Audi returns to the winners' circle

Motorsport.com - Team Joest fought back to victory at Mosport today, after David Brabham and Jan Magnussen had snapped the Audi winning streak at the previous ALMS race in Portland. Emmanuele Pirro and Frank Biela teamed up to bring Audi its ...

Motorsport.com - Team Joest fought back to victory at Mosport today, after David Brabham and Jan Magnussen had snapped the Audi winning streak at the previous ALMS race in Portland.

Emmanuele Pirro and Frank Biela teamed up to bring Audi its fourth ALMS victory of the season in an incident-filled race at the tradition-rich road course west of Toronto.

While weather forecasts throughout the week had predicted "showers," the reality of the race day morning was a steady rain dampening the track, cars and spectators alike.

Polesitter Rinaldo Capello was victimized early, the championship leader spinning off the track at the difficult uphill double-apex Turn 5, and slamming heavily into the tire barrier. Andy Wallace (Champion Audi), and Franck LaGorce in the second Panoz quickly followed into the same runoff area. Wallace was able to continue, while a full-course yellow was shown to allow Capello's and LaGorce's cars to be moved.

"The track was very, very slippery," said Wallace, "but we have a good car."

Capello would eventually continue, but seven laps down. But the Audi was not destined to finish, and just before the two-hour mark, Tom Kristensen slammed the car hard into the barriers at Turn 3, ending a miserably day for the Joest #1 car.

Magnussen took advantage of Capello's spin, and claimed the lead on the first lap, while the Audis fell back. Biela made two early pit stops, switching first to intermediates, and then to full slicks, dropping the German back to third place.

At the halfway point of the race, it was still Magnussen in front, followed by Wallace and Pirro (who had taken over from Biela). However, the track was by now nearly dry, and the Audis were mounting a serious attack on the Dane's lead.

Magnusson lost the lead for good at 1:42 into the race, as he pitted for fuel and tires, and handed over to David Brabham. The Panoz would never see "P1" again as the two remaining Audis now took up the fight for the lead.

The two Audis pulled away from the Panoz, cutting through the field of GT and GTS competitors. Pirro was able to match the speed of Johnny Herbert, who had stepped in for Wallace, but not get close enough for a serious passing attempt.

In a Formula One-like turn of events, though, Pirro was able to take the lead in the pits. As he pulled in for a routine stop just after the two-hour mark, only three laps after Herbert's stop, fortune smiled on the team.

As the car was being refueled, Michelin engineers checked the tires' condition, and found that they were good enough to last until the end of the race. Pirro's smooth driving style saved the team crucial seconds during the pit stop, giving him the lead - and the victory.

"The key of the race was that we decided during the final pit stop to continue with the same set of tires," Pirro recalled. "I was sympathetic on the tires, trying to make it through, and it worked."

Herbert would still mount a furious attack, cutting the factory team's lead to less than three seconds, despite driving a 2000-spec R8, but the track demanded its dues for this. As Herbert swept into Turn 2, with just 15 minutes to go in the race, he lost control in the fast turn, crashing heavily enough to not be able to resume the race.

"I needed to get past two back-markers so that I could keep the pressure on Emanuele," Herbert explained after the race. "But we went into Turn 2 three abreast and I got on to the rubber, lost grip, slid on to the grass and hit the tire wall hard. A great shame."

This elevated Magnussen and Brabham to second overall, and the steady Cadillac LMP of Emmanuel Collard and Christophe Tinseau to third.

Didier de Radigues and Bruno Lambert claimed the LMP675 honors, only two laps ahead of hometown hero Ron Fellows, who took yet another GTS victory in the Corvette C5-R, teaming up with Johnny O'Connell. The Saleen S7R and the second Corvette (Andy Pilgrim/Kelly Collins) were a lap and two laps behind the Fellows/O'Connell Corvette, respectively.

Fellows had driven much of the race with pieces of rear bodywork first hanging off the car, and then completely missing, after touching the wall at Turn 3. However, Fellows fought back from the spin to take the class lead and victory from Franz Konrad's and Terry Borcheller's Saleen.

"It was a pretty eventful two hours," Fellows recalled. "We were crossing our fingers (about the damage)!"

JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller drove a solid race, moving through the field after starting at the back of the grid, and claiming the victory from fellow BMW M3R competitors Dirk Muller/Fredrik Ekblom and Boris Said/Hans Stuck.

The race was followed by a strong and enthusiastic crowd, despite the rainy conditions that had prevailed all morning. No official attendance was announced, but most observers agreed that the number of spectators was higher than seen in a long time.

"Last time I saw so many people here," joked Fellows, "I was probably a spectator!"

And it was to this crowd's applause that Pirro and Biela added a 2001 ALMS victory to the big trophy they had won just over two months earlier -- outright victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Wallace and Herbert, however, will have to wait for yet another day.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Johnny Herbert , David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Didier de Radigues , Tom Kristensen , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Franz Konrad , Bruno Lambert , Frank Biela , Boris Said , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Andy Pilgrim , Emmanuel Collard , Christophe Tinseau , Jorg Muller , Kelly Collins , Terry Borcheller , JJ Lehto