While the GTD headlines from the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix were on the race that slipped away for Flying Lizard Motorsports, it was another Audi squad that quietly notched a long overdue podium finish.
A late-race charge by Christopher Haase saw the Audi Sport customer racing driver and teammate Bryce Miller earn a second-place result in their Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS.
Remarkably, it marked the team’s first trip back to the podium since the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, some 33 races ago following an up-and-down three years of racing.
“It’s been a hard, long road,” Bryce Miller told Sportscar365. “We have had something of a dry spell. We’ve bounced around in some different [tire] development programs between Yokohama, Dunlop and we finally ended up where we wanted to on the Michelins [last year].
“It’s been hard making every detail come together. We’ve always been there, nipping at the heels.”
Following numerous seasons with Porsche machinery, including the last three with the 911 GT3 RSR in the cutthroat ALMS GT ranks, the Atlanta-based team made the switch to Audi for this year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which saw a move to the equally competitive, Pro-Am-enforced GTD class.
Success was achieved right out of the box with a pole-winning run at Daytona by Haase, who along with Miller and co-drivers Rene Rast and Matt Bell led nearly half of the race until suffering overheating problems.
Contact dashed their hopes of a top finish at Sebring, which made their championship turnaround at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca even sweeter.
“It didn’t seem like the stars really aligned for us,” Miller said of the opening two races. “It’s kind of funny because when we got the second place last weekend, not to take away from being elated or relieved by it all, but I was kind of surprised by my own reaction to it. It’s been such a long road. It was sort of an anti-climatic moment.”
PMR’s result came in only its third race with the R8 LMS, a new car that not only the team, but also Miller, have had to wrap their heads around in a relatively short period of time.
“It’s been a really big adjustment for me,” Miller said. “The Porsche is a very different driving style, more aggressive and explosive. I felt like I really got somewhere with the Porsche but now it’s all about unwinding those habits. I’ve really been enjoying driving the Audi.
“Overall, it’s easier, physically both from a precision and forgiveness standpoint. It’s an easier car to drive.”
On the team side, Miller feels one of the major benefits has been the level of support given to them by Audi Sport customer racing, which included lending GT factory driver Haase for the entire TUDOR Championship season.
“The support we’ve had from Audi has been tremendous,” he said. “Having an assigned technician at both Daytona and Sebring and otherwise… has been a really big asset in terms of getting our team up to speed with the car and just accelerating that whole learning curve.
“It is an entirely new car [to us]. We had a lot of guys that were Porsche specialists that also had to reset and learn a whole new car. Having that really intensive period of training and attention has helped our guys tremendously.”
With the duo back in the championship hunt, sitting a respectable 7th in the GTD standings heading into the next round at Detroit, Miller is hoping to continue the momentum.
However, the experienced GT racer has remained realistic about their chances, while also being particularly mindful of how quickly the Balance of Performance can change in the class.
“We’re enjoying it while we can but I’m aware of how quickly [IMSA] reacts,” he said. “The Audi and Ferrari were already slapped with penalties after Daytona and that’s just based off one track configuration and race. They were pretty sizable BoP adjustments.
“Obviously, we still have something in our wings that we can bring to the fight. Going into Detroit, I think it’s going to be a tough race for the Audi. There’s a lot of tighter and slower-speed corners. I don’t think it’s the strongest track for the Audi. We’ll know more when we get there and race.
“We have a competitive package for sure. I think it’s just whether we can stay in that race and be there towards the latter half of the season.”