Laguna Seca Race Report

MONTEREY, CALIF. - J.J. Lehto of Monaco and Steve Soper of England, driving a BMW V12 prototype, took advantage of penalties to other cars Sunday to capture the VISA Sportscar Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway. The Lehto-Soper...

MONTEREY, CALIF. - J.J. Lehto of Monaco and Steve Soper of England, driving a BMW V12 prototype, took advantage of penalties to other cars Sunday to capture the VISA Sportscar Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway. The Lehto-Soper machine posted a 13.889-second victory over a Panoz Roadster wheeled by Johnny O'Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga., and Denmark's Jan Magnussen. Bill Auberlen of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Joachim Winkelhock of Germany were third in a second BMW. The victory was the third for Lehto and second for Soper in American Le Mans Series competition. The pair teamed up for a triumph at Sears Point and Lehto was in the winning BMW at Sebring. They won despite a spin at Turn 10 by Soper with 11 minutes remaining, but Soper gathered it up and continued. "This is really a great victory," Lehto said. "It means a lot to me, especially because the setup work was very hard this time. I'm proud of Steve, even though he brought me close to a heart attack when he spun a couple of laps before the finish. I know he didn't have an easy job driving on used tires." "I really, really, wanted to win that race, but found it too difficult driving on old tires," Soper said. "It was like walking on a tightrope. We've played this game before. It's not the nicest thing to get - a set of tires from Mr. J.J. Lehto - but the chance we had to win was to stick with them. I was just the monk to try the trick with." The penalties started at the midway point of the race when the O'Connell-Magnussen and Auberlen-Winkelhock cars, running 1-2, were given stop-and-go penalties for passing under the yellow. That turned the battle over to the Lehto-Soper car and another Panoz driven by pole winner Eric Bernard of France and David Brabham of England. After Soper spun, the lead went briefly to the Bernard-Brabham car before the latter machine also received a stop-and-go penalty for passing under the yellow, turning the lead back over to the eventual winners. "We had a questionable stop-and-go penalty," said O'Connell. "It cost us the race. I'm pleased we got a good result, but I think we should have had a win." "It's just disappointing from a team point of view," said Brabham. "It's taken us out of the race and it's hurt us in the championship." Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger of Monaco drove a Dodge Viper to victory in the GTS class. Johnny Mowlem of England and David Murry of Atlanta wheeled a Porsche to the GT division triumph, their first class triumph of the year.

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