Guy Smith and Dyson Racing were on the other end this time around at Road America. A year after missing out by 0.112 seconds, Smith delivered victory for Dyson Racing on Saturday in the closest overall finish in the history of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón — 0.083 seconds.
Despite starting next-to-last on the grid, Smith and Chris Dyson won the four-hour Road America Road Race Showcase in an epic finish. Muscle Milk Pickett Racing's Lucas Luhr appeared to have the race won by passing Smith in the final corner, but Smith and the No. 16 Lola-Mazda won a drag race up the hill and to the checkered flag.
"It was too close for comfort," Smith said. "Last year was really close; I never expected something to beat that."
The overall finish was one of a handful of magic moments of the day. CORE autosport clinched its second straight Prototype Challenge championship with a 1-2 finish led by Alex Popow and Tom Kimber-Smith.
BMW Team RLL's Bill Auberlen and Jörg Müller won in GT in another hard-fought battle. Conquest Endurance's Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier-Hansson won their second P2 race of the year and led overall twice.
Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen won in GT Challenge for Alex Job Racing. Their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup won by 2.459 seconds in a back-and-forth affair.
Dyson took the start of the race from the 34th position after missing qualifying because of a faulty gearbox.
"We knew Muscle Milk had the advantage on pace all weekend," Dyson said. "The main thing was to get to the front and not make any contact. We tried to play the yellows right and just be in contention. I was able to have a really good first stint. The tires were fantastic. We needed to get to the front and I just never looked back."
Klaus Graf lost four laps in the pits, but he and teammate Luhr fought hard to get back on the lead lap with about 45 minutes remaining. A late full-course caution took nearly a minute out of Smith's lead with less than 30 minutes to go. The two cars ran nose-to-tail for the last three laps, and memories of 2011 surely came flooding back for both teams.
Luhr pressured Smith relentlessly over the last two laps and finally got around the Lola on the inside of the final corner. Smith had too much power on the long climb up the final hill and got back by Luhr just before the finish line.
"I knew they were going to be close on the final restart," Smith said. "(The Dyson team) kept telling me, 'Push Guy, push.' I told them I was pushing and they said to push a little more.
"Going into the final corner, Lucas was all over me," he recounted. "I thought I had it covered, and to be honest he made a really good move. But I knew the way he got around me I could get back to him if I could slingshot around him. We opted over the weekend for the low downforce strategy. So we thought if we had to drag them in the straight line we could keep them behind us. In this case, the strategy worked for us."
The victory ended Muscle Milk's five-race win streak, but Graf and Luhr retained the lead in the class driver championship. Eric Lux, Michael Marsal and Tony Burgess placed third in the No. 20 Dyson Lola-Mazda after running second for most of the day.
The other big story was CORE's championship run. Kimber-Smith in the No. 06 ORECA FLM09 outdueled teammate Colin Braun in the No. 05 entry throughout the last half of the race and won by 0.423 seconds. It was the team's second 1-2 finish of the season and came at the best possible time.
"I didn't think it was possible to win (two championships) in such a short amount of time," said Bennett, who formed CORE in 2010. "It's frightening to see my little team having such great drivers and responsibilities already. This has been a bit of a fairy tale."
Merchant Services Racing's trio of Kyle Marcelli, Chapman Ducote and James French were third in the No. 8 entry.
For the third time in four years, BMW Team RLL won the GT class with its BMW M3 GT. Auberlen and Müller took advantage of good strategy and a little bit of luck for a 2.631-second victory over Flying Lizard Motorsports' Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister.
"We were lacking the straight line speed, so we knew to try to gain the strategy in the pits or with other options," said Müller, who won for the first time in ALMS since 2001. "In the practices we were struggling on the pace — almost two seconds behind — but the sun came out and the car got fast. We had the right strategy and were really lucky with the yellows."
Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek were third in class in the No. 01 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari F458 Italia.
Plowman and Heinemeier-Hansson each took turns leading the race overall but were more than content to win again in P2 with their Morgan-Nissan prototype. It was another tough fight with Level 5 Motorsports — the class championship leader — but lengthy late-race stops doomed chances for either of Level 5's HPD ARX-03b prototypes to win.
Dempsey Racing's No. 27 Lola-Judd finished second, the highest finish in ALMS for the pairing of Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster.
Plowman, the class pole-winner, had to fend off both Level 5's Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker in the second half of the race. Bouchut led with 40 minutes left but had to pit with engine and exhaust issues. That dropped the No. 055 entry down to fourth in class before Tucker brought Level 5's No. 95 HPD into the pits with electrical issues.
Tucker and Bouchut finished third and maintained their lead in the P2 championship.
Late-race strategy and pit work gave AJR its third GTC win of the season. MacNeil and AJR increased their leads in the class driver and team standings, and Bleekemolen won for the third time this year for the third different team.
JDX Racing's Martin Ragginger and Chris Cumming placed second. Damien Faulkner and Peter LeSaffre were third for Green Hornet Racing.