Road Atlanta: Champion Racing race report

Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto earned Team ADT Champion Racing its maiden American Le Mans Series victory when the Anglo-Finnish driver combination, racing together for the first time, swept to a 30-second victory at Road Atlanta today ...

Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto earned Team ADT Champion Racing its maiden American Le Mans Series victory when the Anglo-Finnish driver combination, racing together for the first time, swept to a 30-second victory at Road Atlanta today (SUNDAY).

Having achieved 17 top-5 finishes since entering ALMS two years ago - including five runner-up placings last year - victory at a circuit where the team had scored its first major success (1999 Petit Le Mans GT1 class winner), had recorded third and second in ALMS at Atlanta (2001 & 2002), combined with third-place in the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans, has completed a truly memorable month for the Pompano Beach, Florida-based team.

Lehto started the Champion Audi from third place on the 37-car grid in hot and very humid weather conditions in Georgia. JJ was in a determined mood at the green light and forced his way past Marco Werner (Infineon Joest Audi) going into turn one.

On the sixth lap the "Flying Finn" repeated the maneuver, Lehto sweeping past pole-sitter James Weaver (MG Lola) and in to the lead. After 30-minutes, the Team ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 had a lead of 15-secs over Weaver with Werner a further 7-secs adrift in third.

Lehto pitted for fuel only on lap 44 with a 24-seconds advantage while Frank Biela resumed in second place - 43-secs down - having taken over from Werner a lap later, their Audi being re-fuelled and also fitted with new tires on its scheduled stop. The James Weaver/Butch Leitzinger MG Lola dropped to third and out of contention for race honors when it collected a stop-go penalty for an infringement during its pit-stop.

JJ maintained his advantage over Biela's similar 2002-specification Audi R8 and pitted with a 45-secs advantage with 50-minutes to run. Herbert took over from Lehto with the well-drilled Champion Racing team servicing the Audi with fuel and tires.

Biela pitted the same lap, his Audi requiring just fuel, which brought the Joest Audi to within 24-secs of Herbert's Champion Audi. With 15-minutes to the checker, Herbert's lead was 24-secs and the British driver took the flag 30-secs ahead of the Biela/Werner Audi - earning Johnny only his second ALMS victory and JJ's seventh outright race success which takes him into a three-way series lead after two races.

Johnny Herbert

"We had planned that JJ would do the first two stints and for me then to bring home it home to the finish and everything worked out perfectly. Dave Maraj's team deserve this maiden ALMS victory and to beat a Joest Audi must be especially sweet for him. After JJ's stints I had a relatively easy job. The car for me was perfect, never missing a beat since Friday's tests. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."

JJ Lehto

"Qualifying was cancelled yesterday so I thought I'd do it today in the first corner to get past Marco [Werner]. Then traffic caused James [Weaver] to lose momentum exiting the last turn onto the start finish straight which allowed me to take the lead. The Audi was perfect for my entire stint. I had no problems whatsoever apart from the traffic. It's good to be winning again and I'm sure there are more to come this season."

Dave Maraj, Team ADT Champion Racing Team Owner:

"We came close on many occasions including this year's ALMS race at Sebring when we led most of the 12 hours but had to be content with second. With our Le Mans result two weeks ago and now our maiden ALMS victory, I am so proud of my team."

-cr-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Marco Werner , Dave Maraj , JJ Lehto