LE MANS, France (June 15, 2003) -- Race teams from the American Le Mans Series scored three class wins Sunday as the 71st running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans concluded at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France. Former ALMS driving...
LE MANS, France (June 15, 2003) -- Race teams from the American Le Mans Series scored three class wins Sunday as the 71st running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans concluded at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France.
Former ALMS driving champion Tom Kristensen became the first driver in history to score four consecutive wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as he led Team Bentley to a dominating overall victory in the world's most famous endurance race.
The Bentley Speed 8 Prototype driven by Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith led nearly the entire 24-hour race, winning by more than a lap over the second Bentley of Johnny Herbert, Mark Blundell and David Brabham. The American-based ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 of JJ Lehto, Stefan Johansson and Emanuele Pirro finished third overall, winning the LMP 900 class. Another American team, JML Team Panoz, finished fifth overall and third in the LMP 900 class with a Panoz LMP01 driven by Olivier Beretta, Gunnar Jeannette and Max Papis.
Kristensen, the 2002 American Le Mans Series driving champion, scored his fifth Le Mans win overall, placing him in a tie with legendary driver Derek Bell for second place on the all-time Le Mans overall win list. Capello, the most winning Prototype driver in ALMS history, and Smith won Le Mans for the first time.
Twenty-one teams from the American Le Mans Series were among the 49 cars that started the race on Saturday, with two other ALMS teams scoring class wins.
The Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello dominated the GTS class, leading from start to finish for a convincing victory over the two Chevrolet Corvettes of Corvette Racing. Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Jamie Davies drove the Ferrari as it snapped Corvette's bid for a third straight Le Mans class win and led a class sweep of the podium by ALMS race teams.
The Corvette C5-R of Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim finished second in the GTS class, followed by the Vette of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Franck Freon. Fellows and O'Connell had been in the class-winning Corvette the past two years.
In its first visit to Le Mans, the Alex Job Racing team scored the GT class win with a Porsche 911 GT3 RS co-fielded by White Lightning-Petersen Motorsports. Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr and Emmanuel Collard drove the winning car. Another ALMS team, Orbit Racing, finished second in the GT class with drivers Peter Baron, Leo Hindery and Marc Lieb.
Other American Le Mans Series teams that were running at the finish of the 24 Hours of Le Mans included:
* The Racers Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS with drivers Kevin Buckler, Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard, fifth in the GT class.
* The PK Sport Porsche 911 GT3 RS with drivers Robin Liddell, David Warnock and Piers Masarati, sixth in the GT class.
* JMB Racing's Ferrari 360 Modena with drivers David Terrien, Fabrizio de Simone and Fabio Babini, seventh in the GT class.
* Risi Competizione's Ferrari 360 Modena driven by Terry Borcheller, Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro, eighth in the GT class.
Race teams from the American Le Mans Series that competed in the event but were not classified at the finish included:
* JML Team Panoz, Panoz LMP01 (LMP 900 class), drivers David Saelens, Scott Maxwell and Benjamin Leuenberger, accident.
* Riley & Scott Racing, R&S MkIIIC-Ford (LMP 900), drivers Jim Matthews, Marc Goossens and Christophe Tinseau, brakes.
* Veloqx Prodrive Racing, Ferrari 550 Maranello (GTS), drivers Kelvin Burt, Anthony Davidson and Darren Turner, accident.
* Risi Competizione-ACEMCO Motorsports, Ferrari 360 Modena (GT), drivers Shane Lewis, Butch Leitzinger and Johnny Mowlem, engine.
* Intersport Racing, Lola EX257-MG (LMP 675), drivers Jon Field, Duncan Dayton and Rick Sutherland, engine.
* Konrad Motorsport, Saleen S7R (GTS), drivers Franz Konrad, Walter Brun and Toni Seiler, transmission.
* Sezio Florida Racing, Norma M2000-2 Ford (LMP 900), drivers Allan Ziegelman, Patrice Roussel and Lucas Lassare, oil leak.
* Team Bucknum Racing, Pilbeam MP91 (LMP 675), drivers Jeff Bucknum, Chris McMurry and Bryan Willman, engine.
* Carsport America, Pagani Zonda (GTS), drivers Mike Hezemans, Anthony Kumpen and David Hart, gearbox.
CAPELLO GETS HIS LE MANS WIN -- Though he has scored more Prototype wins (14) than any driver in American Le Mans Series history, popular Italian driver Rinaldo "Dindo" Capello had been shut out of victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans until this year.
Capello's win was well-received not only by his Bentley teammates, but also by his former co-drivers on the factory Audi team. Capello co-drove with Tom Kristensen the past two years on the American Le Mans Series and with Allan McNish in 2000.
"I've won Sebring twice and Petit Le Mans twice, but you're not a real sports car driver until you've won Le Mans," said Capello. "It feels great to get this win with Tom (Kristensen) today because we've won so many races together."
"I'm very happy to get my fifth win here, but even more happy that Dindo finally got to win," said Kristensen.
Kristensen and Capello are still factory Audi drivers but were "loaned" to Team Bentley for the 2003 season.
AMERICAN TEAM FINISHES THIRD -- Florida-based ADT Champion Racing, in only its second Le Mans appearance, finished third overall, and first in the LMP 900 class, with its privately-entered Audi R8 Prototype. The team was only beaten by the two factory Bentleys that finished first and second.
"I am so proud of my team," said Dave Maraj, owner of Champion Racing. "We experienced some minor problems but conquered them and ran a perfect strategy. We may not have been the outright race winners but my 'private' team ran the best-placed Audi."
"We did the best job possible in the circumstances," said driver Emanuele Pirro, who had been on the winning factory Audi team the past three years at Le Mans. "For a privateer team to climb on the podium here is an incredible achievement."
PANOZ TEAM MATCHES BEST LE MANS FINISH -- A spirited drive near the end of the race by 21-year-old Gunnar Jeannette ensured JML Team Panoz of fifth place overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a third-place podium finish in the LMP 900 class.
The result matched the best-ever finish at Le Mans for the Panoz LMP01 Prototype team based in Braselton, Ga.
"It has been a team effort," said Olivier Beretta, who co-drove with Max Papis and Jeannette in the event. "It's great to be racing with Max again. I have known him for many years and know he is a fantastic driver. Gunnar has also done a great job in the race."
In the closing stages of the race, Jeannette battled on the track for position with former Formula One driver Jean-Marc Gounon in a Courage Prototype. Jeannette held off Gounon's passing attempts for several laps before Gounon dropped back due to a lost cylinder, eventually finishing seventh after being passed by another car.
The second JML Team Panoz entry ran in the top 10 for much of the race but was retired due to accident damage.
CORVETTES COME UP SHORT OF THIRD STRAIGHT -- Corvette Racing was going for its third consecutive GTS class win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but came up short due to various racing problems as well as the blazing speed and dominance of the Veloqx Prodrive Ferrari.
Nevertheless, the members of the team were upbeat after finishing second and third, and were looking forward to getting back to American for the resumption of the American Le Mans Series at Road Atlanta June 27-29.
"This is truly fantastic," said Kelly Collins of Corona del Mar, Calif., one of the drivers of the second-place Corvette. "This is four years in a row for me on the podium and it feels great every time. We want to congratulate the Ferraris and the Prodrive organization as they ran a great race, but they should know that we'll be after them the rest of the season in the U.S."
GT CLASS BATTLE HAD FAMILIAR LOOK -- Teams from the American Le Mans Series dominated most of the action in the GT class during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with defending ALMS GT team champion Alex Job Racing scoring the class win. The Job team joined forces with another top ALMS GT team, White Lightning-Petersen Motorsports, for the race.
During the race, the Orbit Racing Porsche, Racers Group Porsche and Risi Competizione-ACEMCO Ferrari all ran at or near the front at various times, and all will be returning to America to continue the battle when the ALMS schedule resumes.
"Although we have run Porsches at endurance races before without any glitches, this is the toughest sports car race in the world," said winning team owner Alex Job. "The key to victory for us was to catch problems early, fix them and prevent other problems, and set the proper pace in order to finish ahead of the others. Everyone on the Alex Job and Petersen crew, especially Petersen team manager Dale White, pitched in to make this happen, and no one could match up with our three drivers for speed when we needed it."