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      10-12-2010, 12:16 PM   #1
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Driver Blog: Tommy Milner. Championship Race.


What's up guys – It's my last ALMS blog for 2010. Thanks for reading this year. I hope they've been entertaining or interesting at the least. I've had a lot of fun writing them and meeting some of you guys at the ALMS races this year. It's always cool to hear from you guys whether you like these or not.

This year the ALMS swapped a few races around so that the Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta would be the last race of the season. The big factory Audi and Peugot teams came over from Europe to battle it out at the race that started it all over here in the US for Le Mans style racing eleven years ago. It's turned into one of the biggest sports car races in the world.

Just to sum up where we've come this season, we started the season off at the Sebring 12 hour with a 2nd and 3rd place finish. From that race on Bill and I would finish on the podium five more times and the two times we didn't land on the podium, because we didn't finish the race, our teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller found themselves on the podium.

The entire BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team routinely made awesome pit calls to always put us in position to finish on the podium and gave us great cars to race to the front. We arrived at Petit Le Mans ONE point behind Porsche and 6 points ahead of Ferrari in the Manufacturer's Championship. Petit would have to be another race that everyone on the team was on their “A” game.

We had tested already once in the summer at Road Atlanta and I arrived on the Wednesday, a week and a half earlier, in Greenville, South Carolina for a Michelin event in Downtown Greenville and some fun at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg near BMW's plant. I left straight from there and headed to the track for some testing the weekend before Petit on that Saturday and Sunday. Both tests we had went very well. We had some new tires from Dunlop to test, both for this year and for next year, and just to reassure ourselves that the cars we had in testing in June were the same ones we had now for the biggest race of the season. Everything went well and we were ready for the race.

If you remember Petit from last year, the whole week was plagued by a ton of rain and in the end the rain that came on race day was so strong they had to call the race halfway through because the rain wasn't letting up and the rivers that were running across the track would make it impossible to race. This year fortunately the weather looked much better. Despite some rain on Wednesday and Thursday, race day was looking like a perfect day. Since I did a lot of the testing on Saturday and Sunday along with our third driver, Dirk Werner, Bill would get most of the seat time in the car. In fact, the last time I would drive a lap at speed before the race would be that Sunday test day. That wasn't by design but just the way things worked out with the weather and getting Bill seat time.

So, my Petit week was in fact that, petit. Lots of thinking and watching going on and supporting the team however I could. I'd of loved to have done more driving during the practices but it was more important to get Bill time in the car. Bill would qualify the car for us on the Friday and we had a tough session. He ended up in 10th and our teammates in 5th. In a long race like this, the qualifying position doesn't matter as much but you always want to be up towards the front no matter what.

Race day. The 124,000 fans that came out on Saturday would be treated to another huge race and, this time, nice weather. This is one place where you really feel the fans at the track. They line the track completely with their motorhomes, tents, E-Z Up's, banners, and flags. As you rip down the back straight headed down the hill to 10a and 10b, where the drift course is, everyone with their setup just outside the track actually gives you a stronger sense of speed.

Bill would start the race, I would hop in the car second, and then Dirk Werner would get in next. We would just keep that rotation throughout the race doing single stints mostly. Bill had a good first stint, moving up a few spots, and Dirk Mueller in the 90 car held strong in 5th. We survived the start of the race and now we could settle in and just go to work.

Goal number one was stay ahead of the Porsche. We had that covered pretty much all race and all weekend really. The pace of our M3's were strong in comparison to the Porsche but didn't have much for the Ferrari's this time. They've must have had an engine update for Mosport and for here because they were quite a bit quicker in a straight line now than they had been and were the quickest car in a straight line now. In order to win the Manufacturer's championship we had to beat the Porsche and if Ferrari won the race, one of our BMW's had to finish in 3rd place. Corvette was also fast again here so winning this thing wouldn't be easy.

My first stint in the car was generally uneventful. We pitted Bill a bit early because we were having a little tire issue and didn't want to risk it too much. We wanted to try and run the softer of the compounds we had available to us since the track temp was showing that we should be able to run them. Unfortunately, halfway through my stint, we had the same issue that Bill had in his first stint and so, as I was catching the lead Corvette at the time, I had to nurse the tires a bit so that I could go the full distance of my stint. Things were going OK for us but not so well unfortunately for the #90 car.

We pound the curb in turn 3 every lap, just like every other car does in our class, and sometimes land pretty hard on the floor of the car. Something happened this time with the starter of their car and it required a long fix in the tent to get it to start again. It was all up to us in #92 to bring this home for BMW and for Rahal Letterman Racing.

Bill handed the car over to me, in what would be my final stint in the car this year. I had an idea that it might be my last stint in the car and actually got chills as I stood on the pitwall, waiting for Bill to stop in our pit box. I got in during a yellow flag and at this stage in the race, which was about of the way through the race, we were in 4th place. #62 Ferrari from #4 Corvette from #45 Porsche. I worked really hard to get a lot of heat in the tires so I would be ready to go when it went green. On the start, I made short work of the 45 Porsche and set off after the Corvette and Ferrari. We were in good position at this point since we would win the manufacturer's championship if it ended like this, but I wanted more and the car had more. As I chased down the Ferrari and Corvette who were battling pretty hard, the Corvette took a shot at the Ferrari down into 10a and pushed both cars just a bit wide of the racing line. I was close enough at this point to take advantage and got inside the Corvette and now set my sights on the Ferrari.

The Ferrari and I had actually started to pull a gap on the Corvette now and I was matching the pace of the Ferrari which we weren't able to do all race. I continued to hound the Ferrari until a yellow came out. The Ferrari pitted and we stayed out. We weren't in our pit window to make it to the end so we decided to stay out. After the restart, my tires just weren't the same. It took bit to get the heat back into them and the Corvette was all over me. Instead of risking an incident I let him go as I was content to be in 2nd at this point and ride it out. I was still pushing hard every lap but didn't take any big risks in traffic or with my driving. I needed to hand the car off in good shape to Dirk who would probably go to the end.

It went yellow again just before our pit window and the window of pretty much every other GT car. We took it anyways because it was really close to be able to make it to the end on just one more stop. If it would go green the rest of the way we'd have to do a splash of fuel at the end. I drove down pit lane and began loosening my belts as always, unplugged my radio, and turned into the pit box one last time this year. A year that to this point has been a really good year for me. A year I felt like I showed a lot of people I could do the job and more significantly, myself, that I could do the job.

REST OF BLOG ARTICLE : http://speedhunters.com/archive/2010...ship-race.aspx
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      10-14-2010, 09:45 AM   #2
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Great read, its cool to have the driver describe the race in such detail! It was my first ALMS race to watch in person, and what a great experience! The track and crowd were amazing. The article brings back memories of one of the best days ever, a race that truly went to the end. Congrats to the RLR BMW team!
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      10-14-2010, 10:39 AM   #3
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Great write up. I have been going to Road Atlanta since 1976 and the crowd this year was amazing. Petit has really grown into quite an event, and anyone who loves sports car racing should try to go next year. BMW did not have a corral this year which was a shame, as Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and even Jaguar had them. Next year should again be very good, esp with more development from Jag and Ford GT, and new Panoz to go along with the others in GT. Great job by everyone at Rahal-Letterman. I got to meet Bobby R this year, great guy.
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