By Michael Oellers
REBELLION Racing crossed the finish line after four-hours of hard racing to take second place, just six seconds behind the race winner, in their first running of the American Le Mans of Monterey in Laguna Seca, California.
The epic battle commenced from the drop of the green flag and did not let up until the chequered flag was waved. Nick, who took the start for the Swiss squad from pole position, ran an incredible first hour and a half of the race, fending off multiple pass attempts by Klaus Graf in the #6 Muscle Milk HPD.
During the third safety car period of the race, Nick handed the car over to Neel Jani who was able to keep the lead thanks to the incredible pit stop performance of the REBELLION Racing crew. The hard-nosed fighting between the two cars continued after the safety car release, with Lucas Luhr behind the wheel of the Muscle Milk.
Around the halfway point of the race commenced a series of leader changes between the two fighting drivers. With less than 40 minutes to go in the race, the cars touched in turn four resulting in body work damage for both cars and a tyre puncture for the #12 Lola-Toyota REBELLION Racing machine. This unfortunate event forced Jani to come in for an unplanned pit stop to change his front left wheel, leaving REBELLION Racing 36 seconds behind the race leader. This incident would turn out to be the race determiner.
Back out on track, Jani was able to push his Lola-Toyota to the limits and work the deficit down to 20 seconds, when the safety car was again released with only 12 minutes to go. The field went green for the last time with only one lap to go. The #12 car crossed the finish line 6.3 seconds behind the winners.
With this result, REBELLION Racing also takes home the Green X Challenge award for the second race in a row. In the overall team standing of the ALMS P1, REBELLION RACING is now second behind Muscle Milk leading with four points after three races. Also four points is the deficit of Nick and Neel to the leaders in the drivers standing, Lucas Lohr and Klaus Graf.
After the race, Nick and the team returned straight to Europe to prepare for the 24h of Le Mans in June. Next race of the ALMS will be the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix in Lime Rock Park on July 6th 2013.
Nick: “It was the most fun race I have had in a long time. Unfortunately we “only” came second, but it’s still a good result for the team. It was a great fight all race long, with our position changing a few times over the duration. I had a good fight in the beginning with Klaus [Graf] and could open up a good gap. And then we obviously had a few safety cars. I could always keep a gap big enough to not worry. The crew did a fantastic job especially on all of the pit stops today. I really enjoyed the fight with the Muscle Milk team today. I think it would be really nice if those guys would come over to Europe to race with us in the FIA World Endurance Championship as well.”
Neel Jani: “Today was definitely my toughest endurance race ever. It reminded me of my single-seater racing days, except that it was 2 hours 45 minutes one-to-one fighting. It was a great race, a really great fight with a lot of hot moments, a lot of touching, and sometimes even heavy contact which in the end most probably cost us the race. I got a puncture from the last contact that I had with the Muscle Milk and that’s when we lost the lead again and we basically lost the race there. Overall, we were always with each other. The pit crew did a great job today. They were able to get me ahead of the Muscle Milk at the most important time and Nick did a great job handing me the car in the lead as well. Unfortunately we couldn’t win that race which we would have loved to do. Nevertheless, it was a very exciting race; definitely one of the most exciting races I have had in the last five years.”
Bart Hayden - REBELLION Racing Team manager: “We came to Laguna Seca with only one objective in mind, to win the race. It was a really great battle today with the Pickett Racing Muscle Milk team, but ultimately they triumphed. It was exciting from the first lap until the last and it was a great advert for Endurance Racing. I hope the fans enjoyed the race as much as we did. As a team we performed at a very high level today, the pit work and strategy calls were all top notch and the drivers fought hard through the traffic, but ultimately we lost out, so even though it was an exciting race we’re a bit disappointed not to have won. Now we’ll go back to Europe and focus on the biggest race of the year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”