LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Audi ace Tom Kristensen came within half a lap of winning today's American Le Mans Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. By attempting to make it a one stop race, Kristensen, who had last pitted over an hour and half ...
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Audi ace Tom Kristensen came within half a lap of winning today's American Le Mans Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. By attempting to make it a one stop race, Kristensen, who had last pitted over an hour and half earlier, ran out of gas as he headed downhill toward Turn 11, handing the victory to the pole sitting No. 1 Audi R8 of Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro.
"This was a tactical race," Pirro explained. "We had a faster car, and Frank was fastest. I got in the car under the [third] yellow and then managed to pull away. Under the yellow, I came in for fuel and I thought that Tom would follow me. If he would have come in and had a quicker stop, he would have beaten me [to the finish]."
Instead, the Joest squad left Kristensen out on the track to fend of Jan Magnussen in the No. 50 Panoz, who lined up second on the ensuing restart thanks to quick pit work that enabled him to beat Pirro out of the pits under the yellow. As Kristensen tried to keep Magnussen at bay, Pirro was gaining on both of them. With less than 30 minutes remaining, Pirro finally forced his way passed a reluctant Magnussen in Turn 3. Even though the two Audis were on the same lap, Pirro knew that he couldn't catch Kristensen unless his teammate ran out of gas.
"If the pace car was out a few more laps they [Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello] could have won," Pirro added. "I lost momentum in traffic and my tires got dirty. They [Magnussen and David Brabham] were giving me a hard time [all day], they're strong but don't have the pace we have. I passed them on the restart, but the last four or five laps I lost momentum. I was looking at my watch. They [the Joest team] told me that Tom was on reserve. I saw him slow down."
Kristensen coasted across the line 6.248 seconds behind his victorious teammate, followed by Magnussen, the No. 51 Panoz of Bryan Herta and Bill Auberlen, and the No. 16 Dyson Racing Riley & Scott of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger.
In LMP 675, the No. 56 Bucknum Racing Pilbeam MP84/Nissan of Jeff Bucknum, Bryan Willman, and Chris McMurry claimed class honors in LMP 675 after Jon Field's pole sitting No. 37 MG Lola Ex 257/AER MG fell by the wayside a little more than ten minutes into the race due to starter/alternator problems that had plagued the Banana Joe's team all weekend.
"This was a very good race weekend," said Bucknum, who praised his new English engine builder, Graham Dale-Jones. "We didn't focus on what anybody else was doing; we didn't try to catch anybody else. We just ran our pace and it worked out for us. The car was running really well, and with us up a lap, the guys were telling me to slow down, and I was trying, but it was hard to do with the way the car was running."
The factory-backed Corvettes dominated the GTS class for the third time this season after both the No. 26 Konrad Saleen S7R and the No. 0 Olive Garden Ferrari 550 Maranello suffered early mechanical problems. The No. 3 Corvette of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell led the way, finishing sixth overall, followed by the No. 4 car of Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins.
"Based on our practice and qualifying speeds, we knew it was going to be close in the race," Fellows explained. "We had concerns about tire wear, but we were able to run a good pace."
The GT class was the most hotly contested of the day, with the lead changing hands early and often, for total of nine times among four cars. The pole sitting No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Sasha Maassen led the first couple of laps, but Johnny Mowlem's Petersen Motorsports Porsche quickly put an end to that, passing Maassen just three laps into the race. Mowlem held down the point position until Kevin Buckler's Racer's Group Porsche assumed the lead around the one hour mark. A subsequent pit stop by Buckler handed the lead back to the No. 23 Porsche, now in the hands of Lucas Luhr. But Luhr's lead was short-lived, as Randy Pobst, now at the controls of the No. 31 Porsche, overtook Luhr a short time later. The two former teammates ran nose-to-tail for the next several laps, swapping the lead three more times until they collided going into Turn 11, shortly after the two-hour mark.
"I came down into the corner and he [Luhr] just drove into the back of me," Pobst claimed. Of course Luhr saw things differently. He said that Pobst hit him twice before the collision and that he maintains that he had position on Pobst going into the turn.
Either way, the incident between Luhr and Pobst briefly opened the door for the No. 79 J3 Racing Porsche of Mike Fitzgerald. But that didn't last long, as B.J. Zacharias took the lead for good in the No. 66 Racer's Group Porsche a short time later. The win was Buckler's first in the ALMS and it came in the same car that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.
"We're still tired from Le Mans," Buckler revealed. "We felt good about everything even though we didn't qualify or practice that great. I hounded those guys [the leaders] and I got settled in and just kept going and going. The combination of our car, our tires, and our team is really working well right now."