The build up to the race had been fantastic -- the qualifying and practice sessions had been spectacular, and the whole atmosphere at the circuit was one of Mardi Gras. At five-to-six the cars rolled around the track behind the pace ...
The build up to the race had been fantastic -- the qualifying and practice sessions had been spectacular, and the whole atmosphere at the circuit was one of Mardi Gras.
At five-to-six the cars rolled around the track behind the pace car, awaiting the flags to go green. The pace car peeled off, and the racing started, with the Rafanelli Lola of Schiatarella leading from Brabham in the Panoz. This made it a Lola, Panoz, Panoz, Audi, Audi, BMW top six.
By lap 3, the fastest cars on the track were the Panoz of Katoh and the Audi of McNish, but the Lola continued to lead. By lap 6, the leaders were coming up to traffic, and Brabham pushed hard to try and get past the Lola in front, this allowed the sister Panoz and the Audi of McNish to catch up. The next lap, the Audi managed to get past the number 2 Panoz, whilst the leader - Schiatarella - pulled into the pits with a broken throttle cable. The race was effectively over for the car, as it required repairs that took half-an-hour to effect.
David Brabham in the Panoz now found himself in the lead, with McNish close behind, the Panoz of Katoh was third, with the Audi of Pirro, and the BMW of Lehto behind. On lap 10, the Reynard of Stefan Johansson visited the gravel trap, and took a while to find the pit-lane. John Wickham confirmed that it was a brake problem that caused the trouble.
McNish and Brabham continued to battle hard at the front, with the Audi nearly touching the Panoz in front, whilst the backmarkers move over to allow the pair through, and barely cost them any time. Two laps later, McNish took advantage of Brabham, and snuck by to take the lead in a daring move involving Brabham making a dodgy decision to get stuck behind a backmarker... Brabham later commented that it was a case of his own lack of talent, not McNish's talent. On lap 15, the Panoz of Katoh spun on the exit of Copse, managing to do a nice collection of donuts before getting the car pointing in the right direction. The Lola finally was able to rejoin the lead. The Audi was now pulling away, and had a 3.2 second lead over the Panoz, and looked to extend it quite considerably.
On lap 20, all of the top 12 cars were on the lead lap, while the Audi of McNish had a lead of over 5 seconds. Drama started to affect the BMW team as well, now, with Auberlen spinning into the gravel at Bridge, as a result of a left rear puncture. The safety car was brought out, and full course yellows were in place as a result of Marc Goosens taking his Cadillac for a trip across the kitty-litter, and taking a shine to it.
During the yellow period, most of the leaders pitted for fuel and/or tyres. The only exception was David Brabham, who took the lead... On lap 24, the Riley & Scott was pushed into the pits for a new gearbox after a suspected diff problem. Goosens made it back to the pits during the period, and had his car emptied of gravel - partly - as a shower appeared as he left for the circuit again... The Courage of Phillipe Gache pulled into the pits with starter problems.
On lap 26, the safety car pulled off, and Brabham led the field, whilst the Kremer Lola was smoking badly, and was soon into the pits on fire, with a firetender in tow... Positions at lap 27; Panoz, Audi, Panoz, Audi, BMW, Cadillac
The battle for third, between Katoh/Pirro/Lehto was very close, with Katoh eventually pulling away from the pair. On lap 34, the Panoz of Brabham finally pitted, handing over to Magnussen. McNish was able to gain the lead, whilst Lehto took forth via a brave move around Pirro at Stowe. On lap 36, the Kremer Lola was able to rejoin the race, after the source of the fire was discovered to be a lost fuel cap.
During the next few laps, the Panoz of Katoh gained on McNish, and by lap 41, the gap was only .4 seconds. On lap 45, the Courage C60 toured around the circuit, this later turned to a flailing wheel as a result of suspension damage. The team changed tyres, and presumably repairs were affected to the car, whilst Formato took the car... The Audi of Pirro came into the pits for a stop go/penalty in the Panoz pit for reasons best known to Pirro. The penalty was for spinning the wheels before the jacks were down. The Reynard of Johansson pulled into the pits to retire with a problem with the electrics.
Lap 49, and half-distance, the Audi of McNish continued to lead. On lap 51, the Kremer Lola came into the pits for new brake liquid, followed by a 20 second stop-go penalty for ignoring the previous penalty... The BMW of Lehto was now in second, and chasing McNish hard, and was now within 3.6 seconds of the lead.
On laps 55 and 56, the BMWs pitted, first the second car of Auberlan, and driver changed to Gounon, then Lehto handing over to Müller. The timing was almost perfect, with the second car just leaving the pits as Lehto arrived... On getting out of the car, Lehto said that the turn of speed came from Charley Lamm. "Charley said, 'fast as you can, fast as you can', and I said 'OK. I'll try'". Clearly it worked. Müller, however, very nearly did not make it to the garage "I got locked in the toilet and had to break the door, and I nearly missed the pit stop".
On lap 58, the second BMW of Gounon broke down on the circuit. On lap 60, the Audi of McNish lost second to Lehto, with Magnussen having a 13.2 second lead over Lehto.
The battle for third was now hotting up, with the Panoz of O'Connell catching Capello in the Audi. On lap 67, Jörg Müller took the lead, as the lead Panoz pitted for tyres, fuel and a new driver. By lap 74, Müller had a 16.131 second lead over O'Connell. With twenty laps to go, there were four cars on the lead lap. The Panoz of O'Connell pitted, but then stalled, but managed to restart and join the race. By lap 83, Müller had a 25.411 second lead over Capello in the Audi. The Cadillac of Bernard pitted for fuel only. On lap 87, Müller pitted his BMW for fuel only, allowing Capello to take the lead.
Lap 89: Audi, BMW, Panoz, Panoz, Audi, Cadillac
With just ten laps to go, the question was whether the lead Audi would have to stop again. The second Audi did on lap 90, but stalled and restarted. A lap later, the lead Audi pitted, and rejoined the race in third, allowing Müller to take the lead. On lap 94, the Kremer Lola had yet another stop-go penalty for allowing the car to be worked on whilst being refuelled. On lap 97, the Audi of Capello pitted with broken left rear suspension, and drove through as his radio was broken, and they weren't expecting him. The left rear tyre then shredded, and the suspension came off, the car managed to find it's way to the line with clouds of smoke pouring from the rear, and stopped just on the pit straight. The Panoz of pulled off the track just before the line, with O'Connell at the wheel, depriving Panoz of a 2-3 podium. Müller took the flag, and was somewhat surprised to find he had won, as somehow the fact hadn't reached him...
<pre> 1. Lehto/Müller BMW 2. Brabham/Magnussen Panoz 3. McNish/Capello Audi 4. O'Connell/Katoh Panoz 5. Biela/Pirro Audi 6. Bernard/Collard Cadillac
Stephen M Baines http://www.motorsport.org.uk/me