Title battle hots up at Road Atlanta

The battle for the 2000 Le Mans Series Championship hits fever pitch at Road Atlanta this week with the third running of the race born from the Le Mans 24 Hour - Petit Le Mans. With only three races remaining before the championship decider on...

The battle for the 2000 Le Mans Series Championship hits fever pitch at Road Atlanta this week with the third running of the race born from the Le Mans 24 Hour - Petit Le Mans.

With only three races remaining before the championship decider on the streets of Adelaide, BMW's Jorg Muller holds a five point advantage over Audi's Alan McNish, but 1999 winner, Australian star David Brabham, is looking forward to the event to try to bring his team back into title contention.

"This is a race we have to win - not just for ALMS Championship points but also for the free entry it gives to pre-qualifying for next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans," Brabham said.

"It will of course be no walkover being up against the factory teams, plus some of the privateers who have gained ground over the last few races, but I don't see why we can't win.

"We have gained momentum steadily over the last two races and that top step of the podium is waiting for us."

Run over ten hours or 1000 racing miles, a number of teams have brought in additional drivers to bolster their regular combinations.

German Klaus Graf will team up with regular Panoz number two pilots Johnny O'Connell and Hiroki Katoh. Audi have also called up regular endurance race experts Tom Kristensen and Michele Alboreto.

Kristensen will be reunited with Sebring and Le Mans winning team-mates Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro while Alboreto will drive with Alan McNish and Rinaldo Capello.

"Road Atlanta is a key race for us. It will be decisive in our fight for the title," says Le Mans winner Frank Biela.

Biela's part-time team-mate Tom Kristensen is looking forward to climbing back aboard the Audi.

"Petit Le Mans is a real classic and I'm really looking forward to the weekend with my team mates - after all, the three of us seem to be on a winning streak this year, " says Kristensen.

BMW started the year on strong form, with Jorg Muller and JJ Lehto winning the Charlotte and Silverstone races, but Muller's championship lead has been shrinking with Audi on the charge.

"Regarding the 2000 drivers championship, I must say my chances are shrinking," said Muller.

"Our BMW V12 LMR is an excellent car, which last year was nearly unbeatable (winning five of seven races). But last year was last year; we just don't have a new prototype.

"After all, fighting with a 1999 car against the new Audi is extremely tough, but we wont give up."

The Petit Le Mans will cover 10 hours, or 1,000 racing miles, whichever comes first, and Muller feels the BMW team could offer a threat to the recent Audi dominance.

"A positive point for us will be the duration of the race," he said.

"Ten hours or 1,000 miles means a lot of room for tactics and increases the chances for mistakes, which will hopefully be made by others."

Muller will also be out to make amends for 1999 when he spun his BMW out of the lead in the dying minutes of the race.

The battle for Prototype honours will be fierce with Cadillac running four cars at the event and the leading privateer entrants including the Mimmo Schiattarella/Didier de Radigues/Norman Simon Lola and the Stefan Johansson/Guy Smith Reynard expected to perform well.

The GTS fight will be equally as fierce with the Oreca Dodge Viper squad doing battle with a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes.

Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim teamed up in a Corvette to beat the Viper's at Texas but the duo will split up to head separate Chevrolet squads at Road Atlanta.

A squad of privateer Vipers are also entered for the event with female racer Milka Duno contesting the event in a Chamberlain team entry.

A trio of her fellow competitors from the Women's Global GT Series - Cindi Lux, Divina Galica and Sarah Wahl - will also contest Petit Le Mans in the GT division aboard a Porsche 911 GT3-R.

Australian GT team Skea Racing is confident of a strong showing after performing well at other key events of the year 2000 including the Le Mans 24 Hour.

However, team owner Rohan Skea's co-driver and local Atlanta star Doc Bundy is facing a tough weekend after suffering broken ribs in a crash at Portland. Bundy was at the wheel when his Skea team Porsche was pushed off the road by a Prototype car.

"This race is very important for me because its home," said Bundy, who settled in the area in 1980 while helping to start a road racing school.

"I really want to be out there racing. I feel in my heart that I can do it, and I don't like to lie to myself."

Race fans can tune into a live race commentary of the event via Radio Le Mans at http://www.americanlemans.com/pages/00live/index.html

The Petit Le Mans race will be staged Saturday and kicks off at 3.00am Adelaide time on Sunday, October 1.

Le Mans style racing features three different classes competing in the one race, Prototypes (Panoz, Audi, BMW, Cadillac), GTS (Dodge Viper, Corvette, Porsche) and the production based GT class (BMW and Porsche)

The Adelaide event will be an outstanding New Year's Eve party with planning underway on fashion parades, food and wine exhibitions, street parties, fireworks displays, on-track entertainment and a spectacular after-race concert celebration.

PROTOTYPE POINTS AFTER ROUND EIGHT: Jorg Muller (BMW) 182, JJ Lehto (BMW) 179, Alan McNish (Audi R8) 177, Rinaldo Capello (Audi R8) 171, Frank Biela (Audi R8) 166, Emanuele Pirro (Audi R8) 165, Jan Magnussen (Panoz) 164, David Brabham (Panoz) 150, Bill Auberlen (BMW) 125, Hiroki Katoh (Panoz) 121

Paul Ryan

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Milka Duno , David Brabham , Rinaldo Capello , Didier de Radigues , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Guy Smith , Frank Biela , Norman Simon , Klaus Graf , Ron Fellows , Andy Pilgrim , Jorg Muller , Bill Auberlen , Ryan Paul , Michele Alboreto , Hiroki Kato , Doc Bundy , Divina Galica , Emanuele Pirro , JJ Lehto