Petit Le Mans: Kristensen takes title

After 1,000 miles and nine and a half hours of threading their Joest Racing Audi R8 through often difficult slower traffic, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello emerged victorious from the fifth running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. In the process, Kristensen also secured the American Le Mans Series P900 category title

Petit Le Mans: Kristensen takes title

After the No. 1 Audi of early leaders Emanuele Pirro and Frank Beila hit trouble, first with a stop-and-go penalty for contact with a slower car, then a dead battery and later with accident damage, Kristensen and Capello found their No. 2 embroiled in a tight mid-race duel with the Champion Audi of Johnny Herbert and Stefan Johansson - until the Champion car made a pit stop just prior to a full-course yellow. When the yellow Audi was able pit under caution, it resulted in nearly a full lap lead and that, as they say, was that.

Herbert and Johansson, whose car enjoyed equal specification with the works machines for the first time this season, rolled home a minute behind the winners. Four laps back of them came the third-placed Cadillac Northstar LMP 02 of JJ Lehto, Max Angelelli and Christophe Tinseau, who gave Cadillac its fourth consecutive podium finish in the marque's apparent swansong. The second Cadillac of Eric Bernard, Emmanuel Collard and Wayne Taylor finished fourth, a further lap back, while the Panoz LMP-1 of Bryan Herta, Bill Auberlen and Gunnar Jeannette rounded out the top five.

The Pirro/Biela Audi recovered for sixth after losing five laps to the battery replacement and a dozen more to repairs from an incident with the Dyson Racing MG/Lola; driven at the time by Andy Wallace. After qualifying third, the Dyson entry, that the Englishman shared with countryman James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger, had run as high as second overall and was leading the P675 class when Wallace smelled fuel. Before he could get to the pits to investigate, fire broke out as he headed onto the back straight. Pirro was right behind, preparing to pass.

"I had momentum going because they are very fast on the straights," Pirro said, "and I saw some flame and his car just stopped! I could not avoid him."

The contact knocked Wallace off the track and he jumped quickly out to try and help the corner worker put out the fire. Pirro hobbled back to the pits, where the red Audi was taken behind the wall and the left front corner and front bodywork replaced. Biela rejoined, but some19 laps behind the leader.

The Dyson car's departure gave the Knighthawk MG/Lola of Chad Block/Andy Lally/Steve Knight the 675 lead and a five-lap advantage over the Banana Joe's MG/Lola of Jon Field/Duncan Dayton/Michael Durand. The Knighthawk car soon hit engine troubles, however, dropping off the pace and handing the class win - and the class title - to Field.

The GTS class shootout between the Prodrive Ferrari crew of Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Alain Menu and the factory Corvette C5-Rs went all the way to the final laps. The Ferrari led from the two factory Vettes, but with just under 50 laps to go, the red car made an unscheduled pitstop. The bolt holding the right-front lower wishbone and the upright together had worked loose, and the time lost to the repair gave Ron Fellows a full lap lead, which he converted into the win.

In the GT category, Alex Job Racing's clever strategy to have Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen tie for the class crown worked to perfection, as Maassen got the bonus point for driving the most laps and erased the one-point deficit he'd taken into the race. Their McKenna Porsche 911 GT3R led most of the way and endured late overheating to claim the win from the Petersen Racing Porsche of Randy Pobst, Johnny Mowlem and Michael Petersen, with the Ferrari 360 Modena of Anthony Lazzaro and Ralf Kelleners taking third.

Qualifying: Biela on pole

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