Road Atlanta: Petit Le Mans race report

Lehto, Werner Win Petit Le Mans; Fellows, O'Connell Clinch GTS Title Braselton, GA - JJ Lehto and Marco Werner survived a grueling sports car endurance race to win the American Le Mans Series Chevy presents Petit Le Mans Saturday at Road ...

Lehto, Werner Win Petit Le Mans; Fellows, O'Connell Clinch GTS Title

Braselton, GA - JJ Lehto and Marco Werner survived a grueling sports car endurance race to win the American Le Mans Series Chevy presents Petit Le Mans Saturday at Road Atlanta.

The drivers of the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 helped Audi clinch its fifth consecutive manufacturer's championship and earned a first team title for Champion. The team also had a sweep of the top two as Johnny Herbert and Pierre Kaffer finished second in another Champion Audi.

Popular Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell became champions again, clinching the GTS class driving title for the second straight year by finishing second in the GTS class.

And driving championship battles in both the LMP2 and GT classes remained alive as the series heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., for the season finale Oct. 14-16.

LMP1 ACTION FIERCE IN EARLY HOURS

The first hours of the 1,000-mile contest featured a hot contest involving five Prototypes in the LMP1 class, with the Dyson Racing Lola B01/60-AER of James Weaver leading much of the early going after starting on the pole.

The two Champion Audis mixed it up with the Creation Autosportif DBA-Zytek of Nicolas Minassian and Jamie Campbell-Walter and the two Dyson Lolas, the other driven by Chris Dyson and Jan Lammers. Also running strongly in the early going was the Intersport Racing Lola B01/60-Judd of Jon Field, Duncan Dayton and Mike Durand.

But one by one, several of the contenders encountered problems, including the Weaver car, which became stuck in fifth gear and then spent time behind the wall for repairs. The Creation machine retired with engine failure, and the Dyson-Lammers car fell several laps behind.

That left the race for the overall win to the two Audis, and the cars traded the lead several times before the Herbert-Kaffer car slid off course and was briefly stuck in a gravel trap in turn 10 with just under two hours left.

"It was a great race for us," said Werner. "We had a lot more competition than the other races. We had a very strong start in the beginning. It was very fun, the car was very good for me in traffic which I think was the secret to winning. We had that little bit of trouble with the louver in the front which affects the downforce. One big moment with Jan Lammers pushing me into the grass, but it was ok cause it was good competition, a good fight. It was no problem."

"We planned to have the weak louvers because the harder they are the more rubber they catch," said Lehto. "When they break it changed the dynamic slightly. We planned on them breaking, but not so early. We started the set-up with a little bit of oversteer so it could end up with just a bit of oversteer. But we had very long and hard stints so it shows the Audi held up. We had a lot of close calls and close competition. That is how it should be."

FELLOWS, O'CONNELL CLINCH GTS DRIVING TITLE

Corvette Racing drivers Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell clinched the GTS class driving championship for 2004 when they finished second in class in the Petit Le Mans behind the winning Chevrolet Corvette C5-R of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen.

The driving title was Fellows' third consecutive in the ALMS, making him the first driver from any class in series history to win three championships. He and O'Connell won the title together for the second straight year.

Fellows, O'Connell and Max Papis led much of the race, although they were never more than a few seconds ahead of their team car. The lead changed hands in the pits under a full-course caution approximately three hours from the finish and the Gavin-Beretta-Magnussen car led to the finish.

Magnussen drove two stints in the race despite being ill with bronchitis.

"It was all down to the pit stops," said Gavin. "One thing we knew, since the cars were so close, was we had to make a clean pass. Doug Fehan (Corvette team manager) said it had to be 100 percent clean; that being said, the only way that happens is in the pits and get a good out-lap. As I got through turn one, he (Fellows) was leaving the pits. He made it right for me, he could have turned it on at the blend line and make it hard. We got in traffic with a whole gaggle of cars, I got around an Alex Job car but Ron got put in the grass. That was the turning point for the race. It was a great show for them, but it's a great win for us. This is a great feeling, like when the three of us won Le Mans."

"On the second to last pit stop, the other car (#4) beat us out of the pits and opened up a small lead," said Fellows. "The win would have been nice, but I had to think of the championship. I had to see the big picture."

"It was a good race," said O'Connell. "We didn't have quite the grip at the end. Ron and I approached the race intent on the championship. Max Papis was very professional and came here to help make it happen. Now that it has been settled we can go to Laguna and let it all hang out. We were lucky to have Max with us to help."

"We have a very good team, everyone can see we work well as a group," said Beretta. "Ollie, Jan, and I, we have a great organization so that makes for a great team. Everything went well, we could push hard but easy enough that it would last. I love racing here and winning this and Le Mans in the same year with the Corvettes."

INTERSPORT WINS LMP2, REMAINS TITLE CONTENDER

The LMP2 championship race remained alive in both the driver and team category as Intersport Racing drivers Clint Field, Robin Liddell and Milka Duno took a class win in the Petit Le Mans and leader Miracle Motorsports scored no points due to mechanical failures that sidelined both of its cars.

Field and Liddell won for the fifth time this season in Intersport's Lola B2K/40-Judd and closed to within 21 points of class driver points leader Ian James. James tried valiantly to repair the Miracle Courage C65-AER after it stopped on course due to an electrical problem, and managed to "bump" start the car to drive it back to the pits, but the team retired the car after finding the problem to be terminal for the race.

James Gue and John Macaluso co-drove with James and had the Courage in the lead for much of the race before it retired after only 128 laps.

"We had a reliable car, it's the strong point," said Field. "Robin and Milka did great jobs, but reliability was on our sides. We were pushed in the beginning. The car keeps running and running."

"It was a great win and I'm extremely happy for myself and the team," said Liddell. "Road America was disappointing after we were disqualified. We've kept the championship alive. The LMP2 cars can be light and problematic, our car was faultless. The engine didn't miss a beat, we were double-stinting tires. There was a better field in P2 than all season, its too bad they weren't right there at the end.

"We were pretty conservative," he said. "The nature of this track makes lapping difficult. I was using the car's ability to get through traffic while driving conservatively. I had a close call near the finish, there was a Porsche who didn't see me, it was close, but he didn't touch me. Sometimes its difficult to be too careful."

Andy Lally, Ryan Eversley and Spencer Pumpelly finished second in the LMP2 class in the Marshall Cooke Racing Lola B2K/40-Millington, the only other P2 car running at the finish.

ALEX JOB CARS 1-2 IN GT CLASS

Alex Job Racing's two Porsche entries battled to the end, with Timo Bernhard, Jorg Bergmeister and Sascha Maassen scoring a narrow .367-second win over Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Wolf Henzler.

The win was Bernhard's fifth of the season in the ALMS, and Maassen's 22nd career ALMS victory.

"That was not a photo finish opportunity," said Bernhard. "We were racing hard to the end. A car spun in front of me near the end and that allowed Romain to catch up. It was a hard finish."

"I had two times a situation to overtake (the other Job car)," said Maassen, who scored his first ALMS win in the 1999 Petit Le Mans as an added third driver with the Job team. "In traffic I had the experience so I could pull away. I had to put pressure on Henzler, I made the pass in the chicane and had to make a big gap. Thanks to Timo, Jorg, and Alex Job for preparing both cars so well.

"You have to drive with the right team," Maassen said of his fourth win in the Petit Le Mans. "The first year I was an unknown driver and didn't make mistakes so I was invited back. I had to be quick, I didn't think I'd have to push it this weekend, but I was wrong."

Finishing third in the GT class was the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Porsche of Craig Stanton and David Murry.

-alms-

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Milka Duno , Jan Lammers , Duncan Dayton , Jan Magnussen , James Weaver , Nicolas Minassian , Max Papis , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , David Murry , Robin Liddell , Jon Field , Sascha Maassen , Ian James , Andy Lally , Jörg Bergmeister , Jamie Campbell-Walter , John Macaluso , James Gue , Marco Werner , Clint Field , Spencer Pumpelly , Marc Lieb , Craig Stanton , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Ryan Eversley , Pierre Kaffer , Wolf Henzler , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , JJ Lehto
Teams Corvette Racing , Dyson Racing , Alex Job Racing