Chris Dyson's American Le Mans Series Championship earned in season of Trials and Tribulations BRASELTON, Ga. - As he sat in the post-race media interview room after winning the 2003 American Le Mans Series driving championship for the LMP 675...
Chris Dyson's American Le Mans Series Championship earned in season of Trials and Tribulations
BRASELTON, Ga. - As he sat in the post-race media interview room after winning the 2003 American Le Mans Series driving championship for the LMP 675 class, Chris Dyson was both ecstatic and exhausted. In dramatic fashion, his title wasn't sealed until he and the Dyson Racing Team endured a day full of trials and tribulations in the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
It was that kind of season for the 25-year-old driver from Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In only his second season of driving on the professional sports car racing series, and in his first full-season campaign, Dyson was part of the driving team in four class race wins for the #20 Dyson Lola EX257-AER/MG. Though the car competes in a class that includes smaller and less-powerful Prototypes than those in the LMP 900 class, Dyson Racing's two cars were consistently competitive with the fastest P900 cars throughout the season.
Dyson started the season with a class win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with co-drivers Chad Block and Didier de Radigues. Although Dyson Racing has been one of the most successful North American sports car racing teams of the past 15 years, and provided cars that Elliott Forbes-Robinson drove to the inaugural American Le Mans Series driving title in 1999, the Sebring triumph was the team's first race win in ALMS competition.
For the bulk of the rest of the season, Dyson co-drove with veteran British driver Andy Wallace and the duo took LMP 675 class wins at Mosport International Raceway near Toronto, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., and on the Miami Downtown street circuit. In both the Mosport and Road America events, the car finished second overall.
But it was never easy. The Sebring win came after the team bounced back from a multitude of problems during the 12-hour endurance event. At Road America, the team had to battle from the rear after the car wouldn't start on the grid.
Team owner Rob Dyson described the season finale as a "microcosm of our entire season. We were down and looking at climbing out of a deep hole. But our guys are winners and they don't quit."
Again driving with Block and De Radigues because of the extra distance of the race, Chris Dyson needed to finish 70 percent of the race in order to score points and secure the championship. He and De Radigues drove the first two stints of the race and the car had risen to third overall, but that all went away when Block crashed the car on cold tires while exiting the pits for his first stint. He was able to get the car back to the pits, but the car had suffered heavy damage.
The Dyson crew, which had already seen the #16 team car driven by Wallace, James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger succumb to mechanical woes, went to work in an effort to salvage the day and the championship. Miraculously, the car was repaired and returned to the track, many laps down but at speed and able to complete the amount of distance needed for Chris to win the title.
"We certainly didn't make it easy for ourselves (in the race)," Chris Dyson said. "But racing's all about triumphing over adversity, and we've had some great success this year. This is really a credit to the team and my great teammates, without whom this wouldn't have happened.
"No one in this organization - and that includes all of our suppliers - is ever satisfied, and we're always looking for the edge over our competition," he said. "I happened to be the beneficiary of our great fortune, and for that I'm really grateful."
Rob Dyson, who invested a great deal of resources and development into the Lola-MG, was rewarded not only with a driving title for his son and a team championship, but also the deep satisfaction of the overall race win scored by Weaver and Leitzinger in the series event held at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., in July.
The next night, at the series awards banquet, he was touched to learn that fans of the series had selected him as the 2003 recipient of the coveted "From the Fans" award, presented annually to the person or group making the greatest contributions to sports car racing.
But being the fierce competitor that he is, the team owner was deeply unsatisfied when the #16 entry went out early in the Petit Le Mans after leading the time charts in most of the practice sessions prior to the race.
"As a car owner, I'm concerned that we lost a car so early in the race," he said. "We're committed to this car and to this series. We want to remain competitive and do what has to be done. We lack some areas of reliability and we'll work on this. We are here to win races overall, not just in class. We'll do what has to be done to stay competitive. Our goal for 2004 is to be just as big a pain to the competition as we can be."