SEBRING, Fla. – Dunlop tires kicked off the 2012 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season with impressive results, taking home victories in all three open-competition classes.
Saturday’s 60th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida marked the start of Dunlop’s 2012 ALMS championship defense, as well as the inaugural round of the FIA’s new World Endurance Championship (WEC).
Grand Touring (GT) Class
Defending 2011 ALMS GT champions BMW Team RLL achieved a dramatic repeat Sebring victory in the GT class, as the determining results of 12-hour endurance race came down to the final seconds.
The second half of the race was clearly a GT battle, with the lead frequently changing between Corvette, Ferrari and BMW teams. But the No. 56 BMW M3 GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Jonathan Summerton ultimately claimed the top spot on the GT podium, as Hand made a confident pass on the very last turn of the last lap to clinch the team’s second straight Sebring victory.
"The key to our win was the ability of our Dunlop tires to go for more than one stint at the end of the race,” said Hand. “Every tick of the clock was critical at the end of the 12 hours, and by not changing tires and only taking fuel on my last stop we gained valuable time that put us in a position to win."
The importance of Dunlop’s role in BMW Team RLL’s Sebring victory was echoed by team principal, Bobby Rahal.
“Dunlop played a very large role in our victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring—and not just because we had good tires throughout practice, qualifying and the race,” said Rahal. “The key for our win was that we did not change tires on the last stop, which meant we were going to put a lot more laps on that set of tires than we had ever run previously, so it was a bit of a gamble on our part. The Dunlop tires hung in there and there is no question that it played a key role in the victory for BMW Team RLL.”
To add to Dunlop’s success, the Chopard Porsche of Paul Miller Racing, driven by Bryce Miller, Sascha Maassen and Rob Bell, finished in a strong 5th place—the highest placed Porsche in the ALMS GT field—after the team’s recent switch to Dunlop tires.
“The GT class is one of the most competitive in the world for tire manufacturers,” said Jean-Felix Bazelin, Dunlop Motorsport’s general manager. “Not only did we prove the results of our intensive development program by beating all the other tire manufacturers in ALMS, but BMW and Dunlop also placed ahead of an incredibly strong field of cars from the new World Endurance Championship.”
Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) Class
In the ALMS LMP1 (Le Mans Prototype) class, the No. 16 Dyson Lola-Mazda of Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane also claimed a repeat Sebring victory. As the defending 2011 LMP1 champion, Dyson is contesting the 2012 season with a new car and Dunlop tire setup.
”Winning the championship is the goal and to score maximum points here is a great way to start the season,” said Dyson. “Lola and Dunlop have worked tirelessly over the off-season, giving us a car that has shown immediate speed.”
Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) Class
The highly-competitive LMP2 class was another area where Dunlop excelled in 2011. Dunlop was the choice of champions in the International and European championships, and as a result the entire LMP2 field chose Dunlop for the Sebring 12 hour race.
The Level 5 Motorsports No. 055 HPD-Honda of Scott Tucker, Christopher Bouchut and Joao Barbosa took first place in the ALMS LMP2 Class. But the sensational story from LMP2 was that of the first-ever FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 victors. The Dunlop-equipped No. 44 HPD-Honda of Starworks Motorsports finished on the overall podium, ahead of many entrants from the faster LMP1 class.
“To get a podium amongst the more powerful LMP1 contenders is a reward for our preparation,” said Bazelin. “The result shows the talent and commitment of the Dunlop team as we drive forward to excel in this important class.”
After this joint season starter, the American Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship go their separate ways. The ALMS championship moves to Long Beach, California, on April 14th and the World Championship battle goes to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on May 5th.
Dunlop is a global tire brand with an excellent reputation among performance car enthusiasts. Well known for its prestigious sports car racing heritage, many of the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers—including Alfa Romeo, AMG, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche—come standard with Dunlop tires. For more information on Dunlop, visit www.dunloptires.com.
Photos: Copyright Clement Marin