The astonishing climax to IMSA’s Road Race Showcase at Road America will live long in the memory for all who watched it, not least for Corvette Racing and Tommy Milner. Heading into this weekend’s all-GT event at VIR, he told Racing.GT all about it.
Tommy Milner has enjoyed a stunning 2016 season to date. The championship leaders with three races to go, he and Oliver Gavin won the closest Daytona 24 Hours in history (which Milner puts on a par with winning Le Mans in 2015), followed it up by winning the Sebring 12 Hours and headed a Corvette Racing 1-2 at Lime Rock Park to seal the marque’s 100th competition win in fine style. Yet remarkable achievements though they are, none can quite compare to the exhilaration of victory at Road America, moving from fifth position with three laps to go to score a truly unforgettable victory.
“I think for sheer pleasure, Elkhart Lake has to be one of the happiest I’ve ever been in a race car from just utter disbelief at what had happened,” he told Racing.GT. “I’ve re-watched the end of that race probably ten times now and I still am smiling from ear to ear at the end each time, because I don’t think I’ll ever have a race like that again in my career.”
A caution for a collision between LMPC class runners Renger van der Zande and Stephen Simpson set up a thrilling five minute dash to the flag, but with Richard Westbrook’s Ford, Toni Vilander’s Ferrari and the two Porsches of Nick Tandy and Fred Makowiecki ahead in the queue, Milner couldn’t have predicted what happened next in his wildest dreams.
“I knew in the change we had made in our final pitstop that we had made a significant improvement, laptime-wise and feel and everything was quite a bit better than it had been for Oliver’s first stint and mine,” he said. “But the racing in GTLM is so close and so competitive, I don’t think if you look back at any point this year that anybody has ever gone from fifth to first at any point in any race. To get by four cars just doesn’t happen in our class, everything fell into my lap.”
Vilander managed to get a run on Westbrook on the back straight, forcing the Ford to go defensive on the inside. Spotting an opportunity to capitalise, Tandy braked early and attempted to slingshot past them both, but a slight move to the left from Vilander clipped the Porsche into Westbrook and spun him around.
Moments later, Milner sliced past Makowiecki at the Carousel turn and had closed in behind the two leaders at the start of the penultimate lap when Vilander exited stage left, courtesy of an over-optimistic lunge by Tristan Nunez’s Mazda coming through to lap them. This opened the door for Milner to attack Westbrook, a task he duly completed on the final lap to seal a famous win.
“Had I have been a little bit closer to those lead guys or to the Ferrari when he was taken out at turn one, that could have completely changed how the race finished for us, but I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I could tell Ford was hurting a little bit at the end, so all of these things happened and with each lap that clicked off, my optimism got bigger and bigger.
“I basically thought with each lap ‘I’ve got a chance, I’ve got a chance’. And when the Ferrari was taken out, then I really thought ‘this might be possible’. Everything that needed to happen for us to win happened and all in about three laps.”
— Tommy Milner (@TommyMilner) August 8, 2016
A former ALMS GT champion, Milner is no stranger to late-season pressure, but admits that both he and Gavin are likely to adopt a more cautious approach in the remaining three races to protect their slender 13-point margin over Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, mindful that any slip-ups at this stage could prove very costly.
“Having gotten [a title] now, just like getting your first win, it takes a big weight off your shoulders and allows you to expend less energy thinking about ways that it might not happen and instead think about all the ways that it can happen and what you need to do to make it happen,” he says.
“I think now is the time in these next three races to be a little bit more cautious, but in some ways I wasn’t thinking about [the championship] at Road America because if I was concerned about just getting points, the way that race played out probably wouldn’t have happened.
“There is something to be said for taking it one race at a time and doing whatever you can in every situation to get maximum points – sometimes you have to take risks to do that, but so far this year the risks that we’ve taken have paid off, so we’ll continue on that path and hopefully it stays going the same way. Let’s hope that we haven’t used up all of our good luck in that one race there!”
— Corvette Racing (@CorvetteRacing) August 26, 2016
Heading into the only all-GT race of the year at the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway, where Milner and Gavin clinched their 2012 title, can they collect a third straight win?
“I think that the best indication is to go back and look at our performance the last couple of races and see where we stand,” he added. “We certainly haven’t had the fastest car by any means, but we’ve been sort of there or there abouts, so for us it will come down to hoping that we can get a setup that works well out of the box.
“Based on how the car has been this year with the extra aero, I think our car should be good at VIR but just in general, the extra level of downforce has made them more fun to drive pretty much everywhere. VIR was already a fun racetrack just to drive by yourself, but based on how the car has felt throughout this year in testing, I think VIR might be one of my favourite racetracks that we go to all season with this car.”