Portland: Race report

MCNISH, CAPELLO MAKE WINNING RETURN IN PORTLAND PORTLAND (July 22, 2006) - Diesel power is starting to take hold in the American Le Mans Series. The Audi R10 TDI remained unbeaten in three Series races as Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello won the...

MCNISH, CAPELLO MAKE WINNING RETURN IN PORTLAND

PORTLAND (July 22, 2006) - Diesel power is starting to take hold in the American Le Mans Series. The Audi R10 TDI remained unbeaten in three Series races as Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello won the Portland Grand Prix on Saturday, their fourth overall victory of the season.

McNish and Capello survived the heat, attrition and Portland International Raceway's Festival Curves to win in the Rose City for the first time since 2000. McNish and Capello, the LMP1 championship leaders, finished 42.051 seconds ahead of Audi teammates Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro in the other R10 TDI. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith in the No. 20 Dyson Racing Lola B06/10- AER finished third.

"I had total knowledge that it's an Audi. It doesn't fall apart," McNish said. "With this type of racing, anything can happen. The important factor was to keep ourselves in the game."

The other key factors were making it through the chicane at the end of the frontstretch at the race start and coping with the heat that reached 95 degrees in the air and 115 on the track. The heat and humidity made the technical turns at Portland, such as the Festival Curves, a real issue for all the teams.

"The big challenge for me was to stay on the track," said Capello, who drove the first stint. "After I got hit on the first corner, the car got really difficult to drive. I had a big oversteer going right. To be honest, I was really happy when we got the full-course yellow. I was doing so much time and was afraid to make a huge mistake. The car was really unpredictable. It really was a nightmare for me to drive."

McNish and Capello won overall for the fourth time this season and fifth time in class to extend their LMP1 championship lead. Their No. 2 Audi R10 TDI set a race record by completing 142 laps.

"It was a great race again," Capello said. "We should have won in Salt Lake City. Now we have won here. We knew that the Dyson and Porsche were really fast. We showed our car is fast and reliable, but in the first stint something made it really hard to drive so we made some changes when Allan got in the car. So it's great to see the car come around."

Liz Halliday became the winningest female in Series history with her sixth career win as she and Clint Field gave Intersport Racing its third LMP2 victory of the season in LMP2. Halliday took the lead with seven minutes to go as Penske Racing's No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder sat helplessly in pitlane with a blown engine. Entering the race with a 1-point lead in the class drivers championship, they leave with a 5-point advantage over Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen.

"This one's for the team," said Halliday, who moved past Milka Duno for most Series wins by a female. "They are the ones who keep this Lola going around forever. Slow and steady wins the race has been our motto. We know we can't keep pace with the Porsches but they had some problems today that played into our favor. Great luck today."

Intersport's AER-powered Lola B05/40 opened the season with consecutive wins at Sebring and Houston. The car has finished every race except one this year and has earned championship points in each of the Series' six rounds of 2006. In the class team championship standings, the Ohio-based independent trails the Penske crew by just 3 points heading into the next round at Road America. Never one to back down to a challenge (just ask Penske and Porsche), Intersport is showing no signs of letting up even as three Acura P2 entries loom for 2007.

"We came away from Salt Lake a little disappointed. We took second which was great but we were disappointed with our pace," Field said. "This week we were a little closer to Porsche. The grip wasn't good. Our pace in the race was a second to a second-and-a-half off. We kept going around and were happy to capitalize on their reliability.

"When a company like Porsche comes into the Series, they're going to do it right," Field added. "We want to beat them outright. Toward the end of this year and next year, I think we can get closer and beat them fair and square. We have a good car, engine package and tires. With the announcement that Porsche was coming in, we upped our game and we'll do the same for Acura. Hopefully we'll be as quick as they are."

Corvette Racing returned to victory circle in GT1 as Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin won at Portland for the second year in a row. Beretta started from the class pole as he, Gavin and the crew of the No. 4 Corvette C6.R ran faultlessly.

Gavin and Beretta, defending class champions, won by nearly a minute over the Aston Martin Racing DBR9 of Tomas Enge and Darren Turner. The two pairings sit 1-2 in the championship standings after six rounds, and Corvette Racing holds an 11-point edge over Aston Martin in the team championship.

Aston Martin Racing won the two previous Series rounds, halting an eight- race win streak by Gavin and Beretta that began here last year.

"The car was very good. We tried to avoid the mess up in the chicane," said Beretta, who also posted the class' fastest race lap and is now a four-time winner at Portland. "I just took care not to make any mistakes. In the end, we managed to cruise. This is an unbelievable team. They work so hard."

It wasn't as easy as it looked for the two Ollies. In addition to the heat, the Corvettes had issues with their air conditioning units, and Beretta drove his 65-minute opening stint with his drinks bottle not working. But that was about all that went wrong.

"The balance stayed consistent throughout and we could push throughout," Gavin said. "This is not a tire-friendly track for any manufacturer. But I think Michelin has the best tire for here. We had to make sure we didn't burn it up. The pit stops were a little tough for everyone. Maybe we just had the least amount of issues and that was one of the things that won the race."

The pole-sitting Risi Competizione Ferrari F430GT came from the rear of the field after a first-lap collision sent Jamie Melo to the pits. But like they did last weekend at Miller Motorsports Park, Melo and Mika Salo returned from the back of the pack to record a hard-earned GT2 victory. The duo is the first pairing to win multiple times this season in the American Le Mans Series' most competitive class.

"It's not very good because we have to work a lot," said the pole-sitting Melo, who had another off near the 90-minute mark. "After we changed the tires, the car was working very well. We tried to push as much as possible. The team did a very good job as well. The Michelin tires worked very well, so the package is very good. The results are coming."

Salo made the winning pass on Patrick Long in the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche with 18 minutes remaining. Only a few laps earlier, Long pitted for a late splash of fuel but didn't take on fresh tires in hopes that the Michelins would hold up the remaining 25 minutes.

Long rejoined the race with a 1.38-second lead over the Ferrari. But Salo with fresher tires and traffic ahead of Long proved to be the difference. The Ferrari eventually finished 20 seconds ahead of the Petersen/White Lightning Porsche. In third was Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand in BMW Team PTG's No. 21 BMW M3, another 28 seconds behind.

"I think we have the best package," Melo said. "We work very hard for that, and it's great for the team and everyone. Our car is working really well with the tires, so we have good traction with the car."

The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Generac 500 at Road America, set for 2 p.m. CDT on Sunday, August 20th. The race will be televised live by SPEED. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA Live Timing & Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Milka Duno , Tomas Enge , Rinaldo Capello , Allan McNish , Guy Smith , Frank Biela , Mika Salo , Darren Turner , Bill Auberlen , Joey Hand , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Oliver Gavin , Patrick Long , Clint Field , Olivier Beretta , Liz Halliday , Chris Dyson , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Team Penske , Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing