Marco Werner sprinted in the final five minutes of green-flag racing at Lime Rock Park to score the victory for Champion Racing's Audi R8 over the #16 Lola-AER of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger. The inaugural race for the American Le Mans Series at the scenic 1.54-mile, eight-turn circuit proved to have one of the best finishes so far this year.
Werner and Lehto held a 15-second lead in the Audi R8 before a final full-course caution was called, after Gunnar Van der Steur dove under the tire barrier in his #19 Lola-Nissan with only 17 minutes left in the race.
"We were concerned that Dyson was really quick," said Lehto. "It's their home track and they know how to race here. At the end it was a really good race. This was our first time here. It was nice to take it. I was so nervous at the end -- I didn't know who was going to win."
The pace car allowed Leitzinger to catch up to the Audi, but with several GT class competitors separating the two when the green flag waved, and only five minutes left, there was little the Dyson Racing entry could do.
"We got out of sequence which was in our favor for a while," Leitzinger commented. "We made little dents, but it wasn't quick enough. The #38 got caught in horrible traffic and from then I could judge his progress. But with that last yellow lasting a long time, we just didn't have enough time to get it done."
Polesitter Weaver had taken the lead at the start; however, when rain began to fall, after just five minutes of racing, the team pitted for rain tires and lost the lead.
On the other hand, Lehto chose to remain on slicks, as did Dyson in the #20 Lola. When the skies quickly cleared up, the rain tires proved to be fruitless and Weaver had to pit again to change back to slicks. The #16 then went on a charge to regain positions. When Lehto finally pitted at the 50-minute mark under green after a full-course yellow, Weaver regained the lead.
At the same time Werner received a stop-and-go penalty, closing the gap between the Audi and the #20 Dyson. But then fate struck at Dyson Racing: they had to make a change on the #20 transmission, losing two laps.
Dyson explained, "Unfortunately the problem seemed to be in the pits which probably cost both the cars a one-two finish. We lost the paddle (shifter) mid way through the race, so we had to switch back to the sequential manual shifter. We lost two laps having to do that, which cost us in the end."
"Oli (Gavin) did a fantastic job, we lost one lap but he did a great job," Beretta said. "When I finally caught Ron (Fellows) I made a good move to overtake him. We put on a good show and it was a great day for the #4 car."
Fellows fought hard to take back the position, but in the end had to settle for second, 3.6-seconds behind Beretta, giving Corvette Racing another one-two finish in GTS.
On the short Lime Rock circuit, ACEMCO Motorsports' #63 Saleen S7R was right in the heat of the battle in the early stages, and drivers Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem finished just a lap adrift of the Corvettes.
"The competition with the #63 was fierce for a while," Fellows recalled afterwards. "But the longer we ran the better we were."
Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro scored the team's first win in the ALMS series and the first career win for each driver, beating out the Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs of Flying Lizard Motorsports (Johannes van Overbeek and Darren Law) and Alex Job Racing (Timo Bernhard and Jorg Bergmeister).
Kelleners commented from victory lane, "We been trying for a long time and last couple of races luck was not on our side. We finally found the luck."
The team made the right move during the brief shower after the start, taking some unconventional advice to stay on the track with slicks rather than making a stop for rain rubber.
"At the beginning of the race we had a shower and that changed the strategy," Lazzaro explained. "We had thought about going to the intermediates, because we knew the choice was going to have to last an hour. We used some local knowledge and asked a spectator about the weather. The sky looked clear, we decided to stay on dry tires, and that was everything."
On the other hand, the P2 class was decimated in the course of the race, with three of the five starters attempting to excavate the tire barriers. It wasn't quite a case of "last man standing," but in the end it was enough for Ian James to stay on the track and cross the finish line to take the victory in the P2 class.
"The key is being consistent and never deviating from that," James reflected after the podium. "Of course it was tough, and the car was not hugely quick in the straights, so all the overtaking of the GT cars was under braking in the corners."
James Gue and James both earned their first career wins in their #10 Miracle Motorsports Lola Nissan, an easy-looking eight laps clear of Andy Lally's and Ryan Eversley's #13 Lola-Millington.
Eversley, too, went off course early, but managed to stay clear of the barriers and get the car back into pits for repairs.
"Andy (Lally) did a great job trying make up for my mistake," Eversley praised his teammate. "I felt a lot more comfortable in the car. We kept our noses clean, learned about Lime Rock and ended really well."
The series now takes a weekend off after two consecutive races, before heading out to Sears Point for the fourth race of the season. If the indications from this race hold true, the fans will be in for a race not short of excitement.