Sears Point: Doran-Lista race report

SONOMA, Calif., July 27 - Although the twisty nature of Infineon Raceway didn't really suit its Dallara's overall design and there was quite a bit of blocking and bumping going on at the end, the Doran-Lista team and drivers Didier Theys and...

SONOMA, Calif., July 27 - Although the twisty nature of Infineon Raceway didn't really suit its Dallara's overall design and there was quite a bit of blocking and bumping going on at the end, the Doran-Lista team and drivers Didier Theys and Bill Auberlen finished third in the LMP 900 class and fourth overall Sunday in the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma, an American Le Mans Series race which was broadcast live on NBC.

The Lebanon, Ohio-based team almost finished third overall and second in class, but lapped traffic held up Auberlen on the last turn of the last lap, allowing Johnny Herbert's Audi to slip by for position in both class and overall.

Still, the team was as high as second in class at one point and it was a top-three contender all day.

The lighter LMP 675 Lola of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger won the event, followed by the two Audi R8s of Frank Biela and Marco Werner and Herbert and J.J. Lehto. The Doran-Lista Dallara MG #27 was the last car on the lead lap, only 39.878 seconds behind the winner and 0.128 seconds behind third-place overall at the line.

Theys, of Scottsdale, Ariz., started fifth overall and third in class. He dropped to sixth at the initial start of the two-hour and 45-minute race, but by lap four he was right back where he started and three laps later he was already lapping slower cars.

He spent most of the early part of the race trying to catch Biela, who was running fourth overall and second in LMP 900.

The first full-course yellow occurred right before the one-hour mark when Joe Foster's Panoz stopped in turn two in an unsafe position. That was almost exactly when the Doran-Lista team needed to make its first pit stop for sticker Michelins and fuel anyway, so they used that opportunity to do just that in less than a minute under yellow. Theys stayed in the car. He reported over the radio that the car was understeering in the high-speed corners, but he said that he could still work with it and he didn't ask for any changes.

One of the Panozs got around Theys shortly after the restart because the Dallara's brakes needed a lap or two to heat up before they performed their best.

Spencer Pumpelly brought out the second full-course yellow when the ZIP Racing Porsche broke its rear suspension and crashed into a concrete wall in turn nine about an hour and 23 minutes into the event. Luckily Pumpelly wasn't hurt.

Team owner Kevin Doran again used that opportunity to pit under yellow, this time adding fuel only and allowing Auberlen to relieve Theys.

He said the team would still need a splash of fuel at the end, though. Auberlen was running fourth overall and third in class, in hot pursuit of the Panoz of David Saelens and Benjamin Leuenberger. When that car pitted the Doran-Lista team was third overall and second in class with 50 minutes remaining, but the car would still need at least a splash-and-go pit stop for fuel before the finish.

Again, opportunity knocked. This time it was in the form of a full-course caution to repair a tire barrier that had done its job. The team considered not stopping at all in order to try to make it to the finish without adding fuel, but upon further calculations decided to make its third stop under yellow with about 39 minutes remaining in the event for fuel only, allowing the fuel hose to do its job for about six seconds.

Auberlen, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was still in third place overall at that point, but he knew that Herbert was going to be coming on strong at the end. He did his best, but some other cars blocked his progress and he was hit a couple of times. On the last lap, Herbert, in the fastest LMP 900 car in the race, slipped by in the last turn.

"I think it was a great race," said Doran while Theys headed to victory lane and Auberlen headed to the World Challenge grid, where he would go on to win his second of two of those races here Sunday.

"Our car was really good today," Doran continued. "Our pit stop strategy suited the race conditions. We were able to make up some intervals under yellows. Unfortunately we got passed with one turn to go, but with lapped traffic, there's always that possibility. But it was a good run for the Lista team. The drivers and everyone involved did a great job."

Theys agreed that it was a positive day for the entire team. ""The car's balance was good. The grip level was not that great and it took one or two laps to get our brakes working, but overall the car was very good," he said.

"It was hot but not too hot. The track conditions were OK; there are always marbles here. Our Michelin tires were perfect. Bill did a great job and so did our team; our pit stops were excellent. It was a good day for the Doran-Lista team," Theys summarized.

Auberlen, who was making his first drive with the team, was disappointed to lose a spot at the very end but he, too, was enthusiastic.

"The Doran-Lista car was so good!," he said. "It took awhile to get our brakes warmed up, so on restarts I was a ping-pong ball out there trying to just get through it until they warmed up. It took a lap and a half to get the brakes going. I got hit several times. Once it knocked off a drive plate, which affected the downforce a little.

"But I want to thank the entire Doran-Lista team; everybody works so hard on this team," Auberlen said. "I want to thank Kevin Doran, Fredy Lienhard and Didier Theys for allowing me to have this opportunity. It was an absolutely unbelievable car to drive."

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , David Saelens , J.J. Lehto , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Didier Theys , Fredy Lienhard , Bill Auberlen , Marco Werner , Spencer Pumpelly , Benjamin Leuenberger , Kevin Doran