BRASELTON, Ga. -- What a difference a year makes. Last year, a serious crash for Tom Kristensen at Road Atlanta cost the veteran Danish racer a shot at the win and the American Le Mans Series championship. This year, Kristensen and co-driver...
BRASELTON, Ga. -- What a difference a year makes. Last year, a serious crash for Tom Kristensen at Road Atlanta cost the veteran Danish racer a shot at the win and the American Le Mans Series championship. This year, Kristensen and co-driver Rinaldo Capello atoned for last year's bitter disappointment by driving their yellow-trimmed Joest Racing Audi R8 to victory in the fifth running of the ALMS Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
"The first part of the race we drove very cautiously," Kristensen said moments after clinching Audi's third consecutive ALMS championship. "We made sure we'd finish. We have both matured this year. The reason we matured, was because we wanted this so badly last year and we wanted it even more this year. We realized that finishing races was the only way to win."
Kristensen's fourth win of the season also allowed him to add an ALMS championship to an impressive resume that already includes four victories in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans and two wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
"I'm so happy about my title, but it belongs as much to Dindo [Capello] as it belongs to me," Kristensen added. "To clinch at such an important race, and win the championship and Le Mans in the same year is very satisfying."
Capello, who finished a scant two points behind his teammate in the championship, took his defeat in stride. "I won five races this year, but didn't win the championship. But, for me, it was still a great season."
Kristensen and Capello finished less than one minute ahead of Johnny Herbert and Stefan Johansson in the Champion Audi, which pushed the eventual winners throughout the race thanks in part to the 2002-spec updates they received from the Audi factory several weeks ago.
"Sometimes it's great to be second, but not today," stated a disappointed Johansson. "I thought we had it."
The resurgent Cadillacs made the most of their final ALMS appearance, finishing third and fourth. "This was our fourth podium in a row," explained JJ Lehto, who co-drove the No. 8 Cadillac to third place along with Max Angelelli and Christophe Tinseau. "We didn't need any luck at this race. This is the best position we can do . . . we cannot beat the Audis. It was a nice end to the season."
The No. 51 Panoz of Bryan Herta, Bill Auberlen, and Gunnar Jeanette rounded out the top-five.
A stop-and-go penalty for ramming the No. 25 Saleen and a collision with Andy Wallace's Dyson Racing MG/Lola, which had slowed on course due to a broken fuel line that was spewing gasoline all over the inside of the car, forced the No. 1 Joest Racing Audi to settle for sixth, 22 laps behind the race winning Audi. Prior to the accident, the Dyson car appeared to have a chance at the overall podium, running as high as second in the early going.
The No. 50 Panoz of David Brabham, Jan Magnussen, and David Donohue finished seventh despite contact with Herbert that resulted in a punctured tire just past the two-hour mark and gear selection problems during Brabham's final stint.
Jon Field, Duncan Dayton, and Michael Durand co-drove their No. 37 Intersport Racing MG/Lola to eighth overall and first in the LMP 675 class. Field, who won three races this season, also walked away with the LMP 675 title.
"This win and our championship shows all of that hard work paid off," Field said. "You're going to see more of the MGs on the podium next year, for sure."
Just when it looked like the Prodrive Ferrari of Tomas Enge, Alain Menu, and Peter Kox had finally found the optimum mix of speed and reliability to defeat the seemingly invincible factory-backed Corvettes in an endurance race, a brilliant drive by Ron Fellows combined with an untimely flat tire handed the GTS win to the No. 3 Corvette of Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Oliver Gavin. The win enabled Fellows to claim the GTS championship that narrowly eluded him in 2001.
"We didn't have the speed of the Ferrari," stated Fellows. "But we didn't quit and we got some breaks. We'll take this one. The Goodyear tires I got were great and made that last stint really fun. It was great competition."
In the GT class, the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3 RS of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen survived late race overheating problems to win their seventh race of the year and an equal share of the GT class championship.
"I was nervous all year," explained Maassen. "To do that is not very easy. We had a lot of strategy meetings to try to be equal in points. It's only possible if you have a teammate you can trust. Lucas and I have worked together for two years and we rely on each other."