Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf

Muscle Milk wins bizarre ALMS race at Baltimore

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The American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT started with a bang, and finished with a thrilling conclusion to salvage something on an abnormal day.

Some of the series pre-eminent teams: Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (P1), Level 5 Motorsports (P2), Corvette Racing (GT) and Flying Lizard Motorsports (GTC) all won their respective classes, and Performance Tech Motorsports grabbed its first PC class victory.

How they did, however, was another story. It was an odd race, and officially the shortest in ALMS series history at approximately one hour and 15 minutes. The race start was delayed after a red flag for a start-line crash involving more than six cars.

Muscle Milk’s pair of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won their sixth straight 2013 race in its HPD ARX-03c, to secure the P1 class championships. On the start, however, Graf felt as though Chris Dyson had jumped the start in the Dyson Racing Lola Mazda cope. Dyson, unsurprisingly, felt differently and neither minced their words in TV interviews.

Once Luhr was in the car, he emerged behind Dyson’s co-driver Guy Smith and would make the winning pass on Smith, to the inside in the Turn 3 hairpin with just more than 10 minutes remaining. Smith stayed within three or four tenths for the rest of the race but lost more than three seconds lapping through GTC traffic.

The P2 1-2 was next up with Level 5’s second car of Guy Cosmo and Marino Franchitti beating the fellow HPD ARX-03b of ESM, Cosmo’s old team, and the No. 01 driven by Anthony Lazzaro and Scott Sharp. Each car pitted with just more than 24 minutes remaining to ensure Franchitti and Sharp hit the minimum drive time. These two were the survivors after the start-line dust-up.

GT runners finished fifth through ninth overall, with the two Corvettes leading the two BMW Team RLL Z4s and the No. 91 SRT Viper. It was a great battle between the Corvettes and the BMWs all day and the winners, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, took their second win of the year. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette was second with the No. 56 of Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand third. Corvette actually led overall for just more than a lap but lost the lead as the P1 leaders cycled through.

PC had three different leaders just in the last 10 minutes, in what was a chaotic finish. Colin Braun led in the No. 05 CORE autosport car but needed a pit stop within the final 5 minutes to hand to Jon Bennett, to ensure Bennett hit his minimum drive time amount. Dane Cameron, in his first PC start of the year, inherited the lead in the PR1/Mathiasen entry but had apparent suspension failure exiting Turn 4. That allowed Performance Tech to sneak through and for Tristan Nunez and Charlie Shears to take their first ALMS win. Braun and Bennett were classified second.

Lastly GTC had a great battle from second through fifth behind the winning No. 44 Flying Lizard entry driven by Dion von Moltke and Flying Lizard team principal Seth Neiman, who secured his first ALMS race victory as a driver.

Behind von Moltke, the polesitting No. 22 Alex Job entry of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil finished second ahead of the surging No. 11 JDX entry of Jan Heylen and Mike Hedlund. Heylen nearly passed Bleekemolen for second on the front straight heading to the checkered flag.  Just behind the podium finishers were the No. 27 Dempsey Del Piero car driven by Patrick Dempsey and Andy Lally, with the No. 30 NGT car of Sean Edwards and Henrique Cisneros fifth.

The second Flying Lizard car, the No. 45 driven by Spencer Pumpelly and Nelson Canache, finished seventh with some issues after entering the weekend as the class points leaders.

Next up for ALMS is its first trip to Circuit of the Americas on Sept. 21, a joint weekend with the FIA World Endurance Championship in Austin, Texas.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.