CHAMPION RACING AIMS FOR ELUSIVE
MAIDEN ALMS WIN IN OWN “BACKYARD”
Team ADT Champion Racing has an added incentive for winning the opening
round of the American Le Mans Series at Sebring on Saturday (15 March).
Champion Racing, of Pompano Beach, began its motorsport activities at
the 3.77-mile Florida track almost 10 years ago and a maiden ALMS
victory, achieved on “home soil” in one of the world’s toughest and most
prestigious endurance sportscar races, would be sweet reward for the
burgeoning South Florida team.
Former Sebring race winners Stefan Johansson,
JJ Lehto and Emanuele Pirro will bid for glory in the 51st 12 Hours of
Sebring at the wheel of Champion Racing’s updated 2002-specification
Audi R8 - a type of car that has won the corresponding Sebring race for
the past three years.
The ADT Champion Audi finished second in last
year’s grueling Sebring race, one of seven top-three placings the
well-drilled outfit achieved in the 10-race ALMS series, which
comfortably earned them the IMSA Cup for “Privateer” teams.
For Team Owner Dave Maraj, victory in the
historic Sebring race would taste sweet and justly reward his
hard-working race team that has quickly gained worldwide recognition in
"Champion Racing entered its first races at
Daytona and Sebring in 1994 and so to achieve a top result would be a
thrill,” commented Maraj. “We want to win every race but obviously a
victory at Sebring would be very special.
“We’ve an excellent driver line-up and the Audi
has been ultra-successful over the past three years but in a race
lasting 12 hours, with a field of 60 cars including two similar Audis
and two new Bentleys, means it’s going to be very tough.”
Monaco-based Lehto (37), of Finland, won the
Sebring race outright in 1999, and will drive for Team ADT Champion
Racing in all 10-rounds of this year’s ALMS. Having raced for BMW and
Cadillac in recent seasons, JJ is relishing the prospect of his first
season with Champion and of driving an Audi.
“We’re up against two other Audi R8s, both in a
similar 2002-specification configuration, so we’re level in terms of
Audi equipment,” confirmed Lehto. “I was really impressed with the Audi
R8 when I drove it for the first time last month. The grip level is
amazing, the engine strong and responsive - it’s the total package. I’ve
spent the last couple of years trying to chase the Audis but now I’m in
one, the others will have to do the chasing!”
Italy’s 2000 Sebring winner Pirro (41) has
driven for the “factory” Audi Sport team at Sebring since 1999 but with
no “works” Audi team racing in 2003, the 2001 ALMS champion joins
Champion for Sebring and the Le Mans 24 hours in June.
Emanuele commented: “I didn’t get to test the
car at Moroso with Stefan and JJ last month because I had to get back to
Italy but having looked around Champion’s race shop, I returned to
Europe knowing that the team’s commitment is total. I won the Sebring
race in 2000 and have finished second and fifth over the past two years
but feel very confident we can be on the podium again.”
Johansson (46) raced most of last season with
Team ADT Champion Racing but as Team Principal of the new American
Spirit Champcar team, the Swedish veteran will limit his Champion race
program to Sebring, Le Mans and Atlanta.
“I think we’ve a great chance of victory
especially now that all of the Audi R8s competing will start off on an
equal footing in terms of specification,” said Johansson, a Sebring
winner in 1984 and ‘97. “Champion’s driver combination is very strong
and I’m really looking forward to Sebring which is one of my all-time
Over 60 cars have entered the race which starts
at 10.30am on Saturday with drivers from North and South America plus
Europe. Like the Michelin-shod Champion Audi R8, sponsored for a second
consecutive year by security service company ADT, most cars will have
three drivers who will rotate stints during the grinding 12-hour