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.

Carlin reunion a homecoming for Chilton, Kimball

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Given the amount of eventual talent that’s gone onto Formula 1 and IndyCar after racing for Carlin in junior series, there was always a good chance that Carlin would bring on two of its alumni for its Verizon IndyCar Series program when it got announced.

And with Chip Ganassi Racing downsizing from four cars to two cars for 2018, and with Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball both maintaining their relationships with their long-term partners of Arthur J. Gallagher and Novo Nordisk, it made a lot of sense these two would fit within that framework at Carlin.

Each driver hopes the return home to Carlin will bring him a degree of success they enjoyed when racing for the team in the past.

In Chilton’s case, that means a return to winning races. He won with the team in Formula 3 and Formula 2 (formerly GP2) before graduating to Formula 1 with Marussia, and then won from pole with Carlin’s Indy Lights team in 2015 at the Iowa oval, a race that put him on the map for IndyCar teams. It was only his second oval race start, following a mechanical DNS in Indianapolis and a first actual start at the Milwaukee Mile.

Chilton in Indy Lights with Carlin blue. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“My whole career, the best years of my career have always been Carlin,” Chilton said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “I’ve never not won for them in British F3, GP2, and Indy Lights, so I’m hopeful that we can get a victory in 2018 season. That would be remarkably good. But actually, we can keep that consecutive wins going.”

Since he’s seen Carlin in a variety of championships, Chilton said the preparation and excellent team dynamic has kept them at the top of the heap regardless of the series.

“I’ll say it comes from the top, and Trevor is really at the top. He’s a super consistent sort of, let’s say, manager of people. He gets the right people involved,” Chilton explained.

“But, most importantly, people aren’t afraid of him. I’ve been at teams where people are sort of like the boss walks in and they treat him like headmaster and you can see them sort of squirm up and they don’t want to talk to him. That’s not the way a team should run.

“A team owner, team manager, should be speaking to every single person on the team regardless of what level of job they’re at to see that everything is going well there and bringing everyone together.

“And he won’t run the IndyCar program any different than a British Formula 4 program. It’s about managing people, getting everyone so that they’re working efficiently and giving the drivers the best tools to do the job.

“And I’ve never seen it not that way. Every team I’ve driven for here in the different categories, we’re always given a good well-prepared car, probably the best prepared cars I’ve ever had. That’s part of it. The cars we touch are very reliable, and it’s always a pleasure to drive for Trevor.”

In Kimball’s case, it’s a chance to come home after more than a dozen years since – coming second in British Formula 3 in 2015. He lost out to a then-unheralded Portuguese driver named Alvaro Parente, who ultimately has gone onto a successful and title-winning sports car career.

“Racing for Carlin has always felt like family,” Kimball said. “In fact, my sister met her husband, my brother-in-law when he was working for Carlin while I was racing for Trevor. So there are more than just that familial feel with racing for the team. It runs deeper than that.

“Especially this week, you understand the importance of family and this announcement (Kimball’s family is fighting the wildfires in California), to be able to rejoin Carlin, I’ve always felt a part of Carlin since I first raced for them in 2005 and finished second in the championships to Alvaro Parente. It was a great season.

“Then in 2007, going through that transition of getting diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and starting to build a relationship with Novo Nordisk, because you mentioned, a global health care company that makes the insulins and delivery devices that I use every day to manage my diabetes, Trevor and his team were there with me through that transition.”

Chilton and Kimball have each enjoyed bits of success in their IndyCar careers but never fully grew at Ganassi into having the team building around them. That wasn’t their fault, per se, but with a clear focus on Scott Dixon as the team’s number one driver and these two plus Tony Kanaan often falling into a supporting role, they weren’t necessarily able to fulfill their maximum potential.

Chilton’s two-year stat line is 33 starts, eight top-10 finishes, 66 laps led, and an impressive fourth-place finish at the 2017 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 (led a race-high 50 laps there), with an improvement from 19th to 11th in points from year one to year two in the championship. For Kimball, those totals over seven years are 117 starts, one win, one pole, 13 top-five finishes, and 162 laps led. His best finish in points is ninth on two occasions (2013, 2016).

SONOMA, CA – SEPTEMBER 16: Charlie Kimball of the United States driver of the #83 Tresiba Honda prepares for practice on day 2 of the GoPro Grand Prix of Somoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 16, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Having the uniform chemistry from working together at Ganassi the last two years should help this transition, Kimball said.

“The biggest advantage is that Max and I having worked together for two years in an existing IndyCar team, one that has a lot of experience, we’ve been able to help each other — I’ve learned a lot from Max about different approaches and concepts and I hope he’s been able to learn from some of my experience in IndyCar,” Kimball said.

“And having that dialogue, that relationship, that communication, that foundation already built means that when we get to the racetrack for the first time, we’re not learning each other as people or as drivers, we’re just getting to work on getting up to speed.”

Chilton added, “The important thing is we’ve got a very short period of time between when we first drive the car and the first race. And so there’s no learning phases.

“I know Charlie and I, for the last few years, we shared the same room in the Ganassi bus. So we know each other as friends but we also know how we sort of like to engineer the cars and drive. He’s raced with the team before. I’ve raced with the team before. And actually some of the mechanics who mechanic my car in 2009 would be on my car in IndyCar.

“So there’s so much less learning for a new team than usually. So that’s going to speed up the process. And I’m really looking forward to getting on with it and hopefully getting some success soon.”

Carlin summarized the pairing more succinctly: “For a team to have two experienced guys like Max and Charlie, our first day testing will be a massive bonus to the team, because we know we can rely on the drivers to do the job. So we can just focus on the job we’ve got to do.

“So both those drivers are a massive asset to our team. And they’re going to be a big part of pushing the team forward very, very quickly. So we’re very fortunate to have both those guys.”

The pair of drivers will test their Chevrolet-powered cars starting in January after the testing blackout. Carlin will remain based in Delray Beach, Fla., with a satellite operation to be opened in Indianapolis at a later date. Further team announcements will also be made later.