Veteran gets his due and rookie becomes champion as Biela, Werner win American Le Mans Series LMP 900 title. BRASELTON, Ga. - One was a veteran driver who had paid his dues and was felt by many to deserve a championship shot. The other was a ...
Veteran gets his due and rookie becomes champion as Biela, Werner win American Le Mans Series LMP 900 title.
BRASELTON, Ga. - One was a veteran driver who had paid his dues and was felt by many to deserve a championship shot. The other was a rookie who quickly turned heads and showed that he belonged.
Together, they became champions in the 2003 season for the American Le Mans Series.
The veteran, Frank Biela, and the rookie, Marco Werner, were paired together as drivers for the Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 to run the full American Le Mans Series season. The ingredients were there: a proven car and a proven team, as well as Biela, who had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three straight years and had been a vital part of the works Audi team that Reinhold Joest had operated from 1999 through 2002.
The unknown quantity was Werner, who had extensive racing experience in other forms of racing but very little in Prototype cars. But Werner quickly blended in with his fellow Germans and contributed greatly as he and Biela won the LMP 900 driving title while Audi won its fourth straight Manufacturer's crown.
Starting with a victory in the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which came in Werner's first-ever ALMS start, the team ran at the front of the pack all season in the nine-race championship. Biela, who had won at Sebring with the factory team in 2000, helped Werner learn the difficult Sebring circuit and the drivers, joined for the long-distance race by third pilot Phillipp Peter, ran flawlessly as Infineon Team Joest won a race-long battle with ADT Champion Racing.
The Joest vs. Champion battle played out all season in the ALMS as the two Audi teams won the LMP 900 class victory in all nine races. Joest took five wins and Champion four, with all but one of the wins also an overall race victory. Only the history-making win by Dyson Racing's Lola EX257-AER/MG at Infineon Raceway prevented an Audi sweep of the season.
After their win at Sebring, Biela and Werner also took overall wins in ALMS races on the street circuit at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec; on the high-speed road racing circuit of Mosport International Raceway near Toronto and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California. Finishing second overall to Dyson at Infineon Raceway gave the team the LMP 900 class win in that event as well.
Biela and Werner entered the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta with enough of a championship lead that they only had to complete 70 percent of the 1,000-mile race to win the driving title, even if closest challenger JJ Lehto won the race for the Champion team. After a day of incidents that included Biela crashing from contact with a lapped car and Werner spinning and getting stuck in a gravel trap, the Joest car completed the necessary distance and the two German drivers were champions.
For Biela, the title was extremely fitting. In 2001, he finished behind co-driver and champion Emanuele Pirro, despite driving with him in every race during the season. A complex system of bonus points for qualifying and fast laps in races gave Pirro the edge. For 2003, a new point system eliminated bonus points and set the stage for co-drivers to share championships.
"I am really happy we won the title," said Biela. "It was my fourth season in the ALMS and finally it was my turn to win the championship. This really means a lot because, after various touring car titles, it is my first sports car title. I came close with Emanuele in 2001, but the system is much fairer now and I am happy that Audi and Infineon Team Joest gave me another chance. Marco, of course, was a great teammate.
"At Road Atlanta we saw how difficult it is to win a race or a championship," he said. "Things can happen or go wrong so easily. Victories will mean even more to me in the future."
Werner certainly held up his end of the bargain, setting a track record while winning the pole at Trois-Rivieres and being fastest qualifier two other times as well. The veteran of single-seater and touring car racing also led eight of the nine races, all of which were held on tracks he had never seen prior to racing on them.
"Coming as a newcomer and leaving as a champion is simply fantastic," said Werner, who was also presented with the first Rookie of the Year Award for the ALMS. "For me, it was a marvelous season. I really like the ALMS races and the tracks, which are so much more interesting compared to the Formula One tracks I was used to. All of the tracks were new to me, and Frank and Infineon Team Joest helped me a lot.
"Driving for Joest is something special," said Werner, who first drove for the team in the 2002 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "Now I know why this team is so successful. The Audi R8 is the best car I ever drove.