. Luhr and Marco Werner were placed seventh overall, but took LMP1 honours for the third consecutive race. After entering the round with a two-race overall winning streak, the #2 Audi lost time with a spin after contact with Lou Gigliotti's LG Motorsports Corvette C6, the incident also resulting in a slow puncture and late-race penalty.
"I think we showed a good race, and it was fun fighting for the overall lead," Luhr said, "When we came up to the top of the chicane, the #1 car made the pass for me in front of the slower #28 car, so I followed him. Then the driver had only one place to look, cut down into me and cut all the air. I spun and had to come in and get new tyres. Then we got a stop-and-go for that."
Intersport Racing's Lola B06/10-AER finished second in class, its best finish of the season. Jon Field led four laps early on before a couple of spins ruined the showing, and also briefly lost power steering, but still managed to come home ahead of Audi veterans Pirro and Frank Biela, who were third in class.
Corvette Racing's Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen won their third GT1 race in four starts this season, the #3 Corvette C6.R finishing more than a minute up on Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in the sister car. Beretta started from the pole, but O'Connell and Magnussen won the race in pit-lane when the #4 car experienced trouble with its refuelling system. In each of the previous three rounds, the pole-sitting car ended up as the race winner.
"The #4 car had some bad luck," said O'Connell, who drove part of his stint without air conditioning in the #3 Corvette, "But there were at least a half-dozen races last year that I thought we had the better car and caught a lot of bad luck. Racing is funny. It's very cyclical. We catch some good luck even on days we might not be the strongest but end up in front."
Like Audi, Corvette raced knowing this was the last time to get in any pre-Le Mans work. Corvette Racing has won in GT1 at Le Mans five times in the last seven years.
"This was a great race for us, as we had to really work at keeping the other car at bay," Magnussen said, "We turned this into a test for both cars to get ready for Le Mans, and I really think we're going to be in good shape going to France. We had our problems but every time that happens it's something to practice."
Flying Lizard Motorsports' Wolf Henzler and Jörg Bergmeister drove their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to its first GT2 victory since Sebring, taking a one-lap victory over the sister Lizard Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet.
Henzler jumped out to a 20-second lead early on and gained nearly a lap on the field during the race's first caution at the 16-minute mark. Werner's then leading Audi was between the two Porsches, allowing Henzler a free pass around the circuit to catch the rear of the field.
"The full course caution was the key to winning the race," the German admitted, "We got an easy race and a great day. Sometimes you get a bit of luck and get a wave-by and it worked out perfectly."
The 1-2 finish was the second of the season for the Lizards and allowed Bergmeister and Henzler to move back into the class championship lead.
"It was an easy drive," Bergmeister said, "We knew after warm-up that we had a great car. I was pretty optimistic and it was a nice way to do it. Wolf did a great job putting the gap between us and the sister car and it was great to get the wave-by. Without the gap, we might not have been so lucky. We had the problem in St Pete that put us behind, but I think that we deserve to be in the championship lead again. We've been working very hard to get back here."