Biela on brink of first ALMS driving title

Biela on brink of first ALMS driving title

He's won the world's most prestigious endurance races. He's won sprint races, and he's won poles. He's been a part of one of the best sports car racing teams ever assembled. Now, with two races left in the American Le Mans Series season, Frank...

He's won the world's most prestigious endurance races. He's won sprint races, and he's won poles. He's been a part of one of the best sports car racing teams ever assembled. Now, with two races left in the American Le Mans Series season, Frank Biela is close to becoming a champion.

Frank Biela.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
Biela and co-driver Marco Werner, both from Germany, are literally in the driver's seat in the battle for the American Le Mans Series driving championship in the Prototype 900 class. With their overall win in this past weekend's event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., the drivers of the Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 have amassed 135 points toward the title and now lead their closest rival, JJ Lehto, by 18 markers.

In the seven races held this season, Biela and Werner have won overall four times and taken top honors in the LMP 900 class five times. Although there are many possible scenarios, they can share the driving title by finishing third in class in both the Sep. 27 event at Miami and the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 18, even if Lehto wins both events. However, wins by Lehto in both events and a non-podium finish by Biela and Werner could possibly end their title run.

Prior to the 2003 season, the American Le Mans Series point system was changed to allow drivers who raced together all season the chance to be co-champions. In the four previous years of the series, a system of bonus points separated co-drivers in the standings.

Lehto, driver of the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8, has scored two overall wins this season with co-driver Johnny Herbert. However, because Herbert drove for another team in one race, he is behind Lehto in the standings. Should Biela and Werner falter, Lehto would win the championship alone.

#10 Audi Sport UK Audi R8: Perry McCarthy, Mika Salo and Frank Biela.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Biela, 39, has been one of the top drivers in the American Le Mans Series for years but has never won a driving championship. He was part of the Audi factory team from 2000 through 2002 and won nine ALMS races during that span, as well as having three consecutive wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, because of the previous points system, he finished second in the driver standings in 2001 when co-driver Emanuele Pirro of Italy won the championship. In the other two years, he was a factor but drivers from the other Audi factory team (Allan McNish of Scotland in 2000 and Tom Kristensen of Denmark in 2002) won the driving title.

The German racing team owned by Reinhold Joest operated the two-car Audi factory team in those three years and now operates the one-car Audi customer team for which Biela and Werner drive. The team is leading in the battle for the LMP 900 team title, and Audi has already clinched its fourth straight manufacturer's championship.

Should Biela and Werner capture the driving championship, and Joest win the team title, it would be the first "all German" championship among the four Audi titles.

"Right from the beginning of the season, the aim was to win the championship again," said Biela. "There's no doubt that winning three times in a row is hard, and now maybe it should be our turn, Marco and Frank.

"It's always difficult," he said. "The last three races, we saw how quickly something could happen. The Champion team had the crash at Mosport, then we had the problem with the starter at Road America. Then Champion had another problem (transmission) at Laguna Seca, so we're a little more ahead of them, but it's never safe."

#1 Infineon Team Joest Audi R8: Frank Biela, Marco Werner.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
While Biela has been racing on the American Le Mans Series since the beginning of the series in 1999, Werner, though a road racing veteran in Europe, is in his first season. His performances this season have repeatedly demonstrated his worthiness for such a top-level ride.

"I'm very happy to have Marco as my teammate," said Biela. "He is an excellent teammate."

Biela and Werner can be very confident entering Grand Prix Americans presented by Sportsbook.com, which will be run on the tight and demanding Miami Downtown street circuit. Biela won last year's inaugural event at Miami, and he and Werner won earlier this year when the ALMS raced on a street circuit at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

Grand Prix Americas will be a two-hour, 45-minute timed event that will start at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27. Qualifying will be held on Friday, Sept. 26. The race will be broadcast online by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web at www.americanlemans.com and will be televised live in North America by SPEED Channel.

Ticket information for the event is available online at www.miamirace.com or by calling 1-888-248-7223.

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