Race: Audi streak ahead at Sears Point

Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen survived a couple of scares to notch up yet another victory in the American Le Mans Series at Sears Point International Raceway.

Race: Audi streak ahead at Sears Point

They were pushed all the way by Audi team mates Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela and actually ceded the lead to the red R8 for the middle part of the race, but retook it in the pits during the final hour.

Jan Magnussen and David Brabham finished third for Panoz, ahead of the Champion Audi R8 of Andy Wallace and Johnny Herbert.

Capello led from pole until the pace car came out to clear up the detritus from an incident between two Porsche 911s. The Brabham/Magnussen Panoz had already stopped for fuel, but the Audis nearly didn't manage to capitalise on it as both R8s came close to running dry before they were allowed into the pits.

Pirro emerged first by dint of taking on less fuel, with the Panoz and Champion cars nearly a lap down. Andy Wallace came under the cosh but Brabham had a lucky escape as the pace car came out again, enabling the Panoz to pit for more fuel and new tyres and rejoin on the lead lap.

Tom Kristensen had a contretemps with the Tinseau/Collard Cadillac but got back on terms with the leading R8, finally passing it in the pits during the final stop, since Pirro had to take on more fuel. They finished almost seven seconds ahead of their rivals.

"We lost our position in the first pace car period but they made a mistake because they put in less fuel than us," said Capello. "Our last stop was quicker and we got the lead back."

Brabham and Magnussen were all smiles after notching up their first podium finish since the first race at Texas, the troublesome Panoz LMP-07 having been discarded in favour of the venerable Ford-engined Roadster S.

"When we came here we knew we had a reasonable chance of getting on the podium," said Brabham. "We had a great battle with the Champion Audi and I think the key for us was getting by Andy Wallace at the start."

The Dick Barbour Racing Reynard-Judd of Didier de Radigues, John Graham and Milka Duno had the LMP675 class all to itself and ran reliably to the finish, albeit 22 laps down in 13th place.

In GTS Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell's Chevrolet Corvette C5-R played second fiddle to the Konrad Saleen S7-R of Terry Borcheller and Franz Konrad in qualifying, but during the race the Chevy reaped the benefit of a more conservative tyre choice.

It took 30 laps for Fellows to work sufficient heat into his tyres to challenge Borcheller, but once the Corvette's Goodyears were on song Fellows harried the Saleen for several tours before executing a ballsy pass around the outside into Turn 1.

The safety car periods interrupted Chevrolet's fuelling strategy but the Saleen car, riding on excessively soft tyres, eventually dropped out of contention anyway. A gear shift problem added to the team's woes but they narrowly avoided being mugged for third in class by the American Viperacing Viper of Shane Lewis and Jeff Altenburg.

BMW dominated the GT class, but relations between the two BMW teams were soured when Fredrik Ekblom assisted Hans Stuck off the circuit at the final corner. Three of the four M3 GTRs had a turn in the lead and the Porsche 911 GT3-Rs - even those run by the formidable factory-backed McKenna squad - didn't get a look in.

Bill Auberlen grabbed the class lead at the start and drove an impressive opening stint, pulling out an 11s gap from the other M3s. But the first pitstops shuffled the pack and the Dirk Mueller/Fredrik Ekblom car emerged in front.

Jorg Mueller got the bit between his teeth and muscled his way from fourth to first in the space of a few laps and was never headed again, leaving the others to squabble over the remaining podium positions.

"It was a shame Porsche wasn't more competitive today," said team mate Lehto wryly. "And why only one trophy for two drivers? How are we going to split it?"


Capello/Kristensen Audi R8 107 laps
Biela/Pirro Audi R8 107 laps
Brabham/Magnussen Panoz LMP Roadster S 106 laps
Wallace/Herbert Audi R8 106 laps
Fellows/O'Connell Chevrolet Corvette C5-R 97 laps
Pilgrim/Collins Chevrolet Corvette C5-R 97 laps
J Mueller/Lehto BMW M3 GTR 97 laps
D Mueller/Ekblom BMW M3 GTR 96 laps
Said/Stuck BMW M3 GTR 96 laps
Auberlen/Jonsson BMW M3 GTR 96 laps

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