Laguna Seca: Race report, titles won

Bernhard, James Win Driving Titles as Herbert, Kaffer Win American Le Mans at Laguna Seca Monterey, CA - Timo Bernhard and Ian James earned American Le Mans Series driving championships Saturday as Johnny Herbert and Pierre Kaffer won the ...

Bernhard, James Win Driving Titles as Herbert, Kaffer Win American Le Mans at Laguna Seca

Monterey, CA - Timo Bernhard and Ian James earned American Le Mans Series driving championships Saturday as Johnny Herbert and Pierre Kaffer won the season-ending Audi Sports Car Championships event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The four-hour timed race started at 4 p.m. (PDT) and finished in both darkness and rain as a shower moved across the raceway in the last 30 minutes of the event. The race marked the first time in the long history of Laguna Seca that a race had run into darkness.

Bernhard secured the GT class driving title as he and co-driver Jorg Bergmeister finished second in class in the Alex Job Racing Porsche, while James secured the LMP2 title as he and James Gue finished third in class in the Miracle Motorsports Courage C65-AER.

Herbert and Kaffer scored the overall race win in the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8, taking the lead in the closing stages of the event from the other Champion entry driven by Marco Werner and JJ Lehto. They won by 56.832 seconds over Lehto and Herbert, already the 2004 ALMS LMP1 champions.

"Winning is a great feeling," said Herbert. "I remember a couple of years ago here we lost by seconds. I'm glad we got one in a stealthy way. We had a very difficult start. My uniform zipper wouldn't go up on the grid so I had to start the race with it open. Then Chris Dyson got into me and I was in the sand. We had to battle back to the front. I think the tire compound we chose was the right one."

"Things got really, really, tricky when the rain came out," said Kaffer. "I have never had to race in these kinds of conditions before. It was very difficult. This is a great feeling winning the first and last race of the season. It is my dream to drive here in America."

Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver finished third in the Dyson Racing Lola B01/60-AER.

CORVETTE TEAM COMPLETES FIRST PERFECT SEASON

Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell completed an undefeated season for the factory Corvette team in the GTS class and sent the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R into a happy retirement when they took their fifth win of the season. Corvette won in all nine ALMS races this season between its two entries.

Having already won the driving title, Fellows and O'Connell also gave the Corvette its first race win at Laguna Seca, the only track on the current ALMS schedule that the team had not won a race on.

"This place had been our Bermuda Triangle," said Fellows, an original driver when the factory Corvette team was started in 1997.

The other Corvette entry of Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta had led most of the race but the Fellows-O'Connell entry took the race lead with a faster pit stop late in the race. Driving in the rain in darkness, O'Connell held off Gavin to take the win.

"Did you ever see the movie Le Mans? It's like the driver said in that movie, what's behind you doesn't matter," said O'Connell.

"I thought it was going to be a drag race down the pit-lane with the #4 car," he said about the last pit stop. "From my perspective sitting behind the #4 in the pits I was nervous. It was a great thing hearing the hiss of the jacks and then me driving by the #4 while they were still putting on tires. I almost stalled it leaving because as I took off, my back end came around and I was worried about pinning one of their crew members so I let off the gas and it started to stall. I did a little prayer and the engine kept running so I was off. During pit-stops it's just as nervous for the driver as it is for the crew."

"Its all kind of emotional," said Fellows. "We started off testing in the fall of 1997 with the C5-R and a full season in 1998. It's sad to see the C5 go, but its not the end of the Corvette, just the C5-R. It's great for me to be a part of Corvette Racing and to last the whole time. I'd say it's a fitting end. It rained at the end of Daytona which was our first race, and now it rained at the end of this race. Credit goes to Johnny (O'Connell) for keeping it on the road with the rain pouring down and still on slicks."

Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem finished third in the GTS class in the ACEMCO Motorsports Saleen S7R.

JAMES WINS TITLE IN TRYING DAY

Ian James had enough of a lead in the LMP2 class driver standings that he would have to have a total disaster of a day to lose the title to Clint Field and Robin Liddell. Despite some problems during the race, the Miracle Motorsports Courage C65-AER completed enough of the race to score points and give James the class driving title.

"I'm just so happy to win the championship," said James. "I love this series, I love these cars. I'd love to come back next year. This is the greatest show in motorsports. It was a great opportunity to do this with the American Le Mans Series."

Field and Liddell, with third driver Rick Sutherland, scored the race win in the Intersport Racing Lola B2K/40-Judd, the sixth win of the season for Field and Liddell. They set a series record for the most LMP2 class wins in a single season, surpassing Didier de Radigues' five-win season in 2001.

"It was really fun driving around here in the fading light," said Liddell. "Driving in the dark was really cool. It was great to win the race, but disappointing to dominate the season by winning six of the nine races and not win the championship. Winning a championship is very difficult."

"Our Lola is not the most current car in the class, but the total package of car, drivers, Pirelli tires, etc., is all very solid and that's how you win races," said Field. "The Pirellis really worked great in the wet. A class win at Le Mans. Six ALMS wins. Winning the IMSA Cup. It was an incredible season."

Chris McMurry, Bryan Willman and Jeff Bucknum finished second in class in the Miracle team's Lola B2K/40-AER, while James and Gue finished third. Gue finished the race in a sand trap in turn five after being hit from behind by another car.

BERNHARD WINS TITLE WITH RUNNER-UP FINISH

Timo Bernhard needed only to finish sixth to claim the GT class driving title, but he and Jorg Bergmeister dominated the Laguna Seca event until losing the lead to Alex Job Racing teammates Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb on a late-race pit stop exchange.

Bernhard still handily claimed the driving title as he and Bergmeister finished second.

"It is great to be the GT driver's champion," said Bernhard. "I am sorry that Jorg can't share it with me, but his support throughout the year really helped me. It would have been nice to win the race; we were the fastest car all day and really had a nice lead until the rain. The car was handling great and there were no problems. I will trade the winners trophy for the driver's championship trophy any day."

"It was not an easy race," said Dumas. "I have to say though it was a great race with the 23 car. The rain arrived and Marc did such a great job keeping it on the track. I think we got a little bit of luck with the yellow flag. Such a great win."

"It was a lot of fun at night here," said Lieb. "But in the rain it got really tough, especially on the slicks. I tried staying out one more lap than Timo (Bernhard) when it started raining. This was difficult, but I have had to drive in more dangerous conditions other places. The only part that was hard was the track being so slick. But with the rain tires it was not tough at all."

Johannes van Overbeek and Darren Law, the only drivers who had a mathematical chance of overtaking Bernhard for the title, finished third in the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Didier de Radigues , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Robin Liddell , Ian James , Terry Borcheller , Oliver Gavin , Darren Law , Jörg Bergmeister , Timo Bernhard , James Gue , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Chris McMurry , Bryan Willman , Jeff Bucknum , Rick Sutherland , Johnny Mowlem , Marc Lieb , Romain Dumas , Olivier Beretta , Pierre Kaffer , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , JJ Lehto
Teams Corvette Racing , Dyson Racing , Alex Job Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports