Sebring: Champion Racing race report

Tough Luck For Team ADT Champion Racing at Sebring SEBRING, Fla. (March 19, 2004) - For the third time in a row, Team ADT Champion Racing stood in 2nd place on the podium of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Contact between the ...

Tough Luck For Team ADT Champion Racing at Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. (March 19, 2004) - For the third time in a row, Team ADT Champion Racing stood in 2nd place on the podium of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Contact between the #38 Champion Audi R8 and a GT car squashed the team's hopes of claiming victory at the famed Sebring International Raceway circuit.

Pole sitter JJ Lehto led the field of 44 cars today at the season opener of the nine race American Le Mans Series. Air temperature for the 10:30 a.m. start was a windy, 74 degrees with a racing surface temperature of 93 degrees.

Despite a fantastic start, Lehto was passed early on by Audi UK Team Veloqx rival Allan McNnish. The opposing R8's fought heavy traffic and accidents on the 3.7 mile track as they battled for almost two hours together. Lehto pitted the #38, Audi R8 for a routine pit stop and handed over the wheel to teammate and last year's race winner, Marco Werner.

Marco Werner strapped in and quickly took advantage of the four, fresh Michelin tires. Just nine minutes in the cockpit of the R8, Werner passed the lead Audi UK car in turn 1 and continued to lead the pack for another hour and twenty-three minutes. Going into the hairpin turn Werner braked hard, slid into the grass and found himself back in 2nd position. Exactly thirty minutes later another bout of bad luck would strike Werner.

"At the beginning everything was perfect," said Werner. "But then after the pace car laps I had a problem with my front tires. There was no grip in the front. Especially on braking and turning, there was a lot of understeer. I lost a lot of time and Frank (Biela) pushed me very hard. Then there was an overtaking problem with two GT cars. One overtook the other and I followed the first one and then the other came from the outside and hit me from the rear."

A few minutes later Werner pitted the #38 car and the Champion Racing crew worked feverishly to repair the damage to the right side. The team replaced the intercooler, radiator, bodywork, and everything that was connected to the right side. A driver change also occurred and Emanuele Pirro took to the cockpit. The unexpected 18 minute pit-stop put the team nine laps behind both the Audi UK cars.

Debris on the track caused a full course caution 6 hours and 46 minutes into the race. Pirro stayed out for two laps while the lead Audi UK (#28) car came in for a pit stop. The second place Audi UK (#88) experienced mechanical problems which kept the opposition in the pits for an extended period of time. This combination of events allowed Pirro to earn back the valuable laps lost earlier. Team ADT Champion Racing was back in 2nd position.

On lap 199 at 5:30 p.m., Pirro came in for a full service and driver's change. JJ Lehto was back behind the wheel. Another caution ensued allowing the field to bunch up prior to a restart. Once the course went green, Lehto quickly moved up behind the lead car. Although the Team ADT Champion car was still six laps down, that didn't prevent Lehto from making a daring pass in turn 17 to overtake Allan McNish in the Audi UK car.

Lehto continued the charge for another two hours taking the R8 from daylight to darkness. At 7:36 p.m., Lehto pitted and handed the car over to Werner. During Werner's two-hour stint, the German driver closed the gap on the lead car from six laps to five laps with three hours to go.

With 40 minutes remaining, Werner pulled into the pits for fuel, tires, and a driver change. Emanuele Pirro would steer the car to the checkered flag and 2nd place on the podium.

Quotes:

JJ Lehto (Finland): "I guess second is better than third. At least we have a lot of points for the Championship this year. That's the biggest thing-that we were able to score points."

Marco Werner (Germany): "I'm unhappy, really. But like JJ said, second is better than third. It's a good thing to be on the podium but I would have preferred the win. Everything was fine until the pace car laps. That's when it all fell apart."

Emanuele Pirro (Italy): "We did a good race. The car was great, the team worked really hard. If you consider it as a practice for Le Mans, we have to be happy. We had tough luck but this is racing. But at the end of the day I think we brought home a good solid result."

Brad Kettler (Technical Director): "I was very happy with the car and how well it ran. The team did really well today. We had some bad luck but we are still very optimistic going into Le Mans. We've had a good look at the competition and I'm not that impressed. With a little bit of luck we can come out on top."

-cr-

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Allan McNish , Marco Werner , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto