Biela and Pirro score Petit Le Mans triumph

By Pat Jennings - Braselton, GA - The Audi juggernaut kept on rolling Saturday as Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro dominated the fourth running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta to score their fourth win of the season. In doing...

By Pat Jennings -

Braselton, GA - The Audi juggernaut kept on rolling Saturday as Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro dominated the fourth running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta to score their fourth win of the season. In doing so, the duo's win assures the Joest team an automatic berth into next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. Furthermore, Pirro's win also enabled him to clinch the 2001 ALMS driver's championship. "When Tom [Kristensen] went off, the championship was really closed," Pirro said. Pirro, however, made it crystal clear that he thinks the point system is flawed and that the championship should belong to Biela as well.

"This point system unfortunately brings the drivers apart. I feel we all won the championship together. You don't win a championship without the best car, so I would like to thank Audi. And you don't win a championship without the best team and the best mechanics."

Today proved that Pirro does in fact have the best of everything. Without a doubt, the Joest Racing team is the best sports car team in the business. "It was an excellent year. And I think we have a chance next year to make it better." That's truly a scary proposition for the rest of the competition seeing as how they won six of eight races this season.

The stiffest challenge to the supremacy of the No. 2 Audi came from the No. 18 Gulf Audi of Stefan Johanssen and Patrick Lemarie and the No. 38 Champion Audi of Andy Wallace and Johnny Herbert. Both entries led for brief periods of time, but neither could break the back of the No. 2 car. As a result, the Gulf car had to settle for second, three laps down to Pirro and Biela.

The Champion Audi's challenge ended just after the 7-hour mark, when Wallace lost his left rear wheel going up the hill into turn one. At the time, he was within a lap of the No. 2 Audi. Though he managed to keep the car away from the wall, Wallace had to nurse the car all the way back around the 2.54-mile circuit on three wheels to reach the pits. For all intents and purposes, that ended any hope that Wallace and Johnny Herbert may have had to score their first victory of the season. In the end, they finished third, six laps behind Pirro and Biela.

Although the two Cadillac's ran consistently near the front of the field for most of the day to round out the top-five, they never really posed a threat to the leading trio of Audi's.

Many of the other front runners in the LMP 900 class experienced numerous problems very early in the 1000-mile race. Less than an hour into the race, a punctured left front tire sent pole sitter Tom Kristensen and the No. 1 Audi on a harrowing ride into the turn one retaining wall. "It was a very hard hit and I'm sure that I'll have a headache tomorrow," stated a disappointed Kristensen. The accident also eliminated any chance Kristensen and co-driver Rinaldo Capello may have had to claim the ALMS driver's title. "We've had some bad luck from Portland on. The winter's going to be long."

A little more than 30 minutes later, the Panoz of David Brabham tangled with the No. 19 Brookspeed Viper going into turn one while attempting to mount a challenge to the leading No. 2 Audi. The Viper careened into the outside part of the wall and the Panoz slammed into the inside portion of the wall. Although Brabham managed to restart the car and limp back to the pits, the rear end of the car was badly damaged.

"After seeing the replays on television, it [the collision] was my fault more than anyone else's," explained a recalcitrant Brabham. "I apologize to the team I hit."

Forty minutes later, Brabham's teammate, Jan Magnussen, rejoined the race some 28 laps behind the leader. In the end, the duo persevered to finish 10th overall, 36 laps behind the winning Audi. If Brabham's woes were not enough for the Atlanta-based team, the engine in the second Panoz of Klaus Graf expired on lap 23. Although the Panoz team's performance was more than likely not what they had hoped for, at least their cars were able to make it to the green flag.

The same could not be said for some other LMP regulars. A faulty power steering pump forced the No. 16 Dyson Racing entry of James Weaver to start the race from the pit road. As it turned out, the car's pre-race problems were only a harbinger of things to come for the Dyson team. Over the course of the next three hours, the Ford-powered Riley & Scott suffered from a number of mechanical gremlins including a sticking throttle and an uncooperative gearbox, among other things. And to make matters worse, Weaver collided with the No. 42 BMW of JJ Lehto just past the two-and-a-half-hour mark. Thirty minutes later, the Dyson entry retired with clutch problems.

And then there was Jon Field. The Ohio native failed to complete a single lap in the No. 37 Lola-Judd after he crashed into the outside of the turn 12 wall as he attempted to take the green flag. "We were two abreast into the pace lap," Field explained. "The No. 8 Cadillac went wide left and clipped me. I tried to avoid the accident and lost it." Less than an hour later, Field's car was excluded from the race because a crewmember worked on the car during the first caution.

Similar problems befell the leading LMP 675 entries. But the No. 57 Barbour entry of Milka Duno, John Graham, and Scott Maxwell avoided the carnage to win the class in their Reynard-Judd. The trio assumed the lead for the first time at the one-hour-and forty-five-minute mark and they never looked back. Today's win was the sixth of the season for Barbour's squad. The No. 21 Lola-Nissan of Ben Devlin, Jason Workman, and Andrew Davis finished second, 20 laps behind the winners.

Miraculously, the Dick Barbour Reynard of 2001 675-class champion Didier de Radigues, Bruno Lambert, and Earl Goddard managed to overcome engine problems and a sticking throttle to bring their ailing machine home in third. The other 675-class competitors did not fair quite as well. Engine problems prompted the retirement of Jordi Gene's pole sitting No. 39 ROC Reynard, and the No. 31 Pilbeam Nissan hit the wall in turn 11. Although the No. 11 car returned to the track, it eventually retired with a broken drive shaft.

"It [the car] was better than I expected," stated Gene, the winner of the 675 class at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. "We were sixth overall, and with traffic and the pace car it played well into our favor. Then the engine belt broke down, something that should never break down, just bad luck."

Not to be outdone, the GTS class provided yet another example of how attrition can change the face of a race. A little more than 10 minutes into the event, an electrical short forced Ron Fellows to stop the No. 3 Corvette out on course. Thirty minutes later, the car was excluded from the event after a crewmember worked on the ailing car while it was near turn eight. "Going down the back straight, it seems like the wiring from the starter to the solenoid shorted and killed the engine," Fellows explained. "It wouldn't restart and there was a lot of smoke in the wiring harness and it smelled like wiring burning." The No. 3 car's retirement may well have cost Fellows the GTS championship, seeing as how he could have clinched the championship by finishing fourth or higher.

Instead, Fellows' misfortune handed the GTS title to Konrad Team Saleen hot-shoe Terry Borcheller, who entered the race with only a remote chance of wrestling the title away from Fellows. "In 1982, at this very same track, I was in a WKA [World Karting Association] race. I had to win the race and the point leader had to break in order for me to win [that championship]. Well, he broke and I ended up winning the race and the championship. I was just thinking about that this morning and said to myself, 'Hey, it's happened again.' I couldn't believe we had won it. I was so excited."

Borcheller's championship aside, the No. 4 Corvette of Any Pilgrim, Kelly Collins, and Franck Freon took advantage of a trouble-free run to win the GTS class. The win marked the sixth win of the season for the Corvette team. Aside from contact with the No. 11 Lola-Nissan car and a routine brake change, the team did not miss a beat.

"For a while there, we were even wondering if we were going to win one this year," Collins asserted. "With all the adventures that we've been on with the team this year, this is fantastic for us."

The Saleen S7R of Borcheller, Franz Konrad, and Charles Slater overcame 60 seconds worth of pit stop penalties to finish second, seven laps behind the winning Corvette. Aside from changing the driver's side door and replacing the brakes, the No. 45 American Viperacing entry of Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen ran a relatively smooth race to claim the last step on the podium for their aging Viper, albeit 13 laps arrears of the winners. The same could not be said for the duo's sister car, which spent a considerable amount of time behind the pit wall during the middle hours of the event.

In comparison, the other two Saleen's in the field were not quite as lucky as the No. 26 car. After spending a considerable amount of time attempting to fix a sticking throttle, a failed clutch ended the No. 25 car's race with less than two hours remaining in the event. In comparison, the No. 05 entry chased an engine misfire during the early hours of the race and then spun with Ron Johnson at the wheel shortly before the six-and-a-half-hour mark.

Finally, the Prodrive Allstars Ferrari 550 of Rickard Rydell, Peter Kox, and Marc Duez lasted less than five hours.

The GT class featured yet another BMW parade until Lucas Luhr passed Lehto in the late stages of the race to secure third place for the No. 23 Alex Job Porsche. Up front, Boris Said, Hans Stuck, and Bill Auberlen took advantage of an uncharacteristic mistake by the Schnitzer BMW team, with a little more than an hour left in the race, to score an improbable win in the No. 6 PTG BMW.

"The BMW car was absolutely phenomenal," stated first time ALMS winner Auberlen. "It [the car] was the same in the end as it was at the beginning."

"We had a plan before the race to run a certain pace," Said explained. "This is a big win for this team. It's great to end the season on a high note."

Dirk Muller and Jorg Muller finished second in the No. 43 factory BMW. Jorg Muller clinched the GT-class championship on the strength of his second place finish.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Milka Duno , Johnny Herbert , David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Tom Kristensen , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Franz Konrad , Bruno Lambert , Frank Biela , James Weaver , Boris Said , Patrick Lemarié , Ron Fellows , Franck Freon , Jorg Muller , Bill Auberlen , Ben Devlin , John Graham , Jon Field , Lucas Luhr , Scott Maxwell , Terry Borcheller , Dick Barbour , Peter Kox , Anthony Kumpen , Mike Hezemans , Andrew Davis , Earl Goddard , Jason Workman , Rickard Rydell , Jordi Gene , Marc Duez , Alex Job , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto , Ron Johnson
Teams Dyson Racing