Championship chases could end at Petit

PETIT LE MANS COULD BRING END TO ALMS CHAMPIONSHIP CHASES Braselton, Ga. - This weekend's Petit Le Mans, Round 9 of the American Le Mans Series, finds a whopping 21 drivers still in the hunt for their respective class drivers championship. As...

PETIT LE MANS COULD BRING END TO ALMS CHAMPIONSHIP CHASES

Braselton, Ga. - This weekend's Petit Le Mans, Round 9 of the American Le Mans Series, finds a whopping 21 drivers still in the hunt for their respective class drivers championship. As far as team titles go, seven squads are holding on to their championship dreams. Any team or driver that leaves Road Atlanta with a lead of 24 points or more can call themselves champions.

The most wide-open race for the drivers title is in LMP1, with eight drivers still mathematically alive. Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, in the No. 2 Champion Racing Audi R8, lead Dyson Racing's Andy Wallace by 18 points (with 49 points remaining in the last two rounds of the season).

Biela and Pirro have been stellar in their first season together in the ALMS since 2002, posting three victories and eight podiums in eight events. As the championship frontrunners, their result will play a large role in the championship outcome. A victory wouldn't necessarily clinch the championship, but it'd be close. Wallace would have to finish one position behind Pirro and Biela to stay alive, regardless of the positions.

"We struggled in April but now we have three very good races behind us," Biela said. "We have the lead in the championship so we are optimistic. Since Petit Le Mans is such a long race, the last two hours will be the most important and therefore finding a good set-up is of utmost importance. A win would be very welcome."

Behind Wallace is a three-way tie for fourth between Chris Dyson and Champion's JJ Lehto and Marco Werner, the defending class champions. All of those drivers need either a win or finish ahead of Biela/Pirro to stay in the race.

Dyson Racing probably needs to win at both Road Atlanta and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (and have the Audis falter along the way) to win its first overall ALMS title. Champion leads the Dyson crew by 19 points.

"We needed to do at least a 1-2 (at Mosport)," team owner Rob Dyson said. "We needed it for a whole lot of reasons. (Champion Racing) did a great job. We try to win championships, and I thought we would have had a shot. The season is not over yet. The lightning may strike and we'll fight as hard as we can to win the championship."

THREE-WAY BATTLE IN P2: This is another barnburner. Class-leading Miracle Motorsports and its No. 10 Courage C65 has three wins this year: Sebring, Lime Rock and Road America.

Teammates Jeff Bucknum and Chris McMurry hold a slim 2-point lead over Clint Field of Intersport Racing. The gap is the same in the team standings. It has been a back-and-forth battle most of the season and likely will be one to go down to the wire in California. Miracle and its drivers can win their championships with a win or runner-up finish and a DNF from Intersport. Intersport and Field would clinch if the car wins and Miracle doesn't finish.

"This is like starting at the beginning of the year," Bucknum said. "Two points may as well be nothing. The key isn't necessarily to win this race. You don't want to give away the championship."

Intersport Racing's No. 37 Lola B05/40 is the fastest car of the group and has a season-best four class wins. Field and Liz Halliday won comfortably at Infineon and Mosport, and they're joined by Jon Field this week.

Jamie Bach and Guy Cosmo will be joined by veteran Elliott Forbes-Robinson in B-K Motorsports' Mazda-powered Courage C65. Even 20 points down, Bach and Cosmo aren't dead yet. They are banking on the reliability of the three-rotor Mazda engine and the experience of Forbes-Robinson to gain ground in the championship.

CORVETTE VS. CORVETTE IN GT1: The team championship here is the only one in the ALMS that has been decided. Corvette Racing sewed that up at Road America two rounds ago. There's more to be said, however, about the closest drivers championship race in the series.

Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta, in the No. 4 Corvette C6-R, lead defending champions Johnny O'Connell and Ron Fellows, from the No. 3 sister entry, by a single point. After finishing behind O'Connell and Fellows in the first three rounds, Gavin and Beretta have reeled off wins in four of the last five races.five of the last six counting the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which they teamed with Jan Magnussen. With their wins at Mosport, the two "Ollies" took over the points lead for the first time in their ALMS careers.

"It's certainly a healthy rivalry. There's no hiding that," Fellows said. "There's always been sharing of information, so there's still a team approaching in terms of engineering. Once we've gone through the first session, everyone sits down and sees which direction the way to go. You still have to maximize the two-car effort."

The presence of Aston Martin Racing here and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca likely will play a role in the championship outcome. A DBR9 is the only car to beat the Corvettes this season.

"Aston Martin has had a couple of disappointing races, but it is a very resilient team," Gavin noted. "At Sebring, we pretty much had the measure of them. We had the speed to beat them, but it was only a severe case of bad luck that took the race win away from us. Then at Le Mans, Corvette Racing did a fantastic job and we came away with an amazing result. Aston Martin, Saleen and Maserati will all be there on race day giving it their best shot, but I have every confidence that we'll be able to beat them."

WILL PETERSEN/WHITE LIGHTNING CLOSE THE DEAL?: If they had finished at Sebring, Alex Job Racing teammates Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas would be on the verge of locking up the drivers championship. Instead, a DNF there plus three victories for Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has put the Las Vegas-based team of Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister in the drivers' seat (pardon the pun).

Long and Bergmeister (winners at Sebring, Road America and Mosport) lead Bernhard and Dumas by 12 points heading into the weekend.

"For sure we need to push. We can't just go and drive," Bergmeister said. "If the No. 23 car is winning we need to finish at least second, so we need to push for it. So far we have not had any problems in the longer races. Sebring and Le Mans the car was really durable. I think the team is doing a really great job prepping the car and I don't see any reason that will change during the last two races. We need to go out and do the same thing we did all year long. I think if you change the strategy the last two races it will bite you."

Ian Baas and Darren Law helped keep the team standings close when they finished second in AJR's No. 24 Porsche at Mosport. Their result offset a sixth-place finish by Bernhard and Dumas and kept Alex Job Racing two points adrift of Petersen/White Lightning.

"We are already faster than we were in the spring," Baas said. "The car is a lot better since then and I have more confidence in the car than I did then. With the long race, our chances will be the best they have been all year."

Petit Le Mans is the ninth round of the American Le Mans Series. The annual 1,000-mile/10-hour race is scheduled for 11:20 a.m. EDT Saturday at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. SPEED Channel will provide live television coverage. Qualifying is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. EDT Friday. American Le Mans Series Radio, and IMSA Living and Timing Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Jan Magnussen , Frank Biela , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Guy Cosmo , Rob Dyson , Jon Field , Oliver Gavin , Darren Law , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Clint Field , Chris McMurry , Jeff Bucknum , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Ian Baas , Liz Halliday , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto
Teams Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Dyson Racing , Alex Job Racing