BRASELTON, Ga. - The No. 48 Chopard/Porsche/TOTAL/IPC Porsche 911 GT3 RSR team of Bryce Miller, Sascha Maassen and Emmanuel Collard from Paul Miller Racing came up just shy in their bid to close out the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season in the top 10 with an 11th-place run in the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Despite running most of the race without a clutch and a fading gearbox over the closing laps, the No. 48 Porsche spent most of the second half of the race running in 10th place. The last hour was a battle for 10th place - which would have been the seventh consecutive top-10 result for the team - between Miller and Guy Cosmo in the No. 02 Ferrari.
Cosmo got the spot early in the final hour but pitted for one last splash of fuel, promoting Miller back into the top 10 with 12 laps to go. Unfortunately, Miller simply did not have enough left in his car to keep the Ferrari at bay and wound up nursing the car home in 11th.
"This was old school," said Bryce Miller. "My dad would probably be used to a car like this from the '80s or something. We lost the clutch in the first hour completely. We were lucky that the ignition continued to work so that we could make it out of the pits without the clutch. This was really good that it sustained the 10 hours and that we could continue racing. The gearbox started to really become temperamental, especially in my last hour.
"I was a little bit concerned where we were headed with this. No cool suits, no air hose, this was a real challenge. As far as the race is concerned, for me personally, it's a little bit difficult, because we were racing the 02 car for 10th place, which is 11 points at Petit Le Mans, so these were valuable points. I feel bad that I couldn't bring a fight, but there was one arm tied behind my back in this situation."
The difficulties started early in the race for the No. 48 team. Miller started the race and slotted into 14th place in the early going, but was hit in the right rear by an LMPC car on Lap 9 and he was forced to pit with a tire going down. The contact was also a likely contributor to suspension problems the team encountered early in the race.
"We started out with some suspension issues that made the car really difficult to drive," said team owner Paul Miller. "Then, early on in the race, the clutch pedal went right to the floor, so the guys were shifting the gearbox and trying to match revs. In the last stint, when Bryce was in the car, the car just stopped working at certain times. We just couldn't keep the pace to collect the 10th place we had in the bag, we thought, so it was a little frustrating from the point of view of just keeping everything together. But we did finish and the crew did a great job, and the Yokohama guys really stood behind us."
After qualifying the car 16th on Friday, Maassen drove two stints in the race and seemed to adapt to the clutch problems, remarking at one point over the team radio that he "might always drive without a clutch now." He acknowledged after the race that the clutch problems did make things difficult, however, and he matched his season-long teammates in their disappointment over missing out on another top 10.
"It's amazing the starter engine lasted that long, because on every stop, we had to start the car in gear with the starter engine to get going again," Maassen said. "Thanks to Porsche that they built something that strong and lasting. Of course, we would have liked to have finished 10th and we were fighting for 10th and we missed it by 15 seconds, which would have been a happy end, but that's the way it is. Somebody has to finish behind and this time it was us. We were fighting and that was good, so I'm not too unhappy. We had a good year. We had consistent finishes and mostly in the top 10, so very promising."
Competing in his first race with the team, Collard fought the same issues as Miller and Maassen, but put forward the same effort with which he won the 2011 Le Mans Series championship and the GT2 class at Petit Le Mans last year. Despite the slightly disappointing outcome, Collard still enjoyed the experience.
"I was quite happy to come back here," Collard said. "I've known Sascha a long time, and Bryce also, I did a few races with him in Daytona, so I was happy during the weekend. We had a good relationship, all three of us, and it's very nice when you can race with good guys like Bryce and Sascha."
Looking back on the season as a whole, the Paul Miller Racing team can certainly be proud of its accomplishments. The team finished inside the top 10 in more than half of the races this season, highlighted by a fourth-place run last month at Baltimore, and made huge strides in its first year of competition in the toughest class in the ALMS.
"We've got a great crew and we learned a lot this year," said Paul Miller. "I don't think we reaped what we sowed, so to speak, here at the end, but other than that, I think we have a great bunch of guys, a great nucleus and great foundation to move forward with."
"The team has done a great job this year," concluded Bryce Miller. "They've shown a lot of growth and development. There's so much potential in this team now from where we started to where we finished. It's an incredible analysis to see how far we've come and how much further there is to go for us and to see the potential within our team. This is a challenge that I'm looking forward to, because I know we can get there and we just have to keep our head down and keep working hard and stay focused and it will happen. I'm excited and I'm really thankful to our sponsors for supporting us this year, especially Chopard, Yokohama and Porsche."
Paul Miller Racing is among the top GT teams competing in North American sports car road racing. In 2011, the team will contest the full American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, as well as the Daytona 24 Hours. The team enjoys a long-standing relationship with Porsche and competes with the support of four international sponsors in Chopard, Yokohama Tire, IPC Information Systems and TOTAL Lubricants.
Follow the team on Twitter @paulmilleracing and @bryceracer and become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/paulmillerracing and Facebook.com/brycemiller.net.