ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Despite two late-race stop-and-go penalties and stiff competition from their Joest racing teammates, the Audi R8 duo of Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen led an Audi sweep of the podium this afternoon in the Road America 500.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Despite two late-race stop-and-go penalties and stiff competition from their Joest racing teammates, the Audi R8 duo of Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen led an Audi sweep of the podium this afternoon in the Road America 500. Despite Audi's seeming invincibility in the American Le Mans Series, today's win was Capello's first since the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and Kristensen's first since he and Capello won at Sears Point last July.
"The heat and our teammates pushed us," explained Kristensen, who celebrated his 35th birthday today with his fifth career ALMS win. "But we feel okay."
"I feel tired now, but in the car I was okay," remarked Capello.
The No. 1 Audi of Emanuele Pirro led early on, followed closely by the No. 2 Audi of Kristensen, which survived first lap contact with Jan Magnussen's Panoz as the two entered Turn 1, and the Champion Audi of Johnny Herbert. After spending almost half an hour running in Kristensen's wake, Pirro finally worked his way past his teammate as the two Audi's entered Turn 14 and rocketed up the front stretch toward the start/finish line.
"On a full tank, he [Pirro] put us under pressure," said Kristensen. "I stayed inside and he stayed outside, he did a great move on me, you couldn't put a phone book from a very small city between us. Overall, he was quicker than me."
Except for a brief period of time in which Kristensen momentarily regained the lead after the first round of pit stops, Pirro continued to pace the field until Rinaldo Capello, who had taken over behind the wheel of the No. 2 Audi, beat Frank Biela out of the pits under the first yellow.
Capello maintained the lead until he stopped again 50 minutes later during the race's second yellow, handing the lead to the Champion Audi of Stefan Johansson, who opted to pit later than both Biela and Capello. Once Johansson pitted, Capello re-assumed control of the race. But that didn't last long, as Biela inherited the lead a short time later when Capello was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for passing before the field had been shown the green flag. And if that wasn't enough, Capello received another stop-and-go penalty less than 10 minutes later for passing under a local yellow.
"I am quite sure I didn't overtake the car under yellow," stated Capello. "They called me in, but they gave the green to the car in front of me."
Luckily, Johansson spun his Audi in Turn 8, bringing out the third caution of the race just as Capello rejoined the battle. Johansson's timely spin enabled Capello to line up right behind Biela on the subsequent restart. Biella pitted several laps later, opening the door one final time for Capello and Kristensen. And quick pit work by Capello's crew allowed him to cross the finish line 32 seconds ahead of Biela.
"It was not very good from my perspective," explained Johansson, who hung on to complete the Audi sweep of the podium. "I made a mistake that may have cost us the race as it turned out, so I'm not very happy at the moment. A third is a third, but when you are here for a win, have the opportunity for a win, and toss it away, it is always hard to accept."
Surprisingly, the Lola B2K/10/Judd of Clint and Joel Field finished fourth, seven laps behind the all-conquering Audi triumvirate.
The No. 4 Corvette of Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins finished fifth overall and first in the GTS class, one lap ahead of the No. 3 Corvette of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Oliver Gavin and two laps ahead of the Ferrari 550 Maranello of Emanuelle Naspetti and Domenico Schiattarella. The win was the first for Collins and Pilgrim.
"We missed a bit of track time with a gearbox casing problem and our engineers got together and calculated four different things to do with the car to make it better," said Collins. "We were a little worried with the sunshine, that the track temperatures would increase and that the Goodyear's weren't going to work quite as well. They were actually outstanding and I was quite surprised the track had quite a bit of grip for us -- the Corvette was perfect, no complaints."
Eighth overall, and first in the GT class, was the No. 22 Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3 RS of Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister, both of whom scored their first career ALMS victories today.
"It was a good race, a very close race," explained Bernhard. "The track got faster and faster towards the end because there was more rubber on the track, so at the end it was quite fast. Every lap it got better and better."
"We had some bad luck at Sebring and finished ninth," added Bergmeister. "Then at Sears Point we were third, then second at Mid-Ohio, and now the win. It was a really nice race at the end. We were on pretty soft tires at the last stop and the car was really perfect, a lot of fun to drive."
Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen finished second in GT and ninth overall.
The Lola B2K40/Millington of Ben Devlin, Larry Oberto, and Peter MacLeod captured the LMP 675 class, finishing tenth overall.
"It's a development year for us," said Oberto. "We can't match the MGs on speed, but maybe we can beat them on reliability." Both MGs succumbed to various ailments this afternoon. Jon Field's MG-Lola had electrical problems and the Knighthawk MG-Lola experienced an oil fire very early in the race.
With his first win of the season, Kristensen increased his lead over Herbert in the ALMS points standings.