Dyson team's title a breakthrough

Rob Dyson has been around sports car racing for long enough to know that you have to really appreciate the good moments.

Dyson, once a championship-winning driver, is now a championship-winning owner. The latest title came with a P1-clinching run in the penultimate 2011 American Le Mans Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

"There is a certain element of luck in winning any championship," Dyson said. "At Mazda, we had to change an engine after the morning warm-up. If Jay Cochran had driven one or two fewer laps, we would not have known there was a problem.

"He would have come in and said, 'It feels great.' Instead, he noticed something was not right and our guys did a magnificent job changing the engine in 80 minutes and getting us into the race in good shape."

The competition in P1, like every class in ALMS, was strong this season, and the entry of Aston Martin Racing at Mazda made it even tougher. Dyson's racing inclination is always to go for the win, but as an owner chasing a championship, he made a tough decision to race conservatively and make sure the team's Mazda-powered Lola coupe made it to the finish.

"We thought hard about trying to beat Aston Martin in that race, really going for it," Dyson said. "But that championship is so big for us, we decided to make sure that we finished where we needed to finish to wrap it up.

"There has been a lot of pressure on us, on our drivers and our crew guys, everybody, all year," he added. "We led the points all along, but it was never a given that we were going to win [the title]. Now we can relax and enjoy racing [this week] at Petit Le Mans."

Dyson said he finds it much more difficult to sit on the pit wall than to be in the race car. But having his son, Chris, in the cockpit along with co-drivers Guy Smith and Cochran eases the pain somewhat.

"I'm very proud of all the guys, but I've truly enjoyed watching Chris develop as a driver," the elder Dyson said. "I've enjoyed watching our whole team mature and show they can be consistent on the racetrack."

One of the highlights of Dyson Racing's season was winning at Lime Rock Park, the team's home track.

"A year ago, we had a problem on the seventh lap of the race, with flames shooting out of the engine," Dyson said. "This year, it was a complete turnaround. We led most of the way and got a very big win."

Another big moment for Dyson came in the inaugural ALMS Baltimore street race, when Humaid Al Masaood and Steven Kane won their first race in the second team car, beating their teammates in a 1-2 finish.

"That was the first ever win for an Arab driver in a major automobile race," Dyson said. "It was a very exciting day for us."

Another big plus for Dyson this season has been giving Mazda its first ALMS championship.

"It has been a wonderful three-year relationship," he said. "They've given us everything we've needed and been a major part of any success we've had during that time.

"Overall, this has just been an incredible season," Dyson added. "The competition in P1, just like every class in ALMS, has been very strong. Every week, Greg Pickett's Muscle Milk team has just hammered on us. But our guys just kept working hard and getting the job done."

One thing Dyson's team has not done in its ALMS history is race in the mother event, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Asked if winning the P1 title might translate into entering next year's Le Mans, Dyson hedged a bit.

"Never say never," he said. "I ran over there in the '80s and Chris has driven there twice. It's a great event and we'd love to be part of it at some point. I'd love for my guys to have that experience. But it would take a lot of elements coming together. We'll see."

Meanwhile, Dyson can relax and enjoy the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (Saturday, 11:15 a.m. ET on ESPN3).

"We're going to give it everything we've got and really try to have some fun," Dyson said. "They can't take that championship away from us."

Mike Harris is the retired Auto Racing Writer for The Associated Press and remains a frequent contributor to a variety of racing outlets. He will file periodic reports on the American Le Mans Series to ESPN.com.