ALMS teams Le Mans report

American Le Mans Series Teams Win Three of Four Classes at Le Mans; Former Alms Champion Kristensen Ties Record With Win Le Mans, France - Racing teams from the American Le Mans Series won three of the four classes of competition in the 72nd ...

American Le Mans Series Teams Win Three of Four Classes at Le Mans; Former Alms Champion Kristensen Ties Record With Win

Le Mans, France - Racing teams from the American Le Mans Series won three of the four classes of competition in the 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans that ended Sunday afternoon at the Circuit de La Sarthe in France.

Former American Le Mans Series champion Tom Kristensen scored his sixth overall win in just eight starts in the prestigious and historic sports car race as he and co-drivers Rinaldo Capello and Seiji Ara won overall and in the LMP1 class in the Team Goh Audi R8. The Danish driver, who was ALMS champion in 2002, also won for a record fifth consecutive year, surpassing his own record set last year.

ALMS regular Champion Racing of Pompano Beach, Fla., finished third overall and in the LMP1 class, the highest-finishing ALMS team in the race, with drivers JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and Emanuele Pirro in their Audi R8. ALMS teams won the remaining three classes in the race.

Intersport Racing of Dublin, Ohio, won the LMP2 class for smaller, less-powerful Prototypes with an All-American driving team in its Lola B2K/40-Judd. Clint Field of Dublin, Ohio, just days shy of his 21st birthday, drove the car along with Rick Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif., and William Binnie of Portsmouth, N.H. It was the first LMP2 class win at Le Mans for a team from the ALMS since the class was formed in 2000.

Michigan-based Corvette Racing won the GTS class for the third time in the past four years at Le Mans, with Oliver Gavin of England, Olivier Beretta of Monaco and Jan Magnussen of Denmark driving the winning Chevrolet Corvette C5-R.

The GT class win went to Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing of Las Vegas, Nev., with Patrick Long of Oak Park, Calif., joining German drivers Sascha Maassen and Jorg Bergmeister in the winning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.

Among the three class-winning efforts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans by regular American Le Mans Series teams were several stories of overcoming adversity and crashes and coming back to win, as well as a personal triumph for Magnussen, who has started more American Le Mans Series races than any other driver but had never won in the world's most prestigious endurance race.

Eleven teams that regularly race in the ALMS competed in the event, and 14 of the 144 drivers were Americans.

CHAMPION REBOUNDS TO THIRD OVERALL

The ADT Champion Racing team started the 24 Hours of Le Mans with high hopes of winning the event overall, but those hopes received a major blow shortly after two hours into the race.

Lehto, who had moved from sixth to third on the first lap, was racing hard for second with Allan McNish in one of the Veloqx Audis when both cars skated off the track on oil in the high-speed Porsche Curves section of the course. McNish suffered a concussion when his car heavily impacted a barrier, severely damaging the car, and the Champion car's nose was damaged in the crash as well.

Both drivers limped their cars back to the pits. The Champion car received the lesser damage, but the team still had major repairs that were accomplished in only 31 minutes. Restarting 41st, the car ran fast the rest of the race and climbed back to finish third, a result that was both disappointing and satisfying to the team.

"For sure we would have been able to do better," said Lehto. "It's just the accident and the oil that changed the whole thing. Being 41st after the accident, fixing the car, going out again, fighting through the field, finishing third, we can do better. The team was the reason we got third today."

"I feel great about today's result," said Werner. "After the big accident, I thought we would never be back in the race and now we are on the podium. The car was really damaged but they (team) did a great job to give us a really good car, a fast car, and a safe car."

INTERSPORT SURVIVES TO WIN LMP2

Intersport Racing had a different engine (Judd) and a different game plan than did most of the teams in the LMP2 class and it paid off as the blue car from Ohio kept chugging along and finished while most of the other cars in the class were long gone from the race.

The car was far enough ahead that the team was able to park it for much of the race's final hour and then return to the track for the finish, coming home 26th overall and eight laps ahead of the next competitor.

"I'm so proud of these guys," said team owner Jon Field, the father of Clint, who drove a Lola B160-Judd in the LMP1 class but retired from the race early. "Naturally I'm proud of Clint, too, and really happy for him. It's a great day for him."

GTS CLASS TO CORVETTE

Corvette Racing finished first and second in the GTS class with its factory-backed Chevrolet Corvette C5-Rs, but it was hardly a trouble-free race for the bright yellow machines. Beretta, who joined the Corvette team this year, scored his third class win at Le Mans, his previous wins coming in Dodge Vipers, while Gavin won for the second time, both with Corvette Racing.

But Magnussen, who joined Corvette this year for long-distance races only, was an especially popular winner after the hard-charging Dane had endured years of frustration at Le Mans. "This is such a great racing team," he said. "The people worked so hard during the race on both cars and they had so much to overcome, and getting the result we did is great for everyone."

Both cars suffered crash damage during the race, with Ron Fellows knocked from the race after suffering a concussion when his car spun at high speed due to a punctured tire and backed into a guardrail before being hit by a Prototype while stopped. It was the second incident of the day for Fellows, who earlier had slid off the track while battling with his team Corvette and two Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranellos. Johnny O'Connell and Max Papis had to drive the rest of the race without the services of Fellows following his second accidentt, bringing the repaired Corvette to second place in the GTS class.

The winning Corvette was also crashed during the nighttime portion of the race when Magnussen tangled with the overall-leading Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx car of Jamie Davies. The Corvette spun into a guardrail and out of the lead it had held for most of the race, and the Prodrive Ferrari took over the lead.

After the car was repaired, the drivers worked to get the Corvette back on the lead lap, but were helped when the leading Ferrari also suffered damage on the track and had to pit for repairs. With the cars on the same lap, and then leaving the pits together, Magnussen was able to drive away from the challenger, and the Ferraris later encountered more problems, enabling the Corvette team car to move to second.

"This is our greatest Le Mans victory," said Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing. "Le Mans provides a global space where we can show what teamwotk can accomplish. We never worked harder before or during a race, which makes the victory that much sweeter."

"This is a very, very big win for us," said Gavin, who won with Fellows and O'Connell in 2002. "After what happened here last year (losing to the Prodrive Ferraris), we fully reviewed our program and carefully prepared for this race."

"We knew today's race would be difficult, but I don't think we expected it to be like this," said Beretta. "Everyone on the team worked very hard, never giving up, and that's why we won today."

PETERSEN/WHITE LIGHTNING TEAM WINS GT CLASS

Last year, the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning team won the GT class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a combined effort with fellow ALMS Porsche team Alex Job Racing, but this year the team was entirely on its own. Team owner Michael Petersen wanted to prove that the team could win by itself and it did, dominating most of the race and coming from behind after some troubles during the night.

With Porsche assigning factory drivers Maassen, Bergmeister and Long to the team, the driver lineup was stout, even though young American Long was in his first Le Mans. Despite an off-course excursion that cost the team two laps, Long made up for his mistake with fast and flawless driving the rest of the way.

After easily leading most of the event, the team lost five laps due to two cable failures and fell to fifth in class. But the fast car and drivers, aided by fast pit stops, made its way back to within one lap of the European-based Freisinger Porsche before the Freisinger car encountered problems, giving the lead back to the American team that it never surrendered again. The team won the GT class by five laps.

"This is so cool," said Bergmeister, winning at Le Mans for the first time. "It's just unbelievable to be here with the win."

"It hasn't sunk in yet," said Long. "But this is a dream come true for me. I've always dreamed of racing at Le Mans and now to win the first time here is just incredible. My teammates did a great job; I was a little worried after the incident that I had but fortunately it was during a double (driving) stint and I had a chance to redeem myself."

Several other ALMS teams competed in the GT class, with fourth place going to the Seikel Motorsport Porsche driven by American Philip Collin, Tony Burgess of Canada and Andrew Bagnall of New Zealand. The California-Racer's Group Porsche driven by Brits Ian Donaldson, Gregor Fisken and Lars Nielsen finished sixth in the GT class.

"Unbelievable," said team owner Kevin Buckler, who was driving when the team won the GT class at Le Mans in 2002. "It just feels so good to plan something out for months and watch it be executed flawlessly. My hat is off to the drivers, the crew and the entire team. Steady, smart, no mistakes and perfect preparation. I'm really proud."

A team that might have challenged the Petersen squad for the class win was ALMS regular Orbit Racing/BAM!, which ran as high as second but retired due to transmission failure in the 17th hour. Leo Hindery of New York was co-driving with German Porsche factory pilots Marc Lieb and Mike Rockenfeller.

"If it was a 12-hour race, we just finished second, but it's a 24-hour race and we didn't," said Hindery. "But you can't ever feel bad about a second-place run; it's a compliment to the team. People today saw some of the finest driving they'll ever see in Mike and Marc; they saw one of the best-prepared cars they'll ever see and they saw a team that respects the sport and loves Le Mans and this race. BAM! will be back and you'll see Mike and Marc on the podium, I promise."

The American Le Mans Series teams that competed in the event will pack and ship their cars and equipment back to America as quickly as possible to prepare for the resumption of the ALMS schedule June 25-27 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Results of the 72nd 24 Hours of Le Mans, showing American Le Mans Series regular teams and American drivers:

-alms-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS , Le Mans
Drivers Rinaldo Capello , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Seiji Ara , Max Papis , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Jamie Davies , Tony Burgess , Jon Field , Sascha Maassen , Kevin Buckler , Leo Hindery , Oliver Gavin , Jörg Bergmeister , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Clint Field , Rick Sutherland , Andrew Bagnall , Marc Lieb , Ian Donaldson , Michael Petersen , William Binnie , Lars Erik Nielsen , Alex Job , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto
Teams Corvette Racing , Alex Job Racing