JJ Lehto: A lap of Road America

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JJ Lehto: A lap of Road America

Motorsport.com has asked drivers from the American Le Mans Series and the SCCA SPEED World Challenge to give our readers an insight of some of the 2005 venues that they will compete on. This coming weekend the ALMS drivers will compete on the ...

Motorsport.com has asked drivers from the American Le Mans Series and the SCCA SPEED World Challenge to give our readers an insight of some of the 2005 venues that they will compete on. This coming weekend the ALMS drivers will compete on the 4.048-mile Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin -- the longest track on the ALMS circuit.

JJ Lehto and Marco Werner.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
JJ Lehto co-pilots the No. 1 ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 with Marco Werner. The two expert endurance racers teamed up with Tom Kristensen to hand the US-based Champion Audi team their first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory this past June.

Lehto's first win at Le Mans came in 1995 and ten years later, he had his second one. After an extensive career in other racing series, including a stint in Formula 1, Lehto has been enjoying the past two year driving for the Champion team.

When he returned in 2003, he held records but was missing the drivers' title. Lehto and Werner took the victory last year at Road America, a win that locked up the LM P1 drivers' championship -- the second for Werner, the first for Lehto.

In his own words, the Finn takes our readers on a flying lap around the historic road course.

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JJ's Lap of Road America - August 2005
By JJ Lehto

For me Road America is the best track in the US - it's long, wide, and safe, in fact the safety standard is high even compared to European standards. And it's one of those races I really enjoy driving - it's challenging, and you have to find a good set-up on the car that will work everywhere - and that isn't easy!

So we start the lap - going into Turn 1, which is a 6th gear corner you are doing about 290kph, you brake easy into the corner, but it's actually quite tricky because the braking is hard so you need to find the limit that will get the car into and out of the corner safely. Once you're through the exit you need to open up the throttle quickly ready for the down hill run. Changing from 4th to 5th gear you arrive at Turn 2 which is a little bit difficult because it's slippery going into the corner, but braking is fine because you're coming down from 5th to 3rd gear.

#38 Champion Racing Audi R8: JJ Lehto, Marco Werner.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
You come out onto the front straight which is very fast and you're quickly back up to 6th gear, over the hill, but no sooner are you over it than there's the tight left hander which is Turn 3. Here braking is difficult because you have to hit the brakes hard and come down to 2nd gear at the same time as turning in - it's another slippery corner so you have to be careful when braking and try to maintain a good line.

Up the hill from 2nd to 3rd, and 3rd to 4th gear, over another little brow and braking "blind" you arrive at Turn 4.

Turn 4 is taken in 2nd gear, not difficult, and once you are out it's quickly up to 3rd then 4th before arriving at the right hander Turn 5. This corner is quite fast and you need to use the kerbs here, but not too much because it upsets car. Out of Turn 5, down the hill reaching 5th gear, but then you have to brake hard again into the slow left hander that is Turn 6. This is taken quite slowly because it's bumpy as well as being a little bit slippery, so it's difficult getting the car "settled" properly in this corner, but it's important to do so in order to get the transition right for the next part of the lap.

Once out of Turn 6, it's back on the power before arriving at the long, long, long right hander heading onto the back straight, you have to be really patient and to have set up the car well in order to get it through here because you need to be confident that you can build up the speed without lifting off at the end of the corner!

Then out of Turn 6, back up to 5th gear, down hill a little and immediately you are on the back straight, through the right hand kink, very fast and difficult because the sensation of speed through here makes it feel faster than it actually is because it's quite narrow as you go through this corner. Then along the back straight with a couple of slight left hand corners by which time the speed has built up to around 285kph.

#1 Champion Racing Audi R8: JJ Lehto, Marco Werner.
Photo by Richard Sloop.
Then you brake hard into Turn 7 which is a really tight right hand corner going up hill, it's also slippery going in, so you have to be careful not to overdrive it because it's important to come out of the corner smoothly. Accelerate out up from 4th to 5th gear and you arrive at Turn 8 under the bridge - very tricky, but nice to drive because the bridge gives the impression that it's tighter than it really is. You need a lot of downforce and a well balanced car to get through here.

Finally Turn 9, the last right hander before the start/finish straight, a very bumpy 3rd gear corner which you just have to survive in order to come out of it safely ready to begin another lap!

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