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A day in the life of an ALMS team

CTMP track frustrates flawless BMW squad

Auto racing is much the same, whether it’s truck racing like this weekend’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 or sports cars in the American Le Mans Series. It all comes down to teamwork. Wheels correspondent Stephanie Wallcraft spent the weekend with Bobby Rahal’s ALMS team when the series was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

In sports car racing, where a race can run anywhere from three hours to two gruelling trips around the clock, it’s difficult to label any one race day as average.

But the July 21 grand prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park was about as average as it gets for BMW’s Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
And they weren’t happy about it, as you would expect from any race team, whose job it is to win at all costs.

The team has moved on from the successful M3 GT2 cars that won two of the past three titles in the American Le Mans Series. Much of the off-season was spent preparing a new GTE spec Z4.
Despite some early growing pains, the team has been happy with the progress of the program. The drivers have enjoyed the increased stability offered by the car’s wider footprint, and driver Dirk Müller went into the race at CTMP with the ALMS GT points lead.

But the team also knew it was in for a fight with this one. The Z4 is a force to be reckoned with on courses with tight, technical corners, but the cars are short on straight-line speed. CTMP’s Mario Andretti Straightaway had the potential to be a serious Achilles’ heel.

When the cars rolled off the trucks at 7 a.m on race day, everyone was in great spirits. The two BMW cars had qualified 4th and 5th in a 10-car GT field, and the drivers had not requested any changes overnight.

The crew guys joked around as they went through their routine morning tasks, such as checking alignment and topping up fluids.

The drivers arrived about a half hour later to offer high fives and fist bumps before departing for the official meeting with race officials. Later, as preparations continued, the drivers joined team owner Bobby Rahal at the ALMS canteen for breakfast.

While there, chatter turned to concerns that the merged United SportsCar Racing series that will launch in 2014 might not retain this event.

Bill Auberlen, an American racer who has been with BMW for 16 years, has a long-held affection for CTMP and would be saddened to see it drop off the schedule. But he sees it as a good sign that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is racing here.

He did wonder whether the trucks might struggle on this track, particularly in Turn 4 — if they miss the turn, they will go hard into the tires. In the 20-minute morning warm-up, the two BMW teams had different goals.

The 55 car of Auberlen and Belgian driver Maxime Martin had an electrical issue in Thursday’s test and missed an hour of track time, so that team was still honing its race setup. The 56 car, piloted by Müller and American racer Joey Hand, would spend its time on pit-stop drills. All went as planned.

After a voluntary trip through technical inspection for the 55, final preparations were made to get the cars onto the grid in time for the pre-race ceremonies at 11.

The team learned that a penalty to a competing team meant the two BMW entries would each move up one spot on the grid. Once the pomp of the opening ceremonies was complete, the drivers strapped in and the cars pulled away.

The green flag flew at 12:05 p.m., and the first few laps saw a flurry of activity in the pit boxes.

It didn’t take long, though, for race mode to settle in. The engineers watched telemetry and developed strategy in the pit stands; the over-the-wall crew sat down for the first time all day and watched the race unfold as they waited to perform their duties on pit stops.

Although both cars led briefly during a pit cycle and the 56 car narrowly avoided a pit lane incident with the car ahead of them, an unfortunately timed caution period and a lack of outright speed saw the team end the day 5th and 6th in their class.

After the race, Rahal was very vocal. “We didn’t make any mistakes on our side,” he said.“It’s just the Corvette and the Viper are considerably faster than we are up the straightaways, and we feared that this would be the case here.

“We come here to win, too, so when the deck’s stacked a bit, it’s obviously frustrating. Hopefully the regulations will change to make it a bit more fair.”

Other teams had days that were far worse.

The innovative DeltaWing entry suffered yet another in-race mechanical failure. One GTC competitor ducked behind the wall for repairs and managed to return to the race, only to be assessed two penalties immediately after leaving the pits.

The BMW team had a quiet day by comparison, with Müller retaining his lead in the championship. Some might even say the team should feel satisfied with the results.

But on the 11-hour drive back to their home base in Hilliard, Ohio, satisfaction won’t have crossed anyone’s mind.

This is motor racing, where anything less than a win is simply not good enough.

wheels@thestar.ca

  • A day in the life of an ALMS team
  • A day in the life of an ALMS team Re: Photos for BMW embed story 1/3 On 2013-08-02, at 11:59 AM, Toronto Star, Wheels wrote: Stephanie Wallcraft photos for story on the ALMS BMW team for Wheels. From: steph@morefrontwing.com [mailto:steph@morefrontwing.com] Sent: Friday, August 02, 2013 11:39 AM To: Toronto Star, Wheels Subject: Photos for BMW embed story 1/3 Pertaining to the ALMS BMW team embed story submitted to Norris McDonald.

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