Le Mans Series returns to Sears Point

SONOMA, Calif. - The speed and excitement of exotic sports car racing will return to Sears Point Raceway July 21-23 with the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma. Factory efforts from BMW, Audi and Panoz, plus privateer efforts from ...

SONOMA, Calif. - The speed and excitement of exotic sports car racing will return to Sears Point Raceway July 21-23 with the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Factory efforts from BMW, Audi and Panoz, plus privateer efforts from such teams as Rafanelli figure to give the event an even stronger field than in 1999, when Finland's J.J. Lehto and England's Steve Soper not only won the Prototype title at Sears Point, but also the overall championship for BMW.

"That was a great win for me and for BMW," Lehto said. "We hope to accomplish the same feat again this year at Sears Point."

The Panoz team, which took second and third in Prototype at Sears Point last year, will feature Formula One veterans David Brabham and Jan Magnussen, Indianapolis 500 veteran Johnny O'Connell and Japan's Hiroki Katoh. BMW, under the banner of Schnitzer Motorsports, returns after victories last year at Sebring, Sears Point and Le Mans.

Audi unveiled a new machine that followed in the footsteps of its R8R. Team Rafanelli also debuted a new Le Mans prototype called the Rafanelli V-10, built by Lola Cars. Its driver lineup includes F-1 vets Pierluigi Martini and Mimmo Schiattarella and seasoned sports car veterans Max Angelelli and Didier de Radigues.

In the GTS class, the Dodge Vipers are back with American Le Mans Series driver champion Olivier Beretta and F-1 vet Karl Wendlinger heading the driver list. They'll be challenged by the Corvettes, to be wheeled by Ron Fellows and Chris Kneifel. Beretta teamed with David Donohue of Malvern (Pa.) to win at Sears Point a year ago.

In GT, new Porsches are on the scene to battle with the BMW M3s for another season. Johannes Van Overbeek, a local driver from Danville, will be on board for BMW, which won the Sears Point race a year ago behind Hans Stuck and Boris Said.

The Women's Global GT Series also returns to Sears Point as a companion event for the weekend. Last year, Cindi Lux of Aloha (Ore.) won the Sears Point round en route to the series championship.

Among the returnees are four-time Olympian Divina Galica, who sits in first place after the first two events of the season. Galica, a native of England, won at Lowe's Motor Speedway and took second at Sebring. She is followed in the standings by Germany's Sonja Bayer and Belinda Endress of Newbury Park. Lux sits in sixth place after two events.

The American Le Mans Series, founded by Don Panoz, expanded its schedule from eight races to 12 in 2000 and includes events in England, Germany and Australia. The Sears Point round will be the first race in North America following the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Women's Global GT Series, also founded by Panoz as a companion event, is the first women's professional racing series in North America and featured five different winners in six races last year.

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Series ALMS , IMSA Others
Drivers David Brabham , Didier de Radigues , J.J. Lehto , Chris Kneifel , Boris Said , Karl Wendlinger , Johnny O'Connell , David Donohue , Mimmo Schiattarella , Don Panoz , Belinda Endress , Olivier Beretta , Steve Soper , Cindi Lux , Divina Galica