Pole sitter JJ Lehto led the field of 44 cars
today at the season opener of the nine race American Le Mans Series. Air
temperature for the 10:30 a.m. start was a windy, 74 degrees with a
racing surface temperature of 93 degrees.
Despite a fantastic start, Lehto was passed
early on by Audi UK Team Veloqx rival Allan McNnish. The opposing R8's
fought heavy traffic and accidents on the 3.7 mile track as they battled
for almost two hours together. Lehto pitted the #38, Audi R8 for a
routine pit stop and handed over the wheel to teammate and last year's
race winner, Marco Werner.
Werner strapped in and quickly took advantage of the four, fresh
Michelin tires. Just nine minutes in the cockpit of the R8, Werner
passed the lead Audi UK car in turn 1 and continued to lead the pack for
another hour and twenty-three minutes. Going into the hairpin turn
Werner braked hard, slid into the grass and found himself back in 2nd
position. Exactly thirty minutes later another bout of bad luck would
"At the beginning everything was perfect," said
Werner. "But then after the pace car laps I had a problem with my front
tires. There was no grip in the front. Especially on braking and
turning, there was a lot of understeer. I lost a lot of time and Frank
(Biela) pushed me very hard. Then there was an overtaking problem with
two GT cars. One overtook the other and I followed the first one and
then the other came from the outside and hit me from the rear."
A few minutes later Werner pitted the #38 car
and the Champion Racing crew worked feverishly to repair the damage to
the right side. The team replaced the intercooler, radiator, bodywork,
and everything that was connected to the right side. A driver change
also occurred and Emanuele Pirro took to the cockpit. The unexpected 18
minute pit-stop put the team nine laps behind both the Audi UK cars.
on the track caused a full course caution 6 hours and 46 minutes into
the race. Pirro stayed out for two laps while the lead Audi UK (#28) car
came in for a pit stop. The second place Audi UK (#88) experienced
mechanical problems which kept the opposition in the pits for an
extended period of time. This combination of events allowed Pirro to
earn back the valuable laps lost earlier. Team ADT Champion Racing was
back in 2nd position.
On lap 199 at 5:30 p.m., Pirro came in for a
full service and driver's change. JJ Lehto was back behind the wheel.
Another caution ensued allowing the field to bunch up prior to a
restart. Once the course went green, Lehto quickly moved up behind the
lead car. Although the Team ADT Champion car was still six laps down,
that didn't prevent Lehto from making a daring pass in turn 17 to
overtake Allan McNish in the Audi UK car.
Lehto continued the charge for another two
hours taking the R8 from daylight to darkness. At 7:36 p.m., Lehto
pitted and handed the car over to Werner. During Werner's two-hour
stint, the German driver closed the gap on the lead car from six
to five laps with three hours to go.
With 40 minutes remaining, Werner pulled into
the pits for fuel, tires, and a driver change. Emanuele Pirro would
steer the car to the checkered flag and 2nd place on the podium.
JJ Lehto (Finland): "I guess second is better
than third. At least we have a lot of points for the Championship this
year. That's the biggest thing-that we were able to score points."
Marco Werner (Germany): "I'm unhappy, really.
But like JJ said, second is better than third. It's a good thing to be
on the podium but I would have preferred the win. Everything was fine
until the pace car laps. That's when it all fell apart."
Pirro (Italy): "We did a good race. The car was great, the team worked
really hard. If you consider it as a practice for Le Mans, we have to be
happy. We had tough luck but this is racing. But at the end of the day I
think we brought home a good solid result."
Brad Kettler (Technical Director): "I was very
happy with the car and how well it ran. The team did really well today.
We had some bad luck but we are still very optimistic going into Le
Mans. We've had a good look at the competition and I'm not that
impressed. With a little bit of luck we can come out on top."
1) F. Biela/P. Kaffer/A. McNish Audi UK Team
2) J. Lehto/M. Werner/E. Pirro Team ADT
Champion Racing LMP1
3) J. Davies/J. Herbert/G. Smith Audi UK Team
4) R. Fellows/J.O'Connell/M. Papis Corvette
5) M. Short/R. Barff/J. Barbosa Rollcentre
ADT Champion Racing packs up and heads across the ocean to prepare for
Le Mans testing on April 25. Seven weeks later the team will return to
the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans to defend their LMP1 class win and
attempt to win overall.