Race Ends Early for Miller, Maassen, Bell and Wilkins
Heading into last weekend's 50th Anniversary Daytona 24 Hours, the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Chopard Porsche GT3 co-driven by Bryce Miller, Sascha Maassen, Rob Bell and Mark Wilkins rated as one of the top contenders for victory in a huge GT field.
Calling it "the best car I've ever had at Daytona," Miller topped the GT time charts for a goodly amount of the opening practice on Thursday before dropping to third at the end of the session in the pits as the track conditions improved. On Thursday afternoon, he put the car ninth on the GT starting grid.
The car was fast regardless of who was driving or what the conditions were. Bell turned in the second-quickest GT time during Thursday's night practice, and Maassen was quickest in a damp final practice session on Friday.
In the race, the team and drivers worked through a few early issues to remain in contention for the victory, and by the fourth hour, they were back among the top GT runners. The high point of the race was just after night fell, when Bell drove the No. 48 Porsche into the top five for the first time.
"We were really happy with the car going into the race," said team owner Paul Miller. "Surprisingly, we had a handling issue in Bryce's opening stint, but our engineer came up with a solution after feedback from Bryce and the car was corrected during a long yellow in Sascha's stint. We worked our way up to fifth place by 7 p.m. and we were running the leader's pace. It was clear we had a strong, contending car to battle for the win and the driver lineup to get the job done. Bryce, Sascha, Rob and Mark did an excellent job and our team rolled out a very good car for the race!"
Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world by the Paul Miller Racing team could not prevent two other cars from tangling with each other, which is what happened in Daytona's famed "bus stop" chicane early in the race's fifth hour just past 7:30 p.m. ET.
After the contact, one of those cars came back on course at the most inopportune time and hit Bell - who had gotten as high as fourth in the GT order - in the rear. The contact damaged the suspension on the No. 48 Chopard Porsche, sending it to the garage for an entire right rear corner, upright, trailing arm and axle.
The team ultimately got the car back on track, 30 laps behind the GT leader after spending just over an hour in the garage. It was clear that the team would not be able to get back into contention for the victory, and as this was the only GRAND-AM event the team plans to run in 2012, staying in the race for championship points was of little value. As a result, the team elected to retire from the race around midnight.
"It is unfortunate what happened to Rob," said Bryce Miller. "The guys put together a first class effort with the limited amount of time we had the car. The whole purpose of our effort was to go for the win. We aren't taking points with us from here. Our championship commitment is elsewhere. The guys did a terrific job with the car, but sometimes things just happen in 24-hour races that you cannot control."
Prior to the car's retirement, however, Wilkins, an established road racer, was able to get his first taste of Paul Miller Racing in competition. Despite driving without a front splitter, which robbed the car of substantial downforce, he was able to post respectable laps in a double stint. He was definitely impressed with what he experienced.
"The Paul Miller Racing Porsche was fantastic," Wilkins said. "The guys did a great job to fix the rear suspension and get it back out there. It was a lot of fun. Not the outcome we came for, but a great experience. I want to thank the Paul Miller guys for working hard and doing a great job."
Although it was clearly a disappointing outcome, the team has much to look forward to in 2012.
"This was the best-prepared car I've ever had at Daytona, that's why it was such a blow," said Bryce Miller. "The car was flawless from a driver's standpoint, and I really appreciate it. We've still got so much to look forward to. The guys were all back in the shop Monday morning getting our RSR ready for Sebring."
Next up for Paul Miller Racing is the American Le Mans Series Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway on February 8-9. The 2012 ALMS season kicks off with the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh From Florida on Saturday, March 17.
About Paul Miller RacingPaul Miller Racing is among the top GT teams competing in North American sports car road racing. In 2012, the team will contest the Daytona 24 Hours and the full American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. The team enjoys a long-standing relationship and competes with the support of three international sponsors in Chopard, IPC Information Systems and TOTAL Lubricants.