August Miller, Deseret News
TOOELE The Penske Porsche Spyder started in the lead, for the first couple of hundred feet, anyway, but what counted most was it finished in the lead in the Miller Motorsports Park's American Le Mans Series.
Driver Tino Bernhard earned the pole position for Sunday's start. Co-driver Romain Dumas avoided accidents and drove a steady race to win the race.
It was the second time in two years that the LMP2 class bettered the higher LMP1 class. In fact, six cars in the lower tier crossed the finish before the one remaining Audi R10 diesel car finished.
The race started with Bernhard in the driver's seat and occupying the pole position. Into the first turn, however, the second Audi diesel, driven by Marco Werner, jumped into the lead.
There were several lead changes in the next two dozen laps and two minor accidents. Most of the damage was left on the track in the form of debris. In fact, after one hour of racing only one car was sitting in the pits. There were no other caution laps.
The winning team completed 96 laps in the 2 hour, 45-minute race and was 27 seconds ahead of the second finisher Patrick Long, also in a Penske Porsche RS Spyder. His co-driver was Sascha Maassen.
Crossing the finish in third was Simon Pagenaud of the de Ferran team in a Acura ARX-01B. His co-driver was Gil de Ferran, who was racing for the first time in five years. de Ferran is a former Indy 500 winner and two-time CART champion.
Dumas said at the finish that "strategy played a part" in the win.
"We had a different strategy from the rest of the field. When I got in there was little more than one hour to go ... so I had to be careful. Also I knew to keep a good gap and not get caught if there was a safety car (yellow flag)," he said.
"I knew with 20 to 30 minutes to go when the de Ferran car had to pit, I just had to take care of the car and win."
Even though the pole position had little to do with the outcome of the race, it did show that the car had what was needed to win.
Bernhard said he knew the pole wasn't an advantage, "we just knew we needed to stay ahead of the P2 cars."
"I saw going into Turn 1 we were better on the brake, but they were so far ahead of us we couldn't get back around, but in (Turns) 1, 2 and 3 they were struggling to get the heat in the tires and holding us up, but you cannot pass in these corners." He said he just needed to be patient.
Bernhard did admit that it helped that he had three chances at the pole position on Saturday, "because you learn more about the car. This is a technical track. Each time you drive you learn more about what to do."
After the first hour of racing, through 31 laps, with Bernhard driving, the car was back in 5th position. After two hours of racing, with Dumas driving, the car was in 2nd position.
And, after two hours of racing the two Audi diesel cars were running 3rd and 4th.
The race started with some bumps and brushes and spin outs. but with no real casualties. After one hour of racing, only one of the 30 cars entered was stuck in the pits.
After 40 minutes of racing, de Ferran was able to work off his penalty start 24th and move into 2nd overall, mainly because he took a chance and did not pit for tires or fuel during the two caution flags. At this point he was considered a strong contender to win, even though this was the team's first appearance in a Le Mans race.
The two diesel cars were running well up to the final 16 laps. One of the favored diesel cars, the Audi R10/TDI driven by Emanuele Pirro, was taken out of the race when one of the GT cars turned to the inside as Pirro was trying to pass. The two collided and the Audi was left idle in the infield. He was running in 9th place at the time and pressing to move up.
In the breakdown of classes, driver Lucas Luhr, who finished 9th overall, was the first of three cars in the LMP1 class to cross the finish. His co-driver was Werner.
Jan Magnussen, driving a Corvette C6R, won the GT1 class. He was 10th overall. His co-driver was Johnny O'Connell.
And, Joerg Bergmeister, driving a Porsche 911 RSR, won the GT2 class. He was 13th overall. His co-driver was Wolf Henzler.The next major event at the Miller track will be the HANNspree Superbike World Championship on May 29-June 1.
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