Tommy Milner admitted he felt more like a chess player than a race car driver in the final lap of Saturday’s Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, which saw the Corvette Racing driver take a bizarre GT Le Mans class victory over teammate Antonio Garcia.
Running second in the midst of an intense three-car class battle between Corvette and Ford on the final lap, Milner and the rest of the the class contenders were forced to come to a complete stop in the hairpin, just a few dozen feet away from the the checkered flag.
Forced to devise a strategy on the fly, Milner drew upon a lesson learned earlier in the race to sneak past Garcia in the sister Corvette C7.R and snare an unlikely race win for he and co-driver Oliver Gavin.
“I saw the yellow flags going into the last couple of corners there, and I just figured that was the end of the race,” Milner told Sportscar365.
“What had happened earlier [in the hairpin] when the track was blocked, I got hosed a little bit and lost a spot or two.
“One of the Porsches and the BMW just ended up getting around me because they just navigated the wreck better than I did, so [on the last lap] I decided to just aim myself to the inside.
“Once that inside lane opened up, I didn’t even accelerate, I was just cruising to the checkered, expecting it to be full-course [caution].”
Milner said winning the race in that fashion was taking some time to process.
“This is the weirdest I’ve ever felt winning a race for sure, and I feel like a better chess player than I do a race car driver,” he said.
“That’s what it was. I had been through that earlier and I kind of thought I knew where to go, but it’s just a guess. You don’t know which car’s going to go or which car is not going to go.”
Although Milner technically made the winning pass on Garcia under a local caution, Garcia was deemed to have been involved in the incident, thereby legitimizing the maneuver.
The similar scenario earlier in the race in which Milner lost several positions was treated in the same manner by race control, with several places being swapped while under the jurisdiction of a local yellow flag.
IMSA officials also indicated that they could not throw a full-course caution at the time of the accident because the overall leader had already taken the checkered flag.
While the race and its final result were anything but straightforward, Milner was not about to question the gift that lady luck had bestowed upon him and the team.
“If it holds up, and it sounds like it is, I’ll take it for sure,” he said. “A win’s a win, especially with how our year has gone so far.
“We’ve been a little bit unlucky, so let’s hope we didn’t waste all of our luck in this one.”