LEHTO, WERNER DRIVE TO VICTORY IN RECORD-BREAKING DAY AT SPORTSBOOK.COM GRAND PRIX OF ATLANTA
Braselton, Ga. - JJ Lehto and Marco Werner methodically went about their business Sunday and drove their No. 1 Champion Racing Audi R8 to victory in the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta in another history-making day in the American Le Mans Series.
Lehto posted his 22nd career class victory, which tied Sascha Maassen for the ALMS' all-time record. Lehto and Werner turned a close race at the two-hour mark into a comfortable victory: 44.7 seconds over the No. 20 Dyson Racing Lola of Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson.
The two Audi drivers won in the series' first race of 2005, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Audi now has won seven straight races at Road Atlanta, site of Round 2 of the ALMS.
The No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger appeared to have a strong grip on the race at the halfway point. But Leitzinger spun twice in the final 25 minutes, including one with less than 10 minutes left near Turn 3 caused by a broken halfshaft that left it stuck on the side of the track.
"It was really tough," said Lehto, who won his fourth straight race at Road Atlanta, also an ALMS record. "There were so many things going on in the race. I thought it was going to be really tough catching (the No. 16). But the yellows played mostly in our favor. Without the yellows, we never could have made up that 45-second or so gap. It was a race of tactics, and we really took advantage of the pit stop strategy."
In LMP2, the No. 37 Telesis Intersport Racing Lola of Clint Field and Jon Field posted a six-lap victory over the No. 8 Mazda-powered B-K Motorsports Courage, making its race debut.
"We had a loose alternator belt that cost us a few laps," Clint Field said. "Other than that, the Lola ran smoothly."
Johnny O'Connell and Ron Fellows joined Lehto and Maassen by earning their 22nd career class victories as they teamed to win the GT1 title in their No. 3 Corvette Racing C6-R. The duo posted a one-lap victory over their sister car, the No. 4 of Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin.
"It's just a great car," O'Connell said. "This C6 suits me so well. In qualifying, it was the best car I've ever driven for this team. Ron did a great first stint in the race, and we easily kept a gap on the No. 4 car. We always felt in control with this car."
In GT2, the No. 50 Panoz Esperante GTLM of Bill Auberlen and Robin Liddell posted the Road Atlanta-based team's first victory in GT2. It was a see-saw of emotions for Liddell, who had to hold off Timo Bernhard in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche in the waning minutes.
Bernhard took the lead when he bumped Liddell at Turn 7 with less than five minutes left. But IMSA officials forced Bernhard into the pits for a stop-and-go penalty that handed the lead back to Liddell. It was similar to another incident Liddell was involved in earlier in the day in a Speed World Challenge event.
"I thought it was all over in Turn 7 and my heart was up in the air," Liddell said. "I have no problem with the guy that tried to pass me. He took advantage when he saw the opportunity, and I would have done the same."