By Tarek Ramchani After two very successful seasons in the American Le Mans Series, Audi would again come back in 2002, as the defending champions with their all-conquering Audi R8 cars. Thrilling battles all season long between the Audis and against the competitive Panoz team and a growing Cadillac effort.
Audi again fielded two cars under the Audi Sport North America banner, managed by the brand's partners Team Joest. For the regular ALMS races the line-ups were Frank Beila and Emanuele Pirro with the #1 Audi R8, and Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen shared the #2 car. In addition of the two works cars, a single privateer Audi R8 had been entered from Champion Racing.
The 2002 ALMS season consisted of a ten-round calendar. The opening event was the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 50th edition of Florida's classic that year. Audi dominated the event and scored a perfect 1-2 in the end. Dindo Capello, joined for the event by Christian Pescatori and Johnny Herbert, won the race ahead of the customer Audi R8 from team Champion Racing with drivers Stefan Johansson, Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace. The next event was in California at Sonoma. The race was close to the Le Mans 24 Hours, therefore Audi entered a single factory Audi R8 in event, along with the Champion Racing entry. The new factory Audi R8 cars were in Europe being prepared for Le Mans, thus the Team Joest entry was a 2000 Audi R8, which was borrowed from Champion Racing, the car used by Champion in the 2001 ALMS. It was a very hard race in which Audi was beaten by Panoz for the first time in the season. After the annual break for the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the prefect 1-2-3 win for Audi, the series resumed at Mid-Ohio. Again Audi faced very strong competition from the Panoz cars, yet the German team was able to achieve their second race win of the season. Biela and Pirro took the race win ahead of their team-mates Capello and Kristensen.
Road America was home of the fourth round. There the Audi squad fully dominated the event with a nice 1-2-3 win. After a fierce battle between all three R8s, it was the #2 Audi of Kristensen and Capello that came home victorious. The series then moved to Washington DC, a street course event in which Panoz beat Audi again. The works Audis were second with Capello and Kristensen and third with Biela and Pirro. The series then crossed the border for two Canadian events. First it was the Grand Prix of Trois Riviéres, with full Audi domination. The R8 cars were first, second and third, with the #2 Audi of Kristensen and Capello as the winning car. The same drivers won again in the next event at Mosport, ahead of the customer Audi from Champion Racing.
Back in America, the eighth round of the season was at Laguna Seca. Another 1-2 Audi victory, with Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela the race winners. The ninth and penultimate round of the season was in Florida, downtown Miami. Pirro and Biela scored a second straight victory, and again they were ahead of the privateer Champion Audi team. The season finale was the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Audi won the event with another 1-2 win, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen beat Stefan Johansson and Johnny Herbert, after a titanic battle for race victory. By the end of the season Audi had again defended all three titles. Tom Kristensen won the driver's championship by just two point over teammate Dindo Capello. Audi Sport North America won the team's title and Audi was again the manufacturer champion. 2002 was a very successful year for Audi in the American Le Mans Series, however it was the final time as a full factory effort with the R8. As of the 2003 season, the Audi R8 would be managed by privateer teams only. Audi said goodbye to the ALMS, but the R8 legacy in North America was far from being over.
Photo credit: Audi Media