Sears Point: Champion Racing race report

Team ADT Champion Racing's JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert lie third and fourth respectively in the American Le Mans Series after finishing third in the latest race at the Infineon Raceway [Sears Point], Sonoma, CA, today (27 July). Lehto ...

Team ADT Champion Racing's JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert lie third and fourth respectively in the American Le Mans Series after finishing third in the latest race at the Infineon Raceway [Sears Point], Sonoma, CA, today (27 July).

Lehto qualified fourth fastest behind James Weaver/Butch Leitzinger (MG Lola), Andy Wallace/Chris Dyson (MG Lola) and Frank Biela/Marco Werner (Joest Audi) but dived past Biela as the light went green entering Turn 1.

By the fifth lap, the leading quartet of Leitzinger, Wallace, Lehto and Biela started lapping backmarkers around the hilly 2.53-mile, 12-turn track and the "Flying Finn" took full advantage to slice past Wallace in to second place.

After 30-minutes Leitzinger led Lehto by less than a second but with 54-minutes on the clock, a full course caution cancelled out Lehto's 3.4-secs advantage over third-place Biela who had gained a position when Wallace made a scheduled early pit-stop.

Leitzinger, Lehto and Biela each used the 11-minute caution period to make their first pit-stops, all three cars changing drivers and tires and adding fuel. Werner exited the pits first, with Herbert now at the wheel of the second-placed Champion Audi R8 - delayed slightly when a tire 'gun' jammed - and Weaver third.

When the race resumed, Werner was 6.1-secs ahead of Herbert although a lap later Weaver had demoted Johnny down to third. But another full course yellow after 82-minutes cancelled out Werner's 10.6-secs lead over Weaver with Herbert a further 8.8-secs back in third.

Leader Werner pitted during this 6-minute caution to change a deflating rear tire to hand Weaver the lead with Herbert second and the David Saelens/Benjamin Leuenberger (Panoz), third. But Herbert, having been passed by the Panoz at the re-start, almost immediately pitted himself with a tire problem.

Herbert resumed in fifth place, and slipped off the lead lap, but moved up to fourth with an hour to run. Weaver led Werner by 20-secs, with the Bill Auberlen/Didier Theys (MG Dallara) 35-secs ahead of Herbert in third.

A third caution period, with just 45-minutes remaining, and another moments later, allowed Herbert's Audi to vitally get back on to the lead lap and to stop for new tires. With 22-minutes remaining at the re-start, Weaver demoted Werner to second place within a lap and third-placed Auberlen was 21-secs ahead of Herbert.

In the corresponding Sears race 14 months ago, Herbert drove a storming final 30-minutes to finish a close second and the Englishman reproduced this form to just snatch third-place by going around the outside of Auberlen at the final hairpin turn on the last lap. Weaver took the checker 3.708-secs ahead of Werner with Herbert a further 36-secs adrift.

The result earns Florida-based Champion Racing a third consecutive 2003 ALMS result. The next round of the ALMS is staged at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada, next Sunday (3 Aug).

Johnny Herbert (39). Born: Brentwood, Essex, UK. Lives: Monte Carlo:

ALMS stats: 19 starts, 2 win, 13 top-3s, 16 top-5s, 18 top-10s.

"We lost time on our first stop when the tire gun jammed. On the very first lap after the second re-start during my stint, it felt like I'd picked up a puncture so I pitted although it transpires it was only 'pick-up'. It took me a while to get in to some kind of rhythm but it came just at the right time. From a championship point of view, it was vital that JJ and I got a podium place today. It was a tough but enjoyable race."

JJ Lehto (37). Born: Espoo, Finland. Lives: Monte Carlo:

ALMS stats: 33 starts, 11 wins (7 overall), 27 top-3s, 30 top-5s, 32 top-10s.

"The team had made a lot of changes to the R8 overnight which made a big improvement although because Johnny had driven the warm-up this morning, I didn't know quite what to expect at the start of the race. But I just went for it at the start, I had to as no one could afford to let the leader get away. I immediately got the jump on Frank [Biela] and then traffic helped me get past Andy [Wallace] for second. I could easily keep up with Butch [Leitzinger] but couldn't get passed and so decided to just follow him closely."

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Johnny Herbert , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Didier Theys , Bill Auberlen , Marco Werner , Benjamin Leuenberger , Chris Dyson , JJ Lehto