BIELA, PIRRO WIN AT INFINEON FOR FIRST ALMS VICTORY IN 2005 Emanuele Pirro celebrates his victory with Frank Biela in the No. 2 Champion Racing Audi on Sunday at Infineon Raceway. Sonoma, Calif. - Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro won for the...
BIELA, PIRRO WIN AT INFINEON FOR FIRST ALMS VICTORY IN 2005
Emanuele Pirro celebrates his victory with Frank Biela in the No. 2 Champion Racing Audi on Sunday at Infineon Raceway.
Sonoma, Calif. - Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro won for the first time this year in their No. 2 Champion Racing Audi R8, taking the Infineon Technologies Grand Prix of Sonoma presented by Ravenswood Winery on Sunday at Infineon Raceway. Johnny O'Connell and Ron Fellows did a little celebrating of their own as well, as they stood on top of the GT1 podium at Infineon for the fifth straight time.
All in all, it was an entertaining day at Infineon Raceway as the American Le Mans Series visited the West Coast for the first time in 2005.
Biela and Pirro finished nearly a lap ahead of the No. 20 Dyson Racing Lola of Chris Dyson and Andy Wallace. The victory was the first for the Biela-Pirro duo since Miami in 2002, a season in which they won three times. Biela hadn't won since the 2004 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
"The races are getting more competitive and nice to drive in," Pirro said. "The cars are equal, and you can never be comfortable. Sometimes winning is a matter of time in the pit stops."
The No. 1 Champion Racing Audi of JJ Lehto and Marco Werner had led for more than two hours before Werner, coming out of pit lane, made contact with the No. 5 Pacific Coast Motorsports Corvette C5-R, causing both cars to go off course. The upper wishbone broke on the right side of the car. The team replaced it, and the car continued, although the car went down a lap.
"It's a very difficult corner (Turn 1), even if you are on your own," Biela said. "It is very bumpy, and that unsettles the car. If you are alone, there is no problem. In traffic, you never know how they will react. In the warm-up, I had a car get way outside and normally wasn't the line for a sports car. That makes it very difficult."
Dyson Racing's challenge to the Champion Racing group effectively ended early. Butch Leitzinger spun on the opening lap after making contact with Pirro. Then Wallace, the polesitter in the No. 20 Lola, lost fuel pressure just shy of the one-hour mark at the Carrousel. Wallace also said the car was having trouble in first gear, as well.
In LMP2, the No. 37 Intersport Racing Lola B05/40 returned to victory lane as Clint Field and Liz Halliday teamed for their first win together. The pole-sitting Lola fell to second behind the No. 10 Miracle Motorsports Courage of Jeff Bucknum and Chris McMurry. But the Courage spun coming out of Turn 11 with 25 minutes left, and Field made the pass and held on for his second straight class win at Infineon.
Clint Field and Liz Halliday won for the first time in the ALMS together on Sunday in the No. 37 Intersport Racing Lola B05/40.
"This was a great race for us. Liz had a pretty uneventful first stint. She got passed by some of the GT1 cars but she did a great job getting them back and keeping it clean," Field said. "We caught some good breaks, especially with the yellows. We were about 30 seconds down to the No. 10 car when a yellow came out. If it hadn't, I might have been able to catch him because we were making about three seconds a lap faster, but getting past them is another question."
It also marked Halliday's first class win in four ALMS races. Her previous best was 12th in class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last season.
"I think we had the best stops by all the P2 cars today," Halliday said. "Clint did a great job getting the car back for the win. Winning in Europe was great, but the British GT series is not the type of racing as the ALMS series, and winning in my home state of California with all my friends and family close by is terrific."
O'Connell and Fellows drove their No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C6-R to a 0.455 second victory over their teammates Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette C6-R. Not only was it the first time a driver pairing posted five straight victories at the same venue, Fellows and O'Connell also won their 24th career ALMS race. They now lead that category all-time, moving one win ahead of Lehto.
"The reason Ron and I have success is we are smart about racing," O'Connell said. "There are times you want to be close and sometimes you don't. You don't want to be really close to a guy going into Turn 1 because if something happens to him you are trapped. Each win is special. I can remember each one. I know the first one we had to push and push at the end because we were going to need a splash and go. This win is just as special as the others. They are all great."
The No. 4 Corvette likely would have ended the streak were it not for a couple of mid-race spins. Third was the No. 63 ACEMCO Motorsports Saleen S7R of Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem.
Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell, in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C6-R, won in GT1 for the fifth straight time at Infineon.
"The pace early was to go carefully," Fellows said. "We anticipated a greasy track and the track temp rises quickly, especially as we get around noon or 1 o'clock, so we started the tire pressures very low so we were sliding around. Traffic, like always, was an issue, you could drop two to three seconds a lap, but that's Infineon Raceway. We lost the lead to the No. 4 car in Turn 7, and that was because I was sleeping. It was interesting, but we got him back. It all worked out in the end because we had a set-up that got better as the track got slicker."
Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas continued their impressive run with their third straight victory in GT2. Their No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche won for the third straight race. Starting from the pole, Bernhard and Dumas never lost their lead as their would-be challengers from BAM! and Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing fell on tough luck.
After a DNF at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Dumas and Bernhard finished second at Road Atlanta, then ran off wins at Mid-Ohio and Lime Rock.
Second was the the No. 31 Petersen/White Lightning entry of Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister, followed by the No. 43 BAM! Porsche of Mike Rockenfeller and Wolf Henzler.
"At the start of the race, it was really difficult for me because the No. 31 was really pushing me," Bernhard said. "I never gave him the chance to get around me but after three or four laps of pushing hard he was no longer in my mirrors. I asked my crew what happened and they told me he had to pit early, but I just assumed he was still on the lead lap so I kept pushing hard to increase the lead. We are so successful because we never have to change big things, we have the overall package. If we are making changes they are very little."
The Founder's Cup awards went to Ian Baas of Alex Job Racing (first place), Justin Jackson of J3 Racing (second place) and McMurry (third place). The awards go to the privateers who best demonstrate the ideals of "Gentlemen Drivers" in the ALMS.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Portland Grand Prix set for July 28-30 at Portland International Raceway. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED Channel from 8 to 11 p.m. EDT July 30, and Live Timing and Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.