I’ll just go ahead and get this out of the way: YES!!! Say hello to the 2012 American Le Mans Series GT championships for Chevrolet, Corvette Racing, and for Oliver Gavin and me. This is an amazing feeling and the year has been absolutely incredible. The best part is, it’s not even over yet! At Virginia International Raceway a little over a week ago, with Oliver and I taking the win after four hours, we’ve clinched the championships with one race to go—Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta next month.
Let me rewind for a bit and talk about the season to this point. All of our off-season testing with our updated 2012 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R showed us promise and excitement for this season. Our performance in 2011 was not where we would have liked and many, many people and engineers from Pratt Miller, Chevrolet, and General Motors Powertrain gave us a much improved car from 2011. I was immediately excited about our potential this year to fight on equal terms for race wins.
First race, Sebring. The best of the best in GT racing competes in the season opener, and there is no better test of our performance than that race. Qualifying third and fourth during a crazy session where lap times fell to times I didn’t think were possible—while watching from the famous turn 10—was awesome. I can still remember it vividly now, and it’s a nice reminder of how much fun these cars are, how impressively quick they really are, and the diversity in sounds and looks of the different makes of cars.
A podium at Sebring was followed by my first ALMS win at Long Beach. Those final 30 minutes at Long Beach were impossible to watch. I’d been in situations in the past before where a win was possible and had it slip away. That was an incredible feeling and really set the tone for the rest of the year for us in the No. 4 car. In situations where there could have been danger or problems, we escaped and were able to work our way methodically to the front.
Then, heading to Laguna Seca on the high of the Long Beach win, to back it up again with another win and a 1-2 finish for Corvette Racing was phenomenal, and gave us a huge confidence boost heading into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Le Mans didn’t go to plan, that’s for sure, but we were able to continue our run at Lime Rock and finish on the podium again. Then, strong finishes at Road America and Baltimore set us up for our race at VIR.
One thing in racing that is undeniable: You need luck. Our teammates, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, had very little of it. You can certainly make your own luck, but in some situations you are just a passenger, and we were very lucky in that sense this year. Our whole team executed in every situation whether it was pit stops, strategy or car setup. Looking back on the year to this point, we had an incredibly mistake-free and strong season.
Heading into VIR, all Oliver and I had to do to lock-up the drivers championship was finish ahead of our teammates and the No. 56 BMW. Of course, that would be the ideal scenario, and my mindset was the same it had been all year: Make no mistakes and maximize every lap. If I did that, if we did that, we would be in good shape.
At the very start, it all could have gone wrong—much like Baltimore—but, luckily, Oliver escaped the carnage in turn one and made it out in second place. Some quick pitwork got me out in the lead, and we wouldn’t give it up from there. The win was a fantastic way to put a stamp on the championship, and also special for me since my first professional GT race came in 2004 at VIR, not to mention it was Oliver’s 100th ALMS start.
Now we head to Petit Le Mans without any concerns about winning the titles, and we can focus solely on winning the race. Make no mistake, we won’t lay down at all. Oliver and myself want to win and I know Richard Westbrook, our third driver for the race, is equally as eager to get a win. In one of the most competitive GT classes in the world, if we could walk away from 2012 having won five out of 10, yeah, that would be another massive achievement to be proud of.
Editor’s note: Autoweek Editor at Speed Tommy Milner, 26, of Lake Mary, Fla., joined Corvette Racing in 2011 as a full-season driver in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R. He realized his potential quickly, winning the GTE Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-drivers Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia. Milner made the pass for the lead and then completed his stint in treacherous, wet conditions before handing off to Garcia for the final laps in the world’s most famous sports-car race.
A second-generation racer, Milner is the son of noted team owner Tom Milner. He has competed in formula- and sports-car series with distinction. He has driven for factory-affiliated teams representing Panoz, Porsche and BMW, and he has raced three times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He finished third in the ALMS GT driver championship in 2010 and ninth in 2011. This season, he teams with full-time co-driver Oliver Gavin in the American Le Mans Series, as well as co-driver Richard Westbrook in select endurance races.
Follow Milner all season long here at autoweekracing.com and on Twitter @TommyMilner.