Jamie Davies and Johnny Herbert plus Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx have claimed the Driver's and Teams' Le Mans Endurance Series (LM P1) titles respectively. The British pairing won the fourth and final round of the LMES at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium today (12 Sep).
In doing so, Davies and Herbert scored the Audi R8 sportscar's 50th race victory in its 60th race since the sports-prototype's debut in March 2000. The "sister" Veloqx Audi of Pierre Kaffer and Allan McNish, who started the race leading the championship, retired after a collision with a slower car.
Kaffer and Herbert started the 144-lap race from second and third places respectively on the 39-car grid - McNish earning Veloqx Audi its fourth consecutive LMES front row start after the DBA Zytek of Minassian/Campbell-Walter denied McNish of pole-position by just 0.038secs.
Kaffer's Audi and the pole-starting Zytek touched approaching Eau Rouge immediately after the green light, Minassian pitting with a left rear puncture, while Kaffer went straight on at Les Combes disputing the lead with team-mate Herbert.
The Team Goh Audi of Capello/Ara led the opening lap from a recovering Kaffer with Herbert third. Kaffer briefly got ahead on the tenth lap but almost immediately made a small mistake dropping behind Capello.
Simultaneously, an accident caused a full course yellow but unfortunately for third-placed Herbert who had been less than 10-seconds behind the leader, the Safety Car picked up his #88 Veloqx Audi effectively putting #88 almost a full lap down on Capello and Kaffer.
With 20-laps run and almost one hour on the clock, Kaffer took the lead from Capello with Herbert third, 104-seconds behind. But disaster struck leader Kaffer just three laps later when he collided with a slow car approaching the Bus Stop chicane.
Pierre drove back to the pits, the rear of the car engulfed in flames, but the damage was too bad and the #8 Audi posted its first retirement of the season. Kaffer's accident brought out the Safety Car and this time Herbert benefited, his #88 Veloqx Audi resuming at the green flag with a 19-secs lead over the Goh Audi after both cars had made scheduled pit-stops under full course yellow.
At half-distance (lap 72) leader Davies, who had taken over from Herbert 20 laps earlier, enjoyed almost a full lap lead over the Goh Audi around the 4.333-mile track. Davies continued to charge, setting the race's fastest lap (2:06.626) on lap 107 - less than 90-minutes from the finish.
At the chequered flag, in a race featuring five full course yellow periods, Davies finished a lap ahead of the Goh Audi.
The Spa-Francorchamps race marked the British team's sixth and final race of the 2004 season. The Veloqx Audi team made a magnificent race debut by finishing first and third in the historic Sebring 12 Hours in March.
Apart from the four-race LMES in which Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx won each race outright, the Veloqx Audi squad also claimed second (Davies/Herbert/Guy Smith) and fifth (Biela/Kaffer/McNish) places in the Le Mans 24 Hours, having started its cars from the front row and led for the opening 15 hours.
Indeed in the LMES championship, covering a total of almost 2,500-miles, Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx led for all but 250-miles. The British team was the only Audi "customer" sportscar outfit in 2004 to win an endurance race on both sides of the Atlantic in the ALMS and LMES championships.
Audi R8 - #8 (Qualified - 2nd [2:06.002] McNish; Race - retired, accident damage)
Pierre Kaffer (D). Age 27. Born: Bad-Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Ger. Lives: Burgbrohl, Ger:
"I'm very disappointed - not just for me, but of course Allan and the #8 crew. Exiting Blanchimont at high-speed I was catching a slow car - there was enough space so I went to the left but he didn't see me and he changed his line and moved over. We touched and I hit the barrier, spun along the wet grass, then collided with another car at the Bus Stop. I was burning and I saw the pit-lane entry so instinctively drove the car back but the damage was too bad to continue."
Allan McNish (GB). Age: 34. Born: Dumfries, Scotland. Lives: Monte Carlo, Monaco:
"Having won two races and finishing second in the other, we started this race leading the championship so it's a massive disappointment to miss out in this way. But there are certain things you can control in motor racing - others you cannot. I suffered a problem in the Le Mans 24 Hours, today it was Pierre's turn for misfortune. He was an innocent victim but the important thing is that he is okay.
Audi R8 - #88 (Qualified - 3rd [2:06.139] Davies; Race - 1st + Fastest Lap, Davies)
Jamie Davies (GB). Age 30. Born / Lives: Yeovil, England:
"The car never missed a beat which allowed me to push hard right to the end. The Audi R8 is a fantastic race car and Michelin gave us excellent tyres and I'm delighted Johnny and I have been able to reward Sam Li, and all of the Veloqx team, plus Audi UK with this success. To win this title - including two races - and to have finished second at Le Mans in a single year is a marvellous feeling. I'm overjoyed."
Johnny Herbert (GB). Age 40. Born: Brentwood, England. Lives: Monte Carlo, Monaco:
"The opening lap was hectic but my biggest problem was losing almost a lap when the Safety Car came out in front of me putting me almost a lap down. My engineer [Chris Gorne] then perfectly 'called' the weather and sent me out on intermediates rather than full wet weather tyres. This is my first championship success since winning the 1987 British Formula Three title so I'm delighted - I'd forgotten what it felt like!"
Sam Li, Team Principal: "I'm delighted that our team has finished first and second in the LM P1 standings and it's fantastic that Veloqx has scored Audi's 50th R8 race victory. Obviously, it is a shame for car #8 - the accident was very unfortunate. The entire team has worked extremely hard throughout the season and they deserve great credit."
David Ingram, Audi UK Motorsport Manager: "I'm so happy for the entire team - everyone has done a wonderful job and I feel proud of them all. It has been a tough season that started with Veloqx's first Audi test in Atlanta. Seven months later we can reflect on a phenomenal amount of individual race success and now title honours."
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