Audi ends '08 with one-two Laguna Seca finish

Audi ends '08 with one-two Laguna Seca finish

Audi Sport North America closed out the 2008 racing season by taking the final overall victory in the American Le Mans Series. To top it off, they finished one-two after charging to the front on the final restart. Then the battle began between ...

Audi Sport North America closed out the 2008 racing season by taking the final overall victory in the American Le Mans Series. To top it off, they finished one-two after charging to the front on the final restart. Then the battle began between Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner for the final bragging rights.

#2 Audi Sport North America Audi R10 TDI: Lucas Luhr, Marco Werner.
Photo by Bob Heathcote.

Two of the Acura teams finished 3rd and 4th overall, giving the marque a 1-2 in LM P2, however Porsche won the manufacturers' title.

The last race of the season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca had everyone talking about Acura, who needed to sweep the podium to win the LM P2 manufacturers' championship. They nearly pulled it off, with Andretti Green Racings's Tony Kanaan crossing the line just 0.054 seconds ahead of rival Acura driver Simon Pagenaud of de Ferran Motorsports. A failed battery left earlier Acura contender Lowe's Fernandez Racing a lap down to finish ninth overall. Driver Adrian Fernandez had set fastest lap with a 1:11.156 (113.23 mph).

The race began with David Brabham in the Highcroft Racing Acura on pole position alongside Fernandez Racing's Luis Diaz. By the first turn, Gil de Ferran had sped past the Penske Porsche RS Spyder of Timo Bernhard, locking out the top three spots for the American constructor ahead of the manufacturers' title leaders, Porsche.

A series of yellows interrupted the racing throughout the first two hours, mixing up the field as cars from both the prototype and GT classes ran off into the sand, but the dust finally settled as the sun sank behind the hills of the Monterey Peninsula. Pirro, leading LM P1, led a string of P2 Acuras after Romain Dumas ran wide in turn six in his Penske Porsche RS Spyder. de Ferran Motorsports' Pagenaud harangued the more powerful Audi R10 TDI diesel down the corkscrew and around the legendary 2.238 mile circuit, with the Acuras of Fernandez and Franck Montagny in tow.

After yet another series of back-to-back caution periods, the track went green around the three hour mark, until the then-leading #6 Penske of Sascha Maassen coasted down into the sand at the bottom of the Andretti hairpin, bringing out the 11th caution of the race. Kanaan inherited the lead for Andretti Green Racing, but the two Audis were right behind.

At the restart, Pirro, in what was his last race in the R10 TDI, wanted to get by race leader Kanaan in his Acura ARX-01b. Kanaan slid to the inside, expecting the faster Audi to pass on the outside, but Pirro surprised him and shoved Kanaan out of the way. Eight tires have more grip than four, and Kanaan slid helplessly toward the outside of turn two as Marco Werner followed his teammate's inside line. "Restarting with the two Audis behind is not fun," Kanaan said. He called the contact "a race pass."

It was at the three-hour and 34-minute mark that Werner took the lead from Pirro. "It would have been nice if he could go out with a victory," Werner commented.

Ten minutes after the Audis swapped places, Pagenaud out-braked Kanaan into Turn 11 and took the lead in P2. Kanaan passed him back in traffic up the hill into Turn 6, and held off a gutsy charge by the determined Pagenaud for the class victory. An unlucky attempt to charge down the outside of the corkscrew was thwarted by lapped traffic. On the last lap, Pagenaud tried to carry a drive out of Turn 11 and just missed the P2 class victory by 0.054 sec.

The Penske Porsche RS Spyders of Bernard and Helio Castroneves claimed third and fourth places in P2, securing the class manufacturer's title by a single point, with 214 to Acura's 213.

P1 co-champions Werner and Lucas Luhr claimed the P1 and overall victory ahead of 2nd place teammates Pirro and Christian Albers. Third in the P1 class fell to the Corsa Motorsports team of Johnny Mowlem, Gunnar Jeanette, and Stefan Johansson, whose Zytek 07S put in one of the team's strongest first stints of the season. An unlucky wiring problem during a driver change ended hopes of a top-five overall result.

In the LM GT2 class, Tafel Racing's Dirk Mueller in his Ferrari 430 took the lead from Jamie Melo of Risi Competizione after the midway point, with Dirk Werner and the Farnbacher Loles Porsche following in third. The trio would finish in that order, but Werner's team was excluded by IMSA for a ride height violation, gifting third place to the Panoz Team PTG and drivers Tommy Milner and Joey Hand.

The LM GT1 Corvettes also swapped places after the three-hour mark, giving the victory to Olivier Bertta and Oliver Gavin ahead of Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell. Corvette will switch to the GT2 class next year following the final running of the C6.R at Le Mans.

A total of 12 caution periods, often coming back-to-back, befell the race. At the post-race press conferences, many drivers complained about the lack of speed of the pace car. The low grip surface of Laguna Seca, and the cold ambient temperatures of the evening race compounded the problem.

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