Craig Murto: Milner captures win at Le Mans


Tommy Milner, the Corvette factory driver who races worldwide and lives in Leesburg, just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second time in his career.

Le Mans may not mean much to the average armchair NASCAR fan, but Nico Hulkenberg — a Formula One driver for the Force India team who was on loan to Porsche to drive the race-winning 919 Hybrid prototype — called his Le Mans win the greatest achievement of his career. Le Mans ranks up there with the Indy 500 and Grand Prix of Monaco as one of the greatest motorsport events in the world.

Milner drove the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette C7 R No. 64 in the GTE Pro division and won Le Mans by five laps after completing 337 laps and more than 2,864 miles with co-drivers Oliver Gavin and Jordan Taylor.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” the 29-year-old Milner said after the class win, “a sense of accomplishment.”

Even if you don’t follow sports car racing, you should share with pride Milner’s accomplishment. Born in Washington, D.C., Milner spent most of his life in the Winchester area, where his father once fielded factory sports car teams with name drivers such as Boris Said behind the wheel. He is our hometown boy doing well for himself.

Corvette hadn’t won Le Mans since 2011; Milner also was part of that team. The mark has been on a roll in 2015, as it previously won its class at the Daytona 24 and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

The team not only overcame the usual adversity encountered during a 24-hour race, it had to withdraw the team No. 63 car when Jan Magnussen crashed hard in practice after a mechanical failure. With only one car entered, all the team’s effort then successfully focused on Milner’s No. 64.

Fans who were focused on Le Mans were able to watch all 24 hours of the race, thanks to Fox Sports, which split coverage among Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and the Internet. The coverage I watched was top-notch.

And at least the race wasn’t affected by rain, which plagued both the IndyCar and NASCAR races on Sunday.

IndyCar held an exciting race on the streets of Toronto. The race began wet, then got even more exciting as the track conditions improved. Josef Newgarden grabbed his second win, also the second this season for car owner Sarah Fisher.

The NASCAR Cup race at Michigan finally was called at 138 laps complete after four red flags due to weather. It was a real shame, as the grandstand crowd at the drop of the green flag was one of the best at a NASCAR race all season.

The racing at Michigan was OK when they were racing. But it still appears NASCAR will run a new rules package at Kentucky, a trial run of the new 2016 package. Only a month ago NASCAR stated they would not change rules midseason. It’s obvious the truth is they shouldn’t have changed rules after last season, one of the most competitive in more than a decade. Whatever happened to the old NASCAR adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”

Kurt Busch isn’t broken, as he proved by being out front when the race-ending rains came and being declared the winner at Michigan. He’s already in The Chase, so collecting wins only helps his standing when the points reset at the end of the season.

Some fans tend to dismiss wins that come in rain-shortened races, just as they dismiss fuel-mileage wins. But that’s not fair to the race winner.

Busch was in front when it counted. He won the race. If the rains had come four laps earlier, Kyle Larson may have won as he gambled on fuel knowing the weather was on its way.

The winner is the winner. Danica Patrick won an IndyCar race on fuel mileage. Some dismiss that victory, but that’s not fair; she drove the car, kept it out of trouble, and made the strategy work. She won. Period.

If a driver is running 15th at Talladega and the 14 cars in front of him crash in Turn 3, if that driver passes all the wreckage and finishes first, he wins the race. Period. Just as Kurt Busch won at Michigan.

The best local/regional choices this weekend are either flat track motorcycle at Hagerstown, or NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series at Langley Speedway in Hampton. Take your dad to the races this Father’s Day weekend.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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