DEFENDING CHAMPIONS DUMAS AND BERNHARD GUIDE PENSKE PORSCHE RS SPYDER TO SECOND STRAIGHT LMP WIN; LIZARD AND FARNBACHER LOLES PORSCHES SECOND AND THIRD IN GT2 ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- April 5 -- 2007 American Le Mans Series LMP2 champions...
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS DUMAS AND BERNHARD GUIDE PENSKE PORSCHE RS SPYDER TO SECOND STRAIGHT LMP WIN; LIZARD AND FARNBACHER LOLES PORSCHES SECOND AND THIRD IN GT2
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- April 5 -- 2007 American Le Mans Series LMP2 champions Romain Dumas (France) and Timo Bernhard (Germany) led the LMP2 class in their #7 Penske Porsche RS Spyder virtually from start to finish to win their second straight contest, and flirted with the overall win at the end of Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg.
Dumas, who drove the last hour and 15 minutes of the hour and 55-minute event (distance dictated by the ABC-TV live coverage), gained the overall lead several times by either passing the LMP1 Audi or having his Penske crew give him the lead with a superior pit stop. But what spoiled his chance for a double victory was the last yellow flag -- with only four laps to go.
"We could gain enough time on the Audi in the corners to stay ahead on the straight-away, but the late yellow closed up the field. With 200 less horsepower than the Audi, our Porsche could not hold off the more powerful LMP1 car," said Dumas.
"With the extra points we scored at Sebring, and the Acura disqualification there, this LMP2 was very important for both driver and manufacturer points, and gives us good momentum going into Long Beach in two weeks," said Dumas.
Co-driver Bernhard, who started the car, said the heat and the yellow flags made the race difficult as the tires were getting lots of pickup and the slow pace of the yellow laps made the car run hot.
"Even with all of that, the most important result is our class win. Yes, we enjoy the overall wins, but there are no championships for overall wins in this series -- we earn our points in class," said Bernhard.
His boss at Penske Racing -- President Tim Cindric -- agreed, and could not emphasize the importance of the Penske Porsches getting off to a fast start this season with two victories.
"People were congratulating us for the team effort to prepare the car for qualifying yesterday after a practice crash, but yesterday seem years away with the difficult event. The drivers and crew had to start the event with new energy, and concentrate on the race. This was our 13th class win in a row for Porsche and Penske dating back to last year, and the 298th professional win for Penske Racing," said Cindric.
The team #6 Penske Porsche driven by Sascha Maassen (Germany) and Patrick Long (USA), finished third in LMP2 and fourth overall (right behind one of the Acura's LMP2 cars), but their journey was much more adventuresome.
At the start, Maassen and Acura driver Scott Sharp touched, sending Sascha back six places on the first lap. Then, on lap #35, the Jon Field LMP1 Lola crashed, and Sascha was forced off the track to avoid hitting that car, losing places again. Then, after the one-hour mark, when Patrick Long took over, the #6 car was hit by the GT2 Viper, causing no damage again, but bringing out another yellow flag. Finally, with only ten minutes left in the race, Long and Dyson Porsche RS Spyder driver Butch Leitzinger (USA) came together after contesting the same piece of asphalt, with Leitzinger spinning and then being hit by the #45 Flying Lizard Porsche.
After the race, the International Motor Sports Association ruled that Long did not give Leitzinger enough room coming out of the corner, and penalized the entry (both drivers) three championship point. So Maassen and Long only gain ten points each instead of the 13 points they would have earned for third place in LMP2. Ordinarily, the team would have been assessed with a stop-and-go penalty during the race, but the ruling was not made until the race was over.
Speaking of the Dyson Racing Porsche RS Spyders, the team ran a strong race, and contested for the podium positions all afternoon before Leitzinger's accident. He and Marino Franchitti, who led the race overall for a brief time at the 40-minute mark, finished ninth in class, while teammates Chris Dyson (USA) and Guy Smith (England) finished just off the podium in fourth place in LMP2.
In GT2, a promising second win by the Jorg Bergmeister/Wolf Henzler Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR came to an end abruptly with only ten minutes left in the race in the incident described above with the Dyson Racing Porsche LMP2 car. That left the door open for the Mueller/Farnbacher Ferrari, which won the class. The Johannes van Overbeek/Patrick Pilet team Porsche finished second, while the Marc Basseng/Dirk Werner Farnbacher Loles Porsche, which dropped to dead last on the first lap due to a faulty fuel pressure setting switch, came all the way back to finish third in GT2.