Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing faced its toughest race so far this year, and it wasn't even one that was disputed on the racetrack.
After having an electrical issue on the first lap of the first practice on Friday at the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, the Muscle Milk team was in a battle against time to make it onto the grid of the 2-hour American Le Mans Series race.
The team had to repair several hundred burnt wires in its main electrical wiring loom, a long and tedious task that was taken on by the team's Data Acquisition Engineer (DAG) Lee Szczypski.
It was with no sleep and with as much help as he could get on what is mostly a one-person job, including some very appreciated aid from fellow DAG at CORE Autosport, that Lee accomplished the near impossible feat more than 21 hours later.
In addition to repairing the loom, the team needed a rare replacement part that had to be flown in from Indianapolis early Saturday morning, as well as other parts that the Pickett Racing team received from fellow competitors Flying Lizard Motorsport, Corvette Racing and Dyson Racing.
With time ticking down to the 4:30 p.m. race start, the crew started putting in the repaired loom during the noon hour, which was another nearly three hour job. Once the wiring was back in the car the next step was to start it.
It wouldn't ignite. After showing so much commitment and passion so far, the team was not ready to quit. They searched for the cause and once diagnosed, the Muscle Milk Aston Martin finally started at 3:31 p.m. on Saturday, just over 25 hours from when it had died on Klaus Graf coming out of the hairpin turn and less than an hour from the 'Drivers start your engines'.
It was to the sound of applause and cheers from fellow team members and Muscle Milk guests that the car was sent off to grid for the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, with the team coming out victorious of Round 1 in Baltimore.
Then came Round 2, the real on track race, and while it was not as long, it wasn't much easier than Round 1.
With no practice time whatsoever, not just on the 2.04-mile Baltimore street circuit, but aboard the Aston Martin LMP1, Klaus Graf's co-driver for the weekend Romain Dumas was starting the race for the Muscle Milk squad.
The team couldn't have asked for a better 'replacement' driver as Dumas made it up to 12th on the first lap and avoided a traffic jam in Turn 1. Off to a great start, the Frenchman got up as high as eighth as one point before brake issues forced him to pit lane.
With 30 minutes gone by in the race, and with the car getting some brake repairs in pit lane the team proceeded to put Graf in the Aston Martin.
The German took to the track and finally turned his first complete laps on the streets of Baltimore with one hour and 24 minutes to go, fourth place in class and six laps down to the leading LMP1 car of Dyson Racing.
Despite having zero run time and not having tweaked the set up, Graf went on to register the fastest race lap with a time of one minute 29.767 seconds, a feat in itself, on his way to a fourth place finish. Had it not been for the brake issue, the team can only imagine where they could have ended up.
With the #16 car of Dyson Racing finishing second, the team now sits 24 points behind in the Championship heading into the next round of the American Le Mans Series season at Laguna Seca in two weeks.
MUSCLE MILK QUOTES
Klaus Graf, co-driver Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing
"We didn't turn a lap until the beginning of the race and even just before the race it wasn't clear that the Muscle Milk Aston Martin car would even run, so to manage that and the car runs without any electronic problems, that was pretty awesome and thanks a lot to Lee (Szczypski) for rebuilding the wiring overnight, an unbelievable job."For no practice and not being on the track and then to do fastest race lap that is a big accomplishment. We had a little brake issue and that forced us to come in and fix it, especially at a place like this you have to come in and do the job right. We lost laps there but still we never gave up and managed to finish the race and score some points, which was important. We're still in the chase for the championship with lots of points still up for grabs."Thanks to Romain (Dumas), that was really, really difficult. He had never driven the car, never seen the track, obviously I had never seen the track but at least I've driven the car! So that was really awesome from him, we knew that was the caliber of driver we needed to get the job done. And thanks to the whole team, what an amazing group of guys."
Romain Dumas, co-driver Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing
"I have mixed feelings at the end of this race. The positive side is that the team did an incredible job, since I started racing in 1995 I've never seen a team so committed to get the job done. What they did overnight and then with the car not starting and then moments before we needed to get to the grid it starts. Unbelievable."In return, the team deserved a better reward. Even with us starting from the rear and with me not knowing the car and track we could have won it had it not been for the brake issue we had. My stint in the car wasn't easy. Not knowing the track or the car made things really challenging. I have to be honest, I was quite stressed before the race because you don't know what to expect but we were really competitive. And, with the guys working so hard to make the race, I really didn't want to get tangled up with a GT car!"In the end, the story is rather a nice one because last night we could have easily decided to pack things up and go home but the team never gave up."