McNish is champion...'elect'

Britain's Allan McNish clinched the American Le Mans Series with one race to go with second place at Las Vegas on Sunday. The Audi driver's points total is now beyond the reach of any of his rivals despite a victory for team mates Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro at the Nevada circuit

McNish is champion...'elect'

"From a career point of view this is a big thing," said the 30-year-old. "This is a hard-fought championship with a lot of competitive teams in it. But it's also a long championship that has included many different situations. We've raced on a variety of circuits and in a lots of weather conditions."

McNish said his only regret was that his season-long ALMS team mate, Rinaldo Capello, was unable to share his triumph thanks to the unusual system of scoring used in the ALMS. "We've fought as a team this year. I've supported him, and vice versa. But only one of us can be champion, which is purely down to the vagaries of the points system."

The series organisers are refusing to declare McNish champion, even though he cannot be overhauled in the points table by either Biela, Pirro or long-time championship leaders Jorg Muller and JJ Lehto of the BMW Schnitzer team. It argues that should McNish not race at the Australian season finale on December 31 or Audi switches its driver pairings, Capello could take the title.

Biela and Pirro lucked into a third ALMS victory of the race when the top three cars were involved in a major shunt 82 laps into the 129-lap event. Muller's BMW, the Panoz of David Brabham and McNish's Audi R8, now driven by Capello, were all delayed in multi-car accident that occurred as the race went green after a short safety-car period.

The incident happened when Muller tagged the number two Panoz of Hiroki Katoh. Capello was then hit from behind by Brabham, whose Panoz was knocked out of gear and rammed by the Reynard-Judd of Stefan Johansson.

Pirro, who had just taken over from Biela, was able to avoid the mayhem and emerged in the lead. The BMW and the Panoz needed lengthy pitstops for repairs, while Capello was unable to do anything about his team mate because of a damaged rear diffuser. "It was like driving in the wet," he said.

Biela and Pirro admitted their good fortune after a race in which they were unable to keep pace with the top three. "In the end we were lucky," said the former, "but there have been occasions this year when we have been very unlucky."

Biela had been unable to keep pace with the top three year the first two thirds of the race, complaining of oversteer. Jan Magnussen led from the start in the Brabham Panoz but collided with McNish as the Audi tried to take the lead after 12 laps. The former continued in the lead but received a stop-go penalty as a result of the accident. He then fought back into the lead before making his first scheduled pitstop.

McNish led despite handling problems caused by the clash with Magnussen until the second round of pitstops.

Third, a lap down, was the BMW of Jean-Marc Gounon and Bill Auberlen, while the Rafanelli Lola driven by Mimmo Schiattarella and Didier de Radigues was a delayed fourth after sustaining body damage early on.

The ORECA Dodge Viper squad dominated the GTS class, Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger winning their ninth race of the year. Sascha Maassen and Bob Wollek took GT honours in their Dick Barbour Porsche ahead of team mates Lucas Luhr and Dirk Muller, who were delayed by a stop-go penalty early in the race.

1 Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro (Audi R8) 129 laps
2 Allan McNish/Rinaldo Capello (Audi R8) 129 laps
3 Jean-Marc Gounon/Bill Auberlen (BMW V12 LMR) 128 laps
4 Mimmo Schiattarella/Didier de Radigues (Lola-Judd B2K/10) 125 laps
5 Guy Smith/Stefan Johansson (Reynard-Judd 2KQ-LM) 125 laps
6 Jan Magnussen/David Brabham (Panoz LMP Roadster S) 123 laps
GTS Olivier Beretta/Karl Wendlinger (Dodge Viper GTS-R) 120 laps; GT Sascha Maassen/Bob Wollek (Porsche 911 GT3-R) 118 laps.


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