McNish wins in Atlanta

Allan McNish anchored a sixth American Le Mans Series victory of the season for Audi at Road Atlanta on Saturday night. The Scot ended up a clear winner of the Petit Le Mans 1000-mile race with team mates Rinaldo Capello and Michele Alboreto after a topsy-turvy event lasting more than nine hours.

McNish wins in Atlanta

McNish dominated the early running only to see a one-lap lead evaporate during a yellow-flag safety-car period just prior to the five-hour mark. The second Audi R8, driven by Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Tom Kristensen, took the lead before Pirro was clouted from the rear by Panoz driver Jan Magnussen.

The impact damaged the rear diffuser and the team attempted a change at the 250-lap mark. Damaged brackets prevented a new one being fitted and forced the car to run to the end of the race without this aerodynamic aid. Emanuele Pirro said after the end of the race: "It has been difficult to keep the car on the road. The balance was OK, but the lack of downforce meant we were wobbling about all over the place."

The delay dropped Pirro and his co-drivers behind the BMW V12 LMR of JJ Lehto and Jorg Muller. The erstwhile championship leaders remained on the same lap as the McNish Audi until the seventh hour and looked set to finish in second place.

But a mistake from Muller with an hour and a half to go put the V12 LMR in the barriers and a 15-minute stop for repairs restricted the German and Lehto to a distant fifth place. Muller said: "I just spun. It was my mistake, but we had to drive at 100% to try to keep up."

The BMW's off looked like it would allow Audi to cruise to a one-two, but a late-race safety car allowed the number one Panoz, co-driven by David Brabham, back into the equation. The car had run in the top three during the early running, but a clash with a GT class car dropped the car down the field.

Magnussen and Brabham fought back into the top three and the former was gaining hand over fist on Biela in the closing laps, but some cynical team orders for Audi interrupted the Dane's charge. A cruising Capello allowed Biela to pass but then held Magnussen up sufficiently for the German to hang on to second place.

The result means that McNish moves into the lead of the ALMS with only three rounds left to run. "It was an up-and-down race, which is the nature of an event like this," he said. "You never have a race like this without any trouble, but overall we came out on top."

Fourth place was taken by the second Panoz in which German Klaus Graf starred throughout the race, while fifth behind the BMW went to the first of the four Cadillac Northstars in the race. DAMS drivers Eric Bernard and Emanuele Collard had a trouble-free race on the way to equalling the marque's best result of the season.

The battle for GTS class honours was decided only two laps from the end of the race. Chevrolet's Corvettes and the Dodge Vipers swapped positions throughout the 394-lap event, but a stirring drive from Andy Pilgrim after the final yellow-flag period produced the 'Vette's second ALMS victory of the season. The expat Brit, who shared with Kelly Collins and Franck Freon, caught Tommy Archer's Viper and then produced what he called a "now-or-never" manoeuvre to steal the lead into turn one on lap 393.

Chevrolet also claimed third place with a second 'Vette driven, among others, by Ron Fellows, but the fastest car in the class was the Viper crewed by points leaders Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger, as well as Marc Duez. They led early on, but a puncture after a collision with one of the Panoz and then a flat battery restricted them to a distant fourth.

The baby class of the ALMS for GT cars was won by the Dick Barbour Porsche 911 GT3-R of Sascha Maassen and Bob Wollek. Victory was something of a surprise for the drivers who hadn't expected the car to last the race. The engine needed topping up with oil from the opening hour, while Wollek beached the car in the gravel for a couple of laps mid-race.

The race was marred by a mid-race accident in which Bill Auberlen's BMW V12 LMR flipped on the back straight. The American driver emerged unscathed from the dramatic accident - caused when he lost front downforce over the famous hump on this section of track.

Allan McNish now leads the ALMS with 210 points Jorg Muller's 205. The ALMS resumes at Laguna Seca on October 15.

1 Allan McNish/Rinaldo Capello/Michele Alboreto (Audi R8) 394 laps
2 Emanuele Pirro/Frank Biela/Tom Kristensen (Audi R8) 391
3 David Brabham/Jan Magnussen (Panoz Roadster) 391
4 Klaus Graf/Johnny O'Connell/Hiroki Katoh (Panoz Roadster) 389
5 JJ Lehto/Jorg Muller (BMW V12 LMR) 383
6 Eric Bernard/Emmanuel Collard (Cadillac Northstar LMP) 380
7 Max Angelelli/Wayne Taylor/Eric van de Poele (Cadillac Northstar LMP) 372
8 Andy Wallace/Butch Leitzinger/Frank Lagorce (Cadillac Northstar LMP) 359
GTS Andy Pilgrim/Franck Freon/Kelly Collins (Chevrolet Corvette C5-R) 358
GT Sascha Maassen/Bob Wollek (Porsche 911 GT3-R)

Audi first and second at halfway stage
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