Road Atlanta II: Champion Racing preview

Team ADT Champion Racing aim to complete its most successful sportscar season in a blaze of glory. The Pompano Beach (FL) based team and "Flying Finn" JJ Lehto start the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta on Saturday (18 ...

Team ADT Champion Racing aim to complete its most successful sportscar season in a blaze of glory.

The Pompano Beach (FL) based team and "Flying Finn" JJ Lehto start the 1,000-mile Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta on Saturday (18 Oct) mathematically capable of claiming the Teams' and Driver's American Le Mans Series titles.

Both lie 14-points behind Infineon Team Joest and its drivers Frank Biela and Marco Werner and so Champion's mission is simple: concentrate on scoring a fourth ALMS victory of the year.

Having started the 2003 ALMS season looking for its maiden outright ALMS race victory - despite recording 16 top-five finishes from 18 races over the previous two years - Team ADT Champion Racing has certainly come of age this season.

Lehto and co-driver Johnny Herbert have steered Champion's 2002-specification Audi R8 to victories at Road Atlanta, Road America and in the last ALMS race in Miami. A fourth ALMS race win combined with third-place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans four months ago would cap a fantastic year for the Dave Maraj-owned outfit regardless of whether title success is ultimately forthcoming.

Stefan Johansson re-joins the Team ADT Champing Racing squad for the 1,000-mile (or 10 hours) Petit Le Mans event to back-up regular duo Lehto and Herbert. The Swede is no stranger to the Champion squad and deputized for Herbert* in the opening ALMS race at Sebring in March and at Le Mans in France.

The Champion Racing team will be contesting the Petit Le Mans for a fifth time. In 1998, the Florida-based team won the GT1 category (Thierry Boutsen/Bob Wollek/Ralf Kelleners) with a Porsche GT1 EVO. The following year, a fire bottle was accidentally set off during a pit stop, which dropped Allan McNish/Kelleners/Wollek to seventh after lengthy repairs.

The team returned to the Petit in 2001 with an Audi but a left rear wheel broke forcing the R8 to limp slowly to the pit for repairs. Having fought back on to the lead lap, a brake problem, resulting from the initial wheel issue, delayed them further and Herbert/Andy Wallace trailed home third. Last year, Herbert and Johansson finished second after late race caution periods fell unkindly for the "privateer" squad.

* Herbert trails Lehto by three-points in the points standings due to Johnny finishing third, one place behind Lehto, at the ALMS opener in Sebring.

Johnny Herbert
ALMS stats: 24 starts, 4 wins, 15 top-3s, 19 top-5s, 21 top-10s.

"JJ and I scored Team ADT Champion Racing's maiden ALMS victory here at Road Atlanta less than four months ago and we've added another two wins since including the last race in Miami and so we've proven the team has really come on this season. To say that the Audi R8 has a good record in the Petit Le Mans is a massive understatement. For the past three years, an Audi has started from pole-position, finished at least first and second, and also set the fastest race lap. I've finished second and third over the past two years in the Petit race in Champion's Audi R8 so what with our win here in June, the team has shown we're ultra competitive at a circuit I personally love - it's a real driver's challenge. Because I drove for a different team in the opening ALMS race this year and finished third, one place behind JJ in the Champion Audi, I cannot win the Driver's title. It would therefore be nice to win one of the 'big' sportscar races this year."

JJ Lehto
ALMS stats: 38 starts, 13 wins (8 overall), 29 top-3s, 33 top-5s, 35 top-10s.

"My goal is simple - to go out and win the Petit Le Mans race to keep my Driver's title hopes alive. Frank [Biela] and Marco [Werner] obviously start favorites to claim the championship, they are 14-points ahead of me. The Joest Audi needs only to finish sixth in the LMP900 class, even assuming Johnny and I win, for them to collect title honors. But the race is for 1,000-miles and anything can happen. We will not be distracted as to what is going on down the pit lane at Joest. I almost won the second-ever Petit Le Mans in 1999 but my co-driver Jorg [Muller] spun late in the race and we finished third. I have also finished third (2002) and fifth (2000) so I have a good record at Road Atlanta - but so does the Joest team, they've won the past three Petit Le Mans races! After the Miami race, I spent some time in Florida with my wife and family including a trip to Disney World and have moved on to Japan for the final World Championship Formula One race as I do a commentary for a Finnish TV station."

Stefan Johansson
ALMS stats: 29 starts, 10 top-3s, 19 top-5s, 23 top-10s.

"I'll be there in case either JJ or Johnny has a problem during the race - it's just a precaution. I'll drive the R8 that I raced with Johnny last season in testing and the practice at Atlanta. It will be good to be driving the Audi R8 again which has established itself as the greatest endurance sportscar of the era. I finished second for Champion in the Petit last year and runner-up at Sebring and third at Le Mans this season."

Brad Kettler, Champion Racing, Technical Director:

"Last year's Petit Le Mans race was our first with the current body updates which were not made available to us until after Miami. At the first outing the car was dynamite! We led and chased like never before and had the race coming our way until a late yellow fell well for the Joest team and we finished second. We understand our position in the championship and plan to be on maximum attack for the event. There is little chance we can win the titles but if we can end the year with four ALMS victories combined with our third-place in the 24 Hour of Le Mans, Team ADT Champion Racing would be satisfied."

-cr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Johnny Herbert , Stefan Johansson , Allan McNish , Frank Biela , Ralf Kelleners , Marco Werner , Bob Wollek , Dave Maraj , JJ Lehto