Ave drives David Letterman Expressway Esperante to second place finish and manufacturer's championship at VIR Speedfest

ALTON, VA. ^Ë After leading the most laps of the 35-lap VIR Speedfest Trans-Am Series Race, Tony Ave, driver of the #53 LAC Motorsports/Trilithic Panoz Esperante, drove to a strong second place finish, and then promptly ran out of fuel.

Ave led the race from lap 9 through lap 25, when eventual winner and series champion Boris Said passed him for the lead. "We ran out (of fuel) because I didn't conserve. I wanted to beat him and I ran that thing as hard as I could. We ran out at the end, but it was a great result for us," says Ave.

Ave might have run a stronger race, perhaps snagging the team's first victory, had the Esperante's best motor not blown during a Friday practice session. But the second-place finish was enough to help Ave move ahead another slot in the championship points battle, to finish in sixth place for the season. The second place finish also unofficially secured the manufacturer's championship points battle for Panoz.

The podium finish also allows the team to end the season on a light-hearted as well as a high note. With no major sponsorship logos on the car most of the season, owner Kerry Alexander decided to support a cause dear to many Indianapolis natives - the David Letterman Expressway.

Crew Chief Nick Short suggested the car carry a message of support for the Late Night television host's campaign to have Interstate Route 465, which circles Indianapolis, renamed the David Letterman Expressway. An interstate sign altered to say David Letterman Expressway was applied to the hood of the car beneath the words, "Vote for." And "Vote no for 465" decals were applied over the rear wheel wells. LAC Motorsports is based in Indianapolis.    During much of the 2002 season Ave and Short calculated fuel use so the fuel-injected Esperante could run a full race without making a pit stop. The strategy has paid off several times, allowing Ave to maintain a position in the front of the field for many laps even if the car was down on horsepower compared to others in the field. But the strategy depends on caution laps and a few laps of running conservatively to save fuel.    Ave threw conservation out the window in Virginia to try to stay ahead of Said, but relinquished the lead on lap 25.    The LAC Motorsports team returns to Indianapolis to prepare for the 2003 season, and Ave looks toward a few more midget and sprint car opportunities before the snow flies. For more information about LAC Motorsports visit www.lacmotorsports.com. For more information about the Trans-Am Series for the BF Goodrich Tires Cup Series, visit www.trans-amseries.com.