Stance Works Goes to Laguna Seca for the Third Race of ALMS with BMW Team RLL
Stance Works Goes to Laguna Seca for the Third Race of ALMS with BMW Team RLL
A mere 6 hours away from the STANCE|WORKS headquarters lies one of the most well-known race tracks in the world. The (Mazda) Laguna Seca Raceway has been lapped time and time again by nearly every PlayStation and X-Box owning gearhead on the planet, yet the opportunity to experience the circuit first hand is little more than a distant wish for most of us. BMW Team RLL is back for the third round of the American Le Mans Series, this time at Laguna Seca, and STANCE|WORKS, once again, has come along for the ride.
Andrew and I arrived at the track bright and early on Friday morning, dragging our feet from the 6am wake-up call. We were eager to get through the 7:30am photo meeting so we could situate ourselves trackside. Shortly after our arrival, the team unloaded the twins and pushed them into their respective paddock suites, where the tool chests and countless stacks of tires made them feel right at home.
Dawn had hardly lifted before the cars hit the track in a series of practice sessions to work out any kinks and prepare for the big race. The race at Laguna Seca is the third longest of the series at an impressive 6 hours, meaning the cars have to be ready to withstand abuse through the mid-day and into the setting sun, and everything must be perfect. Seemingly every part was greased, tightened, or replaced to make sure nothing would go wrong.
Between the practice sessions, even the transmission was disassembled, examined, and who-knows-what-else before being reinstalled.
Everything was run over with a fine-toothed comb before the cars were locked away for the night. Alignment was double and triple-checked and clearances were scrutinized before being signed-off by the technicians. Everything from spark plugs to brake pads were numbered, studied, and verified for the main event. The car was cleaned in every possible fashion, and the carbon fiber weave of the body panels was faintly visible through the car's glossy alpine white paint. After all, the cars have to look the part too.
Race day rolled around, and although the car seemed ready to go, the morning's warm-up session warranted last minute changes. Winning is in the details, and BMW was not about to leave anything in the hands of the Racing Gods; they would win or lose by their own accord.
Just an hour before the cars were to grid up, the drivers met with fans for some words of encouragement from both sides. The local BMW CCA chapter was present in full force to cheer on Dirk, Jörg, Bill, and Joey. The BMW fans had the strongest presence, parking their cars together in the now well-known BMW Car Corral, and flying the BMW and LTW flags high right next to the track. For them, it was a competition; who could make more noise: the fans or the M3s?
The fans were cleared out of the way and the cars were rolled out in anticipation. Andrew and I made our way trackside as the cars were lined up in qualifying order. The engines were started and the pace car came whizzing around into view. The fun was about to begin.
The joy of Laguna Seca struck immediately. The heat of high noon was in full effect with the sun as high in the sky as could be. We set up for the long haul as 6 hours of racing lay ahead of us. We found ourselves perched on the inside of the corkscrew just minutes after the start of the race, trying to balance our time between enjoying the race and snapping photos. We watched as cars dove head first through the infamous turn, experiencing a sensation that seemed akin to meeting our heroes. A nearly 3-story drop and a blind crest and apex have given the turn notoriety among racers as one of the most difficult in the world, and we were there to experience it.
Much of the first half of the race went on without error. The M3s moved up and down in position with each passing lap. The race held our attention, as Andrew and I found ourselves anticipating the cars' return to see where they stood after each 2.238-mile lap.
The war between BMW and Corvette transformed the raceway into a battlefield, with the two marques going head to head for the entire race. At roughly the three-hour mark, the second-place Vette rear ended Joey Hand while he was leading the race, causing a loss of the rear bumper and diffuser. Joey said “We really got knocked around today. Losing the rear bumper loosened the car up in a big way. The car got so free in the high speed stuff that Dirk and I really had to hang on and work hard." Nevertheless, the boys held in and continued the fight.
The clock continued to tick, and the hours flew by. With about an hour-and-a-half remaining in the race, I made my way down to the pits and left Andrew to fend for himself, snapping away as the race neared completion. The tension in the pit was memorably high; only one stop for each car remained and the BMWs were falling back in the pack, standing at 4th and 7th place.
The cars entered the pit at the same time, and both crews hopped over the wall and executed their perfectly rehearsed tire changes. In the blink of an eye, the cars went from up in the air and tireless to exiting the pit in a violent release of smoke and screams. The pair of V8s thrashed their way back to the front of the pack. The hasty pit stop put the BMWs in contention for the top spot of the race, and the final hour countdown of competition began.
The first 45 minutes following the pit stop carried on as expected. The BMWs fought their way to the front, bouncing around in the top several positions with Corvette and others. They gained precious lost ground time and time again as they shared the track with 4 other classes, dodging and weaving through the field of GT and LMP cars. The sun dipped lower and lower in to the sky, adding to the difficulty of the race as the sun blinded drivers through the exits of shade-ladden turns.
The podium spots came down to the final portion of the race. The last 15 minutes decided it all as the final full-course yellow had been lifted and the green flag was waved. The caution segment allowed the BMWs to close in behind first place, with just a half-second separating Bill Auberlen in the 55 M3 from the #1 spot held by Corvette. The 56 car held onto 4th with no trouble at all, but would they be able to move forward and capture the lead?
Bill Auberlen says “This was a six-hour race and we treated it as a 45 minute sprint. It’s unreal how competitive this series has become. On the last restart I got hung out to dry by a prototype car and Magnussen took advantage of it. It is great to make the podium, but we still have two more steps to climb.” In a heartbreaking final few laps, Auberlen was cut off by a prototype car and the 3rd place Vette took the opportunity to sneak through to the front.
The boys took a respectable 3rd and 4th place, landing Bill and Jörg their first podium of the series. The finish moved Bill and Jörg into a tie for 4th place overall in driver standings and the finish positioned Joey and Dirk in 2nd. BMW now stands second in manufacturer points, meaning the competition for race number four will be more intense than ever now that BMW must reclaim their #1 spot.
After the race, Dirk said “Even though our car was damaged, we still had the potential for a top-three finish, but just missed it. Congratulations to our teammates for their first podium of the season. I look forward to the next race at Lime Rock Park where Joey and I can try to regain the lead in driver points.” The cars were quickly loaded into the trailers and strapped down for the long trek back home. The series goes on a break for the teams competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and resumes in July, and if you're on the East Coast, it's a race you don't want to miss. Head on out and give our team a cheer.