Dirk Müller (DE), Joey Hand (US) and BMW Team RLL have done it: Second place in the eighth race of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) at the “Laguna Seca Raceway” (US) was enough to secure the title in the GT Drivers’ Championship with a race to spare. Müller and Hand have taken their points tally to 145, and are now an unassailable 33 points ahead of the second-placed pairing, Corvette’s Jan Magnussen (DK) and Oliver Gavin (GB). As there are a maximum of 30 points up for grabs at the season finale in Road Atlanta (US) on 1st October, the two BMW drivers have already been crowned GT champions.
The title race has also been decided in the Team competition: Müller, Hand, and team-mates Dirk Werner (DE) and Bill Auberlen (US) scored a total 154 points for BMW Team RLL with the two BMW M3 GT cars this season, repeating last year’s success. In the Drivers’ Championship, on the other hand, it is BMW’s first overall ALMS victory since 2001 when current BMW works driver Jörg Müller (DE) won the championship.
“Congratulations to Dirk Müller, Joey Hand and everyone at BMW Team RLL on winning the Driver and Team GT titles in the American Le Mans Series,” said BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt. “To already have been crowned overall winner ahead of the finale of such a competitive championship as the ALMS is an outstanding effort. Our four drivers and the entire team put in a flawless performance in the last eight races, picking up three victories and consistently finishing in the points. These two titles are just reward for this impressive run. Thanks to the intensive work carried out over the winter, the BMW M3 GT has been even stronger than previous years in this ALMS season, and really made its mark on the series.”
Müller and Hand started the 2011 season with a triumph at the iconic 12-hour race at Sebring (US), and followed this up with wins in Long Beach (US) and Lime Rock (US). After two fourth-place finishes in Mosport (CA) and Mid-Ohio (US), the two team-mates returned to the podium with a third place in Road America (US). Second place at the first running of the “Baltimore Grand Prix” (US) gave Müller and Hand “match point” for the race at Laguna Seca, and they took advantage in style. Werner and Auberlen finished on the podium four times and picked up points in every race.
“Fantastic! I am so happy for Joey, for the team, for BMW, for Dunlop, and for all of our partners and supporters,” said Müller, who also triumphed in the 2000 ALMS season and now has two drivers’ titles to his name. “This one means so very much to me. This year we felt it, we worked so hard and so well together. Thanks so much to everyone.”
For Hand, overall victory in the ALMS GT category is the icing on the cake after what has been a near perfect season, in which he won the Daytona 24-hour race (US) and finished on the podium at the Le Mans 24 Hours (FR). He said: “A Drivers Championship – against competition this strong – is fantastic. Dirk and I are a great team. It was great to win in front of all our partners and fans today. The Dunlop tyres were really strong all week. I am excited…that’s for sure.”
Team Principal Bobby Rahal added: “As we prepared for the 2011 season, we knew we had all of the ingredients to contend for the championship, but it takes a lot of effort from everyone involved to actually make it happen. Each one of our drivers gave us everything they had, BMW provided us with a great car and outstanding support from throughout their great organisation and the crew both at the track and at the shop worked extremely hard to make this happen.”
For BMW Team RLL, the task at the season finale on 1st October, the legendary “Petit Le Mans”, is to get Werner and Auberlen into second place in the Drivers’ Championship. The duo is currently in third pace overall on 103 points. The gap to Magnussen and Gavin in second place is nine points. Having 154 points under its belt, BMW also leads the Manufacturer standings going into the final race of the year.
Dirk Müller – Profile.
In GT racing, Dirk Müller is regarded as one of the best in the world – a view backed up impressively this year by the German’s second overall victory in the American Le Mans Series following his triumph back in 2000.
He first took to the track in a sports car in 1997 and immediately in the Porsche Carrera Cup, which he went on to win one year later. He also caused a sensation with excellent results at the endurance classics in Daytona (1998 and 1999) and Le Mans (1999).
He did not have to wait long for his first big title: Müller won the GT class in the 2000 American Le Mans Series, and became a BMW works driver the following year. He claimed one victory with the BMW M3 GTR in the ALMS before switching to touring car racing in 2002.
In his five seasons with Schnitzer Motorsport, Müller took 12 victories and narrowly missed out on the European Championship title in 2004 and the World Championship title one year later. He also remained successful on the endurance circuit and, alongside Jörg Müller and Hans-Joachim Stuck (DE), was part of the team that won the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in 2004.
In 2007 Müller returned to the endurance circuit and immediately won the FIA GT Championship with Ferrari. The following year he made a comeback in the ALMS, finishing runner-up and only narrowly missing out on his second overall victory. When BMW of North America was planning its ALMS comeback for 2009 with the racing version of the new BMW M3, Müller was the logical choice as driver.
After sixth place in his first year, his fine performances were a crucial factor in BMW Team RLL winning both the Team and Manufacturer titles in 2010. In Road America he claimed victory in the GT class alongside Joey Hand. This season, Müller once again alternated behind the wheel of the BMW M3 GT with Hand and celebrated three victories over the course of the season.
Joey Hand – Profile.
BMW and Joey Hand have enjoyed a profitable partnership for several years, the highlight of which came with overall victory in the American Le Mans Series GT class in 2011. In 2010 Hand showed just how well he gels with his team-mate Dirk Müller, when the German-American duo claimed a prestigious win in Road America in the no. 90 BMW M3 GT2. Three further podium finishes and joint success in winning the GT Team and Manufacturer titles rounded off an excellent season. Hand was on top form again in 2011, fulfilling his dream of winning the championship in the ALMS alongside Müller.
Motorsport is a family tradition in the Hand household. His father made a name for himself as a successful stock car driver. Son Joey launched his career in karting and racing in Sprint Cars, which enjoys great popularity in North America. In 1998 he took the step up to single-seater racing. Following a year's apprenticeship, he won the Formula Mazda series in just his second season.
Unfortunately, the joy over his title win was short lived. Hand broke his elbow in a karting accident at the end of the season. However, the injury did not prevent Hand from emerging as the winner of the Team USA Scholarship programme just months later.
2004 brought with it a new start with BMW on the GT racing scene. Hand ended his debut season in the Grand-Am Series with one win and six podium finishes to his name. He notched up a further four victories the following season, before he joined Bill Auberlen in a BMW M3 in the American Le Mans Series, finishing the season in sixth. After a stint with Panoz, Hand returned to BMW in 2009. Together with Auberlen he helped BMW Team RLL to its first victory in the GT class.
Victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona in a BMW Riley and at the 12-hour race in Sebring, made it a very promising start to the 2011 season for Hand, at the end of which he is now able to celebrate as ALMS GT champion.