Miami: Champion Racing race report

Florida-based Team ADT Champion Racing scored an immensely popular and exciting third American Le Mans Series victory of the season when Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto steered their Audi R8 to a "home" victory on the streets of Miami. Lehto started...

Florida-based Team ADT Champion Racing scored an immensely popular and exciting third American Le Mans Series victory of the season when Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto steered their Audi R8 to a "home" victory on the streets of Miami.

Lehto started the 165-minute race from pole-position, the first time this year the Pompano Beach team had captured an "outright" pole*. Marco Werner, a mere 0.039secs slower than Lehto in Friday afternoon's shortened qualifying session, completed the front row in the Joest-run Audi R8 he shared with fellow championship leader Frank Biela.

In cloudy but humid (88F) conditions, the early action was also hot on the 1.12-mile temporary street course in the "downtown" Bayside area of Miami. Lehto and Werner set a searing pace, darting through the 36-car field together, before the first full course caution period after 17-minutes brought a brief respite to the Audi duel for five minutes.

Some controlled but aggressive driving earned Lehto a 13-secs lead over Werner with 40mins on the clock as the race went full course yellow again. The David Saelens/Olivier Beretta Panoz was already 33-secs down on the "Flying Finn" in third place with the two Lola MGs of Butch Leitzinger/James Weaver and Andy Wallace/Chris Wallace a distant fourth and fifth.

Under the second full course yellow, Lehto dived for the pits (on 43 mins) with co-driver Herbert resuming in third place having re-fuelled and now with new tires although a brief flash fire caused some anxious moments as JJ strapped Johnny in to the Audi cockpit.

The race was back on after this 18-min caution period while Werner eventually pitted after 82-mins (79 laps) with a 27.8-secs lead over second-placed Herbert. The Joest Audi resumed with Biela now at the wheel, 39.5-secs behind new leader Herbert moments before the race went full course yellow for a third time on 87mins for 11-mins and then for a fourth time on 100-mins for just 5-mins.

With exactly an hour to run the race went "green" once again, Herbert and Biela now nose to tail on the track. Johnny, driving fast while also attempting to conserve precious fuel, extended his advantage to 12.5-secs with 45-mins to run and to 17.3-secs with 30-mins to the checker.

A fifth full course yellow brought the race to a thrilling climax and with 13-mins to run Herbert's lead was 20-secs over Biela with rain clouds threatening and darkness approaching. Johnny, trying to juggle speed and conserving fuel simultaneously, held a 15-secs lead over Biela with seven minutes to run and as rain began to fall, delicately threaded his way through the traffic to record a worthy 40.6-secs victory over the Joest Audi.

The Miami result means that Lehto and Team ADT Champion Racing still have a mathematical chance of claiming the Driver's and Teams' ALMS titles in the final round of the nine-race series, the 1,000-mile "Petit Le Mans" race at Road Atlanta (18 Oct) - the Georgia track that witnessed Champion's maiden ALMS victory three months ago.

The points margin in each category is down to 14-points and with 26-points on offer to the Atlanta winner, a thrilling finale is set to be staged.

* Team ADT Champion Racing registered a LMP900 "class pole" at Mosport (Lehto) this year but started from third place on the grid. The only other "outright pole" previously recorded by the team was at Sears Point (Tom Kristensen) in 2002.

Johnny Herbert (39). Born: Brentwood, Essex, UK. Lives: Monte Carlo:
ALMS stats: 24 starts, 4 wins, 15 top-3s, 19 top-5s, 21 top-10s.

"The pit-stop was a little nerve-wracking when some fuel caught fire momentarily which delayed JJ strapping me in. It also caused me to get a little hot! In terms of the car, it ran perfectly without any problems. Obviously we had to save fuel whenever possible and we just made it."

JJ Lehto (37). Born: Espoo, Finland. Lives: Monte Carlo:
ALMS stats: 38 starts, 13 wins (7 overall), 29 top-3s, 33 top-5s, 35 top-10s.

"The track was very slippery at the start but I didn't have any real problems. It's been perfect weekend for Team ADT Champion Racing. We started from outright pole-position for the first time this season, won our 'local' race, set the fastest race lap and have moved closer in the championship. We were on the pace from the start and deserved our third win of the season - perfect!"

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Johnny Herbert , David Saelens , Tom Kristensen , Frank Biela , James Weaver , Olivier Beretta , JJ Lehto