Homestead FIA GT Victory and Championship Lead for Ludwig and Zonta Driver's Championship to be Decided at Final Race in FIA GT and Formula One
The driver's championship for the FIA GT Championship will have a thrilling finish at Laguna Seca Raceway Oct. 25, in Monterey, Calif., thanks to today's victory by Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta in their Mercedes-Benz CLK-LM at the 2.21-mile road course at the Homestead Motorsports Complex in Homestead, Fla. It was their fourth win of the season.
Likewise, McLaren Mercedes Formula One driver Mika Hakkinen will battle for the driver's championship with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher at the final race of the season in Suzuka, Japan, Nov. 1.
Ludwig and Zonta's win gave the pair a four-point lead in the driver's championship (67 to 63) over Bernd Schneider and Mark Webber, as their Team AMG Mercedes teammates finished fourth in the event after Webber spun into the gravel on lap 75. Schneider and Webber started the weekend leading the points for the driver's championship. Team AMG Mercedes clinched their second-consecutive team title three races ago in Donington, England.
Ricardo Zonta started from the pole position and held the lead over Schneider, who started the race second. After 20 laps of the 141-lap event, the difference between the two cars was only three seconds. After one hour, on lap 47, Schneider made his first pit stop during light rain and the team quickly decided to mount rain tires on his CLK-LM. Webber took over the driving duties as well.
Zonta entered the pits for fuel one lap later, but he remained on slicks despite the wet weather. The rain increased in intensity almost immediately, and the Brazilian was forced to pit again two laps later for rain tires. Since the Safety Car had entered the course for a full-course yellow, Zonta only dropped one position to second place with Webber leading.
On lap 56, the race resumed as the rain let off and the track quickly dried. Zonta closed the gap on Webber despite a brief spin off course during the semi-wet track conditions. On the 65th lap, Webber pitted and mounted a set of slicks, which allowed Zonta to retake the race lead. Zonta then pitted two laps later for slicks as well, and handed over the steering wheel to Klaus Ludwig. Ludwig was able to maintain the lead despite the pit stop, as he re-entered the course just ahead of the charging Webber.
The duel for the lead ended on lap 75, when Mark Webber spun into the gravel at turn seven while chasing Ludwig. The car was removed from the gravel by a tow-truck, and he rejoined the race two laps down in the sixth position.
Schneider took over the driving duties for Webber on lap 108, and made an exciting charge to reach fourth position at the checkered flag.
"The spin was completely my fault," said Webber. "I was a little late in braking, and the rear started to lock up. I just went into the gravel. I'm very disappointed for Bernd. Now we have to give our best at Laguna Seca. Luckily we can still influence the result of the driver's championship."
Klaus Ludwig, who will end his almost 30-year racing career next week, passed the finish line with a lead of approximately one minute over the Porsche 911 GT1-98 of Uwe Alzen and Joerg Mueller. As the checkered flag fell, his Team AMG Mercedes crew cheered the victory.
"Those last 10 laps were probably the most emotional of my life," said the 49-year-old driver, who is retiring after next week's season finale at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif. "We had the best car and the best tires. I am totally happy." The Team Persson Motorsport Mercedes CLK-GTR of Jean-Marc Gounon and Marcel Tiemann finished fifth, while their teammates Christophe Bouchut and Bernd Maylaender had a problem with the starter motor on their CLK-GTR and had to quit the race on the 99th lap in eighth position.
Mercedes-Benz motorsports boss Norbert Haug was most pleased with the performance of Ludwig, who is the eldest Mercedes driver. "The FIA GT driver's championship will be decided in the final race, exactly as in Formula One," he said, referring to the battle between Hakkinen and Schumacher. "Both of our teams must race for victory to be able to get the title. It will be a great final for a great season."