CAPELLO, AUDI WIN IN ANOTHER EPIC FINISH Didn't we see this a couple of weeks ago? Dindo Capello held off Romain Dumas in the final 32 minutes of the Monterey Sports Car Championships to give Audi Sport North America its second...
CAPELLO, AUDI WIN IN ANOTHER EPIC FINISH
Didn't we see this a couple of weeks ago? Dindo Capello held off Romain Dumas in the final 32 minutes of the Monterey Sports Car Championships to give Audi Sport North America its second straight overall victory to close the 2007 American Le Mans Series. Capello drove the No. 1 Audi R10 TDI to a 0.41-second victory over Dumas in Penske Racing's No. 7 Porsche RS Spyder.
Capello and Dumas battled to the end of the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta two weeks ago. Capello and Allan McNish came up winners there by 0.923 seconds for the closest finish in race history. They put a punctuation on their LMP1 championship season with their ninth win of the season, a class record.
Capello and Dumas waged back and forth in the final stages in an unbelievable battle. Capello took the lead on the fifth restart of the race, and the duo traded the lead on the frontstretch with 12 minutes to go with Capello using the torque and power of the Audi to pull away and holding off the more nimble LMP2 Porsche.
"I would rate this race as even better than Petit," Capello said. "At least there we had an advantage on the long straight, which we don't have here. It was not easy in the last 15 minutes and it only got harder. Every lap I could have been overtaken. I tried to brake as late as possible but not too late so as to not make a mistake."
The top seven cars finished on the lead lap. Capello and McNish won at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the second straight year and third time since 2000.
Caution periods and restarts played straight into Audi's hands. Nearly all the yellow flags flew near the refueling window for the diesel cars and they were able to come out of the pits behind the Porsches on the restarts. Doing so allowed the more powerful P1 diesel cars to often blast past the Porsches on the frontstraight.
"Right from the beginning I realized the only chance we had was to control the race from the front," McNish said. At each restart it was important to do what we could to be at the front when the yellows came out. It was very close and very tight but we gave an inch to them when they needed it and they gave us an inch when we needed it."
Audi opened the season with overall victories at Sebring and St. Petersburg before an eight-race winning streak by the Porsches before the R10 TDI closed the year on such a positive note.
"For us it was important to be always in position to take the lead on the restart but that was not always easy," said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. "The weight of the car helped the Michelins come to us quicker after the yellows. That is how the car was perfectly used and that was the key to the race. We came here not expecting to win, and we of course are very happy to do so. The team kept on working and kept on working, and that is the secret of motor sport. If you don't give up, no matter your position, anything can happen."
Dumas and Timo Bernhard won their eighth P2 race and sixth straight to close the season. They wrapped up the class championship at Road Atlanta and won Saturday in P2 by 21.503 seconds over the sister car of Ryan Briscoe and Sascha Maassen.
Both Penske cars led overall in the course of the race. The winning pass came with about 80 minutes left when Dumas got around Briscoe at Turn 6 and won the race between the Porsches out of pit lane with about 50 minutes remaining.
Make no mistake that Dumas, Bernhard and the rest of the Penske crew were satisfied with another class win.
"It was a great race," Dumas said. "Atlanta was a little bit disappointing because the safety car killed my gap back to the Audi. But tonight it was just a great race. I pushed my best and I think we overtook so many times. It was all the time fair and I didn't want to have an accident or contact. We won the class and that was the target."
"Three years ago we came here for the first time in prototype racing and to be here and won this race three years in a row is pretty special," said Penske Racing President Tim Cindric. "To do it in the fashion we did tonight and this year, it doesn't happen like this too often. We appreciate the things that we have achieved, and to see what these guys they done is very gratifying."
The P2 scrap saw the top five cars finish within 56.025 seconds of each other. Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz ended up finishing third in class with their Lowe's Fernandez Racing Acura-powered Lola less than three seconds behind Briscoe and Maassen.
Bernhard won in Monterey for the first time after making his first start in 2001. Dumas had won in GT2 in 2004.
"I was very close a couple of times but always something happened at the end," said Bernhard, now a two-time Series champion. "Maybe it's the reason I'm with Romain now. But I am very happy to have finally won."
In GT1, Corvette Racing's Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta won their ninth race of the season to cap their championship season. The No. 4 Corvette C6.R beat the sister car of Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell by 28.487 seconds.
"It was a hard race. The 3 car was pushing all the way," Gavin said. "It was very competitive. Olivier drove fantastically throughout the race. The team was great in the pits and helped us win this race. On one of the restarts I got into Turn 1, got behind a GT2 car and then got by him. But he hit me from behind and the No. 3 got back in front. So our guys did a great job on the pit stop to get us back out in front."
The race literally was won in the pits with the No. 4 crew getting its car out 10.591 seconds faster after seeing the No. 3 crew win Saturday's Klein Tools Pit Crew Challenge. That obviously provided the No. 4 team a bit of incentive for the race.
"We had a great pit stop, and the crew since 2004 has always given us great work," Beretta said. "Ever since I've joined this team, we have had so much success and I hope it continues. We have fantastic service from Michelin. We always get fantastic service and great tires."
The two C6.Rs largely competed against each other during the season, but that did little to deter the devotion of fans to the Corvette brand, said Corvette Racing Program Manager Doug Fehan.
"If we saw a lack of participation or enthusiasm then we'd call it quits," Fehan said. "But we have had record crowds at our Car Corrals, for model cars and posters. We bring these Corvettes to the race track to let Corvette owners see, touch and smell these cars and be a part of it. They had a hell of a show this year. People like seeing these cars and being part of the team. It's a heck of a marketing effort and we're going to continue it."
Jaime Melo and Mika Salo captured their first Series championship by winning in GT2 for Risi Competizione in the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT. The two took a 26.775 second victory over Dominik Farnbacher and Wolf Henzler in the No. 71 Tafel Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
Salo made the winning pass on Ralf Kelleners in the Rahal Letterman Racing Porsche with 25 minutes to go. The Finn had pitted eight minutes earlier but it took less than five minutes to reel in Kelleners.
"The race was good fun," Salo said. "Our last stop was very quick and I had a great run on the last stint. When it got a little cooler it was hard to keep the temperatures in the tires so I had to push as hard as I could. But they were unbelievable all throughout."
Melo drove the first two hours and pitted from the lead before handing over to Salo. From that point on it was a tussle between the Ferrari, the Porsches from Flying Lizard Motorsports, Tafel Racing and Rahal Letterman, and the Panoz Esperante GTLM from Panoz Team PTG.
Kelleners and Tom Milner eventually finished third and a lap down to the two leading cars.
"I tried to drive safely and score points for the championship," Melo said. "The first stop we double-stinted the tires but we didn't gain anything because of the yellows. When Mika got in the car we started to gain something. He did a very good job and I'd like to thank him and everyone who worked for this title."
Saturday's victory also gives Ferrari its first manufacturer championship in the Series and the second straight team title for Risi Competizione with the Flying Lizard duo of Jorg Bergmeister and Johannes van Overbeek finishing second. Salo and Melo won the first four races of the season and eighth of the year. That sets a record for most GT2 victories in a single season.
"We've had quite a year but we have to look at the Porsche teams who have provided the competition because, without them, we wouldn't be here," said Giuseppe Risi, team owner and managing director. "I especially want to mention the Flying Lizard team, who are real sportsmen. Racing in the Series has been very special, and I think the Series is justified in calling itself 'World Class.' We have a competitive car now, and I am sure Porsche won't be sleeping over the winter. Neither will we."
The 2008 American Le Mans Series will kick off with the 2008 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 15, 2008 from historic Sebring International Raceway. SPEED will provide live television coverage. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.