Guy Smith celebrates at Road America following the closest winning finish in ALMS histroy. [Everet Kamikawa Photo]
Closest ALMS Finish Ever At Road America
by John Wiedemann
Elkhart Lake, WI - Once again, an ALMS race would come down to a drag race climb up the front-straight at Road America. After four hours of racing in the 2012 Road Race Showcase American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron event, the distance between first and second was less than a tenth of a second at the finish.
How close is .083 seconds? Guy Smith crosses the finish line to win at Road America. [Everet Kamikawa Photo]
The Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team lost four laps and came back to win the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park in July. The team would again need to make up four laps if they were to repeat last years' win at Road America.
After dominating the practices and qualifying, the team suddenly was facing adversity. 41 minutes into the event, the leader of the race Klaus Graf brought the Muscle Milk Honda into the pits for an extended stop as the crew tried to determine the cause and fix a water leak.
Eleven minutes later, Graf returned to the track - four laps behind leader Chris Dyson in the Dyson Racing Modspace/ Mazda/Lola.
"We knew Muscle Milk had the advantage on pace all weekend," said Chris Dyson. "I knew under the yellow that the Muscle Milk car had a long stop and were 4 laps back. I didn't count them out cause I knew there was a lot of time left in the race and never count them out.
Graf got one lap back, racing past Dyson following a restart coming off a full course caution brought out when Rudy Junco found the wall in turn fourteen. But, that still left Graf twelve miles behind Dyson.
Graf put his foot down turning the fastest laps of the race as he tried to make up lost ground.
Under the second full-course caution, brought out when Tommy Kendall and his Viper GTS-R made contact with the wall in turn three, Graf again made up another lap. Switching drivers during the caution, Lucas Luhr started the second half of the race two laps back behind Dyson who remained in the car and in the lead.
With just under an hour and a half the Dyson Racing Lola pitter for tires, fuel and a driver change with Guy Smith replacing Chris Dyson. Luhr and the Muscle Milk Honda got back another lap during the Dyson pit-stop.
Following in the footsteps of his teammate, Luhr turned the fastest laps of the race and raced past the Dyson Lola to get back on the class lead lap with still a little over an hour remaining in the event. When the Muscle Milk team pitted a few laps later for tires and fuel, Smith put Luhr back a lap down.
With fifty-seven minutes to go, another full course caution was brought out when Bryan Sellers crashed his GT class Porsche into the wall in the famous turn eleven "kink" when a tire went flat causing him to lose control.
Both Luhr and Smith pitted under caution and Luhr got out first, putting Muscle Milk back on the lead lap. This meant when the green flag flew again, Luhr would restart just ahead of Smith and technically 4.048 miles behind with thirty-six minutes to go
The beneficial caution period that the Muscle Milk team needed occurred when Emilio Di Guida went off-course into the turn one gravel. As the pace car picked up the leader of the race, Luhr was able to traverse around the track to back of the pack with just over nineteen minutes remaining in the race.
Turning laps faster than Smith, Luhr pulled to within eight seconds with eleven minutes to go.
Smith wasn't laying down as he clicked off the quickest laps that the Dyson Lola had run all day long, but Luhr still knocked off seconds between the two on each lap.
With just over seven minutes to go, Luhr finally caught up to Smith and for the next six laps, Luhr was on Smith's rear bumper as the two sliced through heavy traffic. Heading to the white flag Smith turned his fastest lap of the race trying to hold off Luhr.
Luhr looked left and right, trying to gain advantage on Smith during the final lap, and then made his move through turn thirteen forcing his Honda inside of Smith to nose ahead to the lead. Smith pulled back alongside in the final turn and the two drag-raced up the hill for the final time to the finish.
"Going into the final corner, Lucas was all over me," said Smith. "I thought, do I defend, or do I not. I thought I had it covered, and to be honest he made a really good move, but I knew the way he got around me I could get back to him if I slingshot around him."
"We saw that Lucas [Luhr] could get around the 20 in that corner [turn 13]," said Chris Dyson. " I was yelling at Guy [Smith] to shut the lane down, and he did, but Lucas was able to get around him."
Over the final laps, the front-straight was one part of the track that Smith was able to put a little distance between himself and Luhr. It happened again as Smith was able to power ahead of Luhr to take the win by .083 seconds, the closest finish in ALMS history.
"Very disappointed," said Luhr. "if you have a so much quicker car than everybody else, it is so disappointing."
"It was too close for comfort. Last year was really close, I never expected something to beat that," said winner Smith. "Chris [Dyson] did a good job getting through the traffic and getting it to the front. And we got the lead, knowing that when you lead and you get the yellow, you don't get any advantages while pitting. We knew that the 6 car would be able to play the yellows to get the laps back. I knew they were going to be close on the final restart. They kept telling me to push Guy, push. I said, 'I'm pushing.' They said push a little more "
"I always wanted to win this race," commented Dyson. "We won in 1987, and I've been trying to chase one like this for 25 years. It was my favorite moment in my childhood."
"I've won close races, and I've lost close races, but I prefer winning them," said winning owner Rob Dyson. "We had the reverse result last year, and hats off to Guy for battling it out like that and still gaining the win out of it. It was a tight race, but exciting as hell."
Also featuring a close finish, Thomas Kimber-Smith held off Colin Braun by .423 seconds to take the PC class victory. Martin Plowman won the P2 class with Patrick Dempsey racing into second ahead of Christophe Bouchut. Bill Auberlen in the BMW won the GT class ahead of Jorg Bergmeister in the Porsche and the Ferrari of Johannes van Overbeek. The GTC class was won by Jeroen Bleekemolen.