Laguna Seca: Champion Racing race report

Team ADT Champion Racing's American Le Mans Series title aspirations suffered a setback in the seventh round of the series at Laguna Seca, CA, today (07 Sep). The Florida-based team's Audi R8 sportscar driven by Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto ...

Team ADT Champion Racing's American Le Mans Series title aspirations suffered a setback in the seventh round of the series at Laguna Seca, CA, today (07 Sep). The Florida-based team's Audi R8 sportscar driven by Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto recovered to claim fourth place overall and third in the LMP900 class having lost eight minutes changing the car's rear end.

Herbert started the 165-minute race in hot Californian sunshine from third place on the 34-car grid behind the pole-sitting Joest Audi of Frank Biela/Marco Werner and the LMP675 Lola-MG of James Weaver/Butch Leitzinger.

The ADT Champion Audi, which had sections of its wiring loom replaced after an electrical "short" caused a brief fire during the morning warm-up, moved up to second place when Johnny went around the outside of Weaver at Turn 2 following the start.

Biela led Herbert by just 2.9secs after 15mins (9 laps completed) but moments later a circuit breaker that regulates the turbo boost popped out, causing the Team ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 to lose power.

Johnny reached down inside the cockpit to push the offending item back into place but dropped to third place and 10secs behind leader Biela. With 30 minutes run (21 laps), Biela led Weaver by 9.9secs with Herbert a further 1.6secs adrift as Johnny, now back up to full speed, desperately tried to reclaim second place.

But any hopes of victory were dashed when Herbert reported a strange noise from the gearbox shortly before the hour mark. Johnny pitted on 54mins, re-fuelled and took on a new set of tires before driving through the paddock and into the pit garage where the crew changed the complete rear section which includes the gearbox.

Lehto re-entered the race on 63mins in 24th position overall (fifth in LMP900), seven laps down on leader Biela. A determined drive saw Lehto enter the final hour placed eighth overall, fifth in class as the "Flying Finn" made up ground to keep alive his and Champion Racing's championship title hopes.

JJ pitted from fourth place overall (third in class) for fuel and front tires with 38mins remaining. Despite being far and away the fastest on the track in the closing stages, Lehto was unable to reduce the over two-lap deficit to the third-placed Panoz of Olivier Beretta/David Saelens after a fantastic recovery.

Johnny Herbert (39). Born: Brentwood, Essex, UK. Lives: Monte Carlo:

ALMS stats: 23 starts, 3 wins, 14 top-3s, 18 top-5s, 20 top-10s.

"I lost second place when a circuit breaker popped out - a problem connected to our electrical warm-up problem earlier in the day. I couldn't see the breaker box and had to reach down inside the cockpit and push it back in to place by feel but I'd dropped to third place by then. Shortly before the hour mark the gearbox started making a very odd noise. It wasn't affecting the performance but the team felt it wise to change the gearbox."

JJ Lehto (37). Born: Espoo, Finland. Lives: Monte Carlo:

ALMS stats: 37 starts, 12 wins (7 overall), 28 top-3s, 32 top-5s, 34 top-10s.

"We could have done without this today obviously as it does us no favors in terms of the championship. We really needed to beat the Joest Audi today but while they had a faultless race, we lost over eight minutes changing the rear section. Now we must win in Miami and Road Atlanta and hope that Frank [Biela] and Marco [Werner] have problems to have a chance of championship honors."

2003 America Le Mans Series -- Driver's Standings (after 7 races)

1  Frank Biela/Marco Werner, 135

3 JJ Lehto, 117
4 Johnny Herbert, 114
5 Olivier Beretta, 92
6 David Saelens, 66

2003 America Le Mans Series -- Teams' Standings (after 7 races) 1 Infineon Team Joest, 135
2 Team ADT Champion Racing, 117
3 JML Team Panoz, 95

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , David Saelens , Frank Biela , James Weaver , Marco Werner , Olivier Beretta , JJ Lehto