With only three races left in the 2012 American Le Mans Series season a third consecutive GT class championship remains the goal of BMW Team RLL. This weekend, the venue is the Baltimore Sports Car Challenge, a two-hour race through the city streets that surround Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. In comparison with many of the other tracks the series sees, Baltimore’s temporary two- mile, 12-turn circuit is analogous to a wrestling steel cage match. Concrete walls on both sides mean there is only one way out – forward to the checkered flag. There will be many competitors, but as the last year has demonstrated, only one real opponent – Corvette.
Last season, the inaugural ALMS race at Baltimore ended in disappointment for BMW Team RLL as the No. 55 M3 GT was punted from the lead by an overzealous pass attempt by one of the Corvettes with only 22 minutes remaining in the race. Bill Auberlen (and codriver Dirk Werner) ultimately finished fifth. Joey Hand and Dirk Müller finished second in the No. 56 M3 GT and BMW Team RLL would continue on to clinch a second consecutive GT class Manufacturer and Team title, adding the Driver’s championship for Hand and Müller.
This year, the rivalry escalated with the most recent episode at Road America when the Corvette of Oliver Gavin knocked the No. 56 M3 GT of Dirk Müller from second place and into the fence with only two laps remaining in the race. Auberlen and co-driver Jörg Müller would win the race to keep BMW second in Manufacturer points – only 10 points back of Chevrolet.
With wins at Sebring and Road America and an additional four podium finishes in the first seven races of the season, BMW stands second in the GT Class Manufacturer points and BMW Team RLL is second in Team points. Dirk Müller stands third in Driver points. Joey Hand stands fourth after missing the race at Road America due to a conflict with his DTM schedule. Bill Auberlen and Jörg Müller are fifth.
“We qualified first and third in Baltimore last year and ran at the front all day but, once again, one of the Corvettes took us out of the position to win while we were leading,” said Bobby Rahal, Team Principal. “Clearly our cars ran well there and I think there is every reason to believe we will be strong in Baltimore again. Coming off of a win gives you a little bit of a boost. This championship isn’t over yet, that’s for sure. We just have to keep focused and do what we need to do.”
Commenting on the most recent race he continued, “Road America is a place we have had a lot of success in the past but clearly this year we haven’t been as competitive, for various reasons, as we have in previous seasons so we were frankly a little concerned about it given all of the long straights. But the one thing about Elkhart Lake is that it has a lot of fast corners and a good-handling car is very critical and I think our car excels on the types of corners that Elkhart has. In the end, we took advantage of the yellow and had good strategy and Bill and Jörg drove a great race. They got themselves in a position to win the race and they stayed there. They were fast when they needed to be and ended up winning. Obviously the No. 56 car was not as fortunate as they were running second and were hit by both Corvettes, the last hit being the one that stuck us in the gravel trap for the rest of the race. It was a very disappointing finish for that car. In the end, it was great to have a car win the race and, with the Corvettes finishing where they did, it closed the championship up.”
Bill Auberlen, driver No. 55 M3 GT – “The No. 55 M3 GT has been showing strength in the second half of the season. In the last four races, Jörg and I have two poles, a third place finish at Mid-Ohio and a win at Road America. N ow it’s time to put our stamp on Baltimore.”
Jörg Müller, driver No. 55 M3 GT – “I don’t think I could locate Baltimore on a map, but I do know that it is a street circuit. I’ve had success at many, including Macau and Monaco, and hope I can add Baltimore to the list.”
Joey Hand, driver No. 56 M3 GT – “Baltimore is a great street race venue – second only to Long Beach. The track is tight but it’s a street track and I love street tracks of any sort. They did a really great job last year in only the first year of the event. Everything is close. I loved the fact that we could walk from our Holiday Inn through the Orioles stadium and into our paddock. Also we had the largest BMW CCA turn out I’ve ever seen at a race. The support from those BMW folks was great.”
Dirk Müller, driver No. 56 M3 GT – “Baltimore was the best venue of the season last year. I like street tracks a lot and especially this one. Joey and I were on the second step of the podium last year. This year we’d like to move up to the top step.”
The Baltimore Sports Car Challenge will take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 1st. Live streaming coverage will begin at 4:15 p.m. ET on ESPN3.com. ABC television will broadcast the race at 12:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 2.
The Series’ website offers additional content such as live in-car cameras, and timing and scoring for all users around the world.