WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although it took more than 80 years to bring top-level motor racing back to the nation's capital, it may very well have been worth the wait given the riveting drama that unfolded here this afternoon in the inaugural Cadillac ...
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although it took more than 80 years to bring top-level motor racing back to the nation's capital, it may very well have been worth the wait given the riveting drama that unfolded here this afternoon in the inaugural Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington. In what may have been the most exhilarating and competitive race in the history of the American Le Mans Series, the Panoz duo of David Brabham and Jan Magnussen took advantage of the tight corners and short straights around the 1.7-mile, 7-turn RFK Stadium street circuit to win their second race of the season. In doing so, the veteran Panoz pilots relied on the tremendous torque generated by their powerful V-8 engine to convincingly fight off numerous challenges from both factory Audi R8s.
On several occasions, the leaders raced three and four-wide as they attempted to maintain track position while simultaneously dodging tightly-packed bunches of GT cars. In fact, the leaders rarely lost contact with one another throughout the two hour and 45-minute event. And in the end, the tight track surprisingly served up some of the best racing of the season.
As is usually the case with street circuits, the excitement began in Turn 1 where Magnussen, who had qualified third, dove under the Audi R8 of Rinaldo Capello to wedge his Panoz between Capello and the pole sitting Audi of Frank Biela. But Capello kept the Panoz in his sights, re-passing the star-spangled Panoz 18 laps later. With Magnussen still lurking close behind, Capello began reeling in the lead Audi of Biela. And when Capello swept past Biela under braking as the two Audis entered Turn 1 side-by-side on lap 30, Magnussen was close enough to the leaders to regain second after Biela swung wide on the exit of the turn to avoid contact with his teammate.
Ten laps later, contact between Capello and the Champion Audi of Stefan Johansson in Turn 1 handed the lead of the race to Magnussen. "Capello went to pass, and Johansson closed the door, but Capello kept coming," Magnussen explained. "It was great for us."
As Magnussen sped away, Capello rejoined the race in second, while Johansson, who had spun several laps earlier while attempting to come to grips with brake balance problems, eventually righted the Champion Audi and drove away without any further problems.
Unfortunately, Magnussen thought he had punctured a tire when he bounded over the curbs in Turn 1 in an attempt to avoid the spinning Audis of Capello and Johansson. So just to be safe, the Tom Milner-led Panoz team opted to call him in early to change the tires and put Brabham in the car. Although the untimely pit stop dropped him to fourth, Brabham regained the lead when Biela and Capello pitted during the race's first full-course yellow, which, as luck would have it, came out just as Brabham emerged from the pits.
On the subsequent restart, Kristensen and Pirro relentlessly hounded Brabham as the three drivers jockeyed furiously for position before the Kristensen was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for his co-driver's Turn 1 encounter with the Champion Audi - 24 laps earlier. Once Kristensen served his penalty, Pirro managed to slide by Brabham on lap 73, only to lose the lead one lap later when he swung wide in Turn 3 to avoid a gaggle of GT cars. Somehow Brabham snuck by on the inside as Pirro and a couple of GT cars emerged unscathed from a hairy four-wide encounter that could have put both front-runners out of the race.
"I knew that they were slightly quicker, but if I did my job, I could stay in the lead," Brabham admitted.
A short time later, the final full-course yellow of the day set up a mad dash to the finish. Although Kristensen and Pirro opted for fuel only during the yellow, Brabham was under so much pressure from the Audis that the team put on fresh rubber and strapped Magnussen back in the car. When the race went green again, the running order was Kristensen, Pirro, and Magnussen.
With fresh tires, Magnussen made quick work of Pirro, who fell of the pace after he ran into the back of Milka Duno's Lola B2K/Judd while trying to keep the hard-charging Dane behind him. After putting Pirro safely behind him, Magnussen started closing the gap on Kristensen. The two Danish drivers were locked in mortal combat for several corners until Magnussen finally worked his way past Kristensen with approximately 30 minutes remaining in the race. But Kristensen refused to concede defeat, staying glued to Magnussen's rear wing until the very end.
"Audi likes the straights and our biggest disadvantage is the straights," Magnussen said. "With two laps to go I knew he wasn't going to catch me and I was able to pull away."
"I was in the lead, but on old tires and picking up a lot of debris," Kristensen remarked. "The tire pressures became low and I was struggling. The Panoz passed easily. I had brake fade in the front, and Magnussen was pulling away. A few times I came along beside him, but he always had the corner."
Pirro finished third, followed by the Cadillac of Max Angelelli and Christophe Tinseau and the Champion Audi. While the second Panoz of Bryan Herta Bill Auberlen and the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott of James Weaver and Chris Dyson rounded out the top LMP 900 finishers.
Despite suffering a mid-race tire puncture due to contact with one of the American Racing Vipers, Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell won the GTS class for the fourth time in five races, finishing eighth overall. "We feel pretty lucky today," Fellows said. "We had a flat in the right-rear corner, and two corners later we got a caution." The Corvette of Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins and the Ferrari of Domenico Schiattarella rounded out the GTS podium.
After a big crash in qualifying that almost prevented them from taking the green flag for the second consecutive race, Jon and Clint Field finished 12th overall and first in LMP 675. "As of last night, we didn't know where we were at," explained the elder Field after his second win of the season. "We found a fabricator last night and the guys were out there until midnight putting the car back to together, and it worked well." Today's victory was the first of Clint Field's career. The Nissan Pilbeam of Chris Mc Murray, Bryan Willman, and Jeff Bucknum finished second, followed by the Archangel Lola B2K/40 of Ben Devlin and Will Langhorn.
The Alex Job Racing Porsche of Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr won the GT class for the third time this season. "I have to say that it was tough race," Luhr stated. "It was tough competition between our car, the No. 22 car [their teammates Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister], and the No. 66 car [Kevin Buckler and Brian Cunningham]. When I got in the car, Kevin was second. I pushed pretty hard and then he made a mistake at the start/finish line and I passed him on the front straight. Then I was able to hold the position and pull away." Buckler and Cunningham had to settle for second in class and the second Alex Job Porsche finished third.