Audi first and second at halfway stage

Audi held a monopoly of the top two positions at the halfway mark of the Petit Le Mans 1000-mile race at Road Atlanta. The number 78 car of Tom Kristensen, Frank Biela and Emanuelle Pirro had a narrow lead over its sister car fighting back from early delays that left it a lap behind in the early stages

Audi first and second at halfway stage

Tom Kristensen enjoyed a lead of just three seconds over Michele Alboreto after five hours of frenetic racing, while the sole remaining BMW V12 LMR of JJ Lehto was also on the lead lap. Dane Kristensen, who shares with Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela, took to the front just before half-distance after the number 77 car lost out during a yellow-flag safety period.

Rinaldo Capello, who shares a car with Allan McNish and Michele Alberoto, lost a lead of more than 30 seconds. McNish claimed that the organisers had not followed the correct procedure during the yellows. "The rules say that the pitlane isn't open until the pace car has picked up the leader," claimed McNish. "But that didn't happen. Five or six cars got into the pitlane before we did, which basically meant we lost everything we had gained."

McNish dominated the early stages of the race. The Scot pulled easily away from Pirro, building up a lead of more eight seconds in the first 10 laps. The Italian, who appeared tentative in traffic, eventually lost out to the Panoz of David Brabham and then Lehto's BMW before he called into the pits.

The number 78 car lost further time when Pirro was given a stop-go penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. Canny pitwork and a storming drive from Kristensen brought the car back into contention. Lehto and team mate Jorg Muller drove a faultless first half of the race to keep the car in contention, even though the V12 LMR wasn't quite on the pace of the Audi R8s.

The lead Panoz, which Brabham shared with Magnussen, easily ran in the top three until the latter collided with a GT class Porsche. Not only did the Dane lose time with a puncture, but the steering was knocked slightly askew, which forced the team to change the right front tyre at every pitstop.

The battle for GTS class honours is no less fraught than the race for overall victory. The Chevrolet Corvette of Andy Pilgrim, Kelly Collins and Franck Freon held a narrow lead over the best of the Dodge Vipers, which in turn was only a handful of seconds ahead of one of its sister cars.

Olivier Beretta made the early running in the number one Viper, but team mate Karl Wendlinger dropped back after sustaining a puncture. That handed the initiative to the Pilgrim car, which held onto the lead after the two front-running Vipers both received 20-second penalties for pitlane infringements.

The Dick Barbour Porsche squad appeared well placed to continue its winning ways in the GT division. The 911 GT3-R of Dirk Muller and Lucas Luhr held a one-lap lead over team mates Sascha Maassen and Bob Wollek, despite losing time after sustaining a puncture. The similar Alex Job Racing car that led early on in the hands of Randy Pobst and Bruno Lambert was down in a distant third after losing time when it stuck in gear.


Emanuele Pirro/Frank Biela/Tom Kristensen (Audi R8) 207 laps
Allan McNish/Rinaldo Capello/Michele Alboreto (Audi R8) 207
JJ Lehto/Jorg Muller (BMW V12 LMR) 207
Klaus Graf/Johnny O'Connell/Hiroki Katoh (Panoz Roadster) 205
David Brabham/Jan Magnussen (Panoz Roadster) 205
Andy Pilgrim/Franck Freon/Kelly Collins (Chevrolet Corvette C5-R)
Dirk Muller/Lucas Luhr (Porsche 911 GT3-R)

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