Crash.Net ALMS News
Second enough as roulette gives McNish the crown
30 October 2000
Scotland's Allan McNish followed ex-pat Briton Elliot Forbes-Robinson into the ALMS history books by winning the coveted drivers crown at Las Vegas.
With remarkable symmetry to Robinson's 1999 triumph, McNish clinched the title in the middle of the Nevada desert without actually winning the race, and was helped by the demise of the lead Panoz in an unfortunate mid-race accident. This time, the American car was not actually involved in the title fight, but looked set to play an important role in determining whether McNish would clinch the crown on US soil - or have to travel to David Brabham's homeland to do the deed.
The Australian's team-mate, Jan Magnussen, put the cat among the pigeons right from the off, rocketing past both front row Audis to take the lead heading into turn one. Frank Biela, surprised by the Dane's bold move, then clashed with JJ Lehto's BMW and dropped away from the head of the field, leaving McNish to take the fight to Panoz alone.
For the first twelve laps, the Scot kept up the pressure on his Danish rival, the two cars only separated when catching slower traffic. Then, on lap 13, he made his move, diving down low into T1 and passing the Panoz cleanly. Magnussen, caught unawares promptly missed his braking point and, as McNish rose from the inside to take the optimum line, clattered into the back of the Audi.
Both cars spun, but were able to keep going at the head of the field. The Panoz looked relatively undamaged, but McNish's car was clearly sporting a re-arranged diffuser, and it took the Scot a while to find the right technique to combat the new handling characteristics of the R8.
His task was eased when Magnussen was assessed a stop-go penalty for his part in the accident, dropping the red roadster to sixth, but prompting a fightback from a very fired-up Dane.
With Randy Pobst's GT Porsche shedding its rear bumper out on the track, the ensuing full course yellow allowed Magnussen to save some time in his pursuit, but the Dane still had to fight back past the Rafanelli Lola, both BMWs and Biela's R8R, which was now back into third place.
Remarkably, Magnussen stuck to his guns and, by lap 40, was right back on McNish's tail. Wasting no time, the Panoz sliced past its silver rival next time around, before quickly pitting to try and take advantage of the small gap between the cars. Taking on just a new load of fuel, the Dane was able to rejoin - under green flag conditions - without having lost a lap, and putting the pressure back on to Audi to perform a similarly quick turn-around when McNish stopped.
When the Scot eventually stopped, some six laps later, the crew did its bit, before McNish stalled the car trying to get away. Sceptics in the crowd immediately pointed to a clutch problem that could thwart the Scot's chance, but he would later admit that the engine was just dying under acceleration - and had been all weekend.
With the rest of the field also stopping around him, McNish was able to retain second place behind the Panoz as the order sorted itself out, and would hold station right through until the second round of stops. These came slightly earlier than expected, around lap 70, when the #3 Corvette C5-R hit the wall hard in T1, scattering debris across the circuit.
Both leaders opted to make their mandatory driver change at this point, not wanting to risk the fact that there may not be another yellow for the rest of the race, and it was the Audi crew that got its new man out in front. Rinaldo Capello rejoined the race behind the pace car, but in front of both Jorg Muller's BMW and David Brabham in the Panoz, which had now dropped to third in class.
The new order did not last for long, as both Muller and Brabham got by the Audi at the restart, but even this change was not the last in an eventful couple of laps. Indeed, Capello's slip back to third probably went as far as cementing McNish's title as anything else, as the Italian was able to avoid the worst of a turn nine melee that changed the face of the race.
Brabham and Muller came off worse in an incident that involved almost all of the remaining prototype runners, and sidelined the #2 Panoz with suspension damage. Brabham returned to pit-lane minus his rear wing, having been hit by an unsighted Johansson-Matthews Reynard, while Muller trailed fluid back to his stall after holing a radiator. Capello took to the grass to avoid the wreckage, marginally increasing the damage to his diffuser, but still managing to hold second place - behind new leader Emanuele Pirro.
The veteran Italian had only just taken over from Biela when the incident occurred but, being further back even than Capello, managed to avoid it completely, and rolled into a comfortable lead and looked to have the race in his pocket within minutes of taking over.
Capello then gave his crew - and the spectating McNish - a slight flutter when he turned in a succession of slow laps, but it appeared that he was only trying to establish the state of the diffuser damage before committing himself to the pursuit of Pirro.
From that point - lap 92 - on, however, the event turned into another Audi demonstration run. Knowing that a top three finish would suffice for his team-mate, Capello made sure that he did nothing stupid, and kept the car out of the clutches of the Auberlen/Gounon BMW that now held third place.
Only the ever-present threat of rain, that loomed over the nearby air base without hitting the circuit until all cars were in Victory Lane, looked likely to interrupt the party, as Pirro motored onto a race win, and Capello brought the yellow-hued R8R back in a safe second.
Third eventually went to the Gounon car, a result made all the more remarkable by the fact that the crew had opted to change tyres on the grid, taking a penalty that moved it back to the rear of the prototype qualifiers. A good start, followed by some good fortune as those around them disappeared, elevated the #43 car into a top five spot very early on and, despite having to pit under green more than anyone else after an out-of-sequence stop, it was well placed to take advantage of the lap 83 scuffle.
It headed home another car that enjoyed a change of fortune in the land of the gambler, as Gabriele Rafanelli's troubled Lola registered a fourth-place finish after a relatively easy run. The green-and-red Olive garden car yo-yo'ed about the prototype order in the early stages but, with its main rivals sidelined or delayed by the accident, was able to cruise home despite having had to pit very early on following a brush with the #2 Panoz that produced two penalty flags.
In fifth place ran the sole Johansson-Matthews entry that, despite its heavy impact with the Brabham/Magnussen Panoz, ran untroubled to the flag except for a penalty that followed an 'improper restart' midway through the 2hour, 45min race.
David Brabham drove a storming final sting to haul the battered Panoz back into sixth, just two laps off the back of his assailant, but could do nothing about returning the roadster to its previous place at the head of the field. The incident at T9 was not quite the way the Australian would have wanted to begin his association with Crash.Net.....
Seventh overall went to the leading GTS car of Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger. Class victory was enough to allow the Monegasque to join McNish on the list of 2000 champions, and was eased considerably by a good getaway and the demise of the lead Corvette.
The Fellows/Pilgrim car never got on terms with either of the two ORECA Vipers, despite having shown them a clean pair of heels in first qualifying, and eventually ended its participation in three fraught laps. The first saw the bright yellow C5-R disappear in a cloud of tyre smoke as it locked up and spun right in front of the overall leaders; the third, perhaps as a result of flat-spotted rubber, saw it disappear into the retaining wall, scattering its bodywork liberally and bringing out the pace car.
The second GM entry, driver by Justin Bell, Chris Kneifel and Kelly Collins had a less eventful race, taking third in class behind the two ORECA cars.
The position had looked to be, finally, going the way of the luckless Roock North America pairing of Vic Rice and Zak Brown, until the younger of the two slowed on the banking. Although the ageing 911GT2 got going again, the delay was enough to allow the Corvette through, and resign the all-American crew to fourth. It still fared better than the European Carsport entry, however, which was forced to retire after just eleven laps.
The Porsche finished just ahead of one of its less sophisticated brethren, as Sascha Maassen and Bob Wollek brought the leading GT class car home in eleventh overall. The pairing, which had heard just before the race started that it would get its Texas points haul reinstated, dominated the class after an early brush between Dick Barbour team-mate Dirk Muller and leader Randy Pobst saw both cars delayed - the former by a penalty, the latter by repairs to its damaged rear end.
The damage to Pobst's machine was enough to eventually render it hors de combat
, but Muller and partner Lucas Luhr dragged the DBR car into second in class, prolonging the fight for the drivers' title until the season finale in Adelaide.
Joining Pobst and team-mate Bruno Lambert on the retirement list were Johnny O'Connell and Hiroki Katoh in the #2 Panoz, whose suspension was beyond repair; Franz Konrad and Charlie Slater, whose Lola smote the wall a mighty blow and brought out another full course caution; the Knighthawk Racing LM675 Lola, and the GT Porsches of Seikel and the Alex Job teams.
One car that perhaps should have joined the list was the #77 Audi, particularly after taking two hits that could have sidelined it. Such is the luck that championships are made of, however, and Allan McNish was content enough to take whatever came his way in Vegas.
Second on the day was not perhaps the way the Scot would have wanted to win the crown but, in a city dominated by luck, he was going to take all that the wheel of fortune delivered.