Panoz prevail in classic Washington race
21 July 2002
The American Le Mans Series races on virtually all of North America's finest road circuits but possibly its finest race yet took place in a car park as Panoz 'Spirit of America' duo Jan Magnussen and David Brabham overcame the fierce challenge of the factory Audi team to record a stunning victory in a race where the gap between the top three cars rarely exceeded five seconds.
In the first major automobile race held in Washington in more than 80 years, it was appropriate that an American-made car painted in a stars and stripes motif came home the winner. More importantly was the manner in which that victory was achieved as Brabham and Magnussen engaged in a no holds barred, race long fist-fight with both factory Audi's
Magnussen and Brabham used pit strategy and hard driving to win the inaugural Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. Driving their trusty Panoz LMP-1 Prototype, Magnussen was the star of the show, passing both factory Audi's on two separate occasions and eventually crossing the line after 140 intense laps of racing with a scant 0.766-second lead over Tom Kristensen with Emanuele Pirro just four seconds back in third.
The two-hour, 45-minute sports car endurance race was held on a 1.661-mile, seven turn temporary racing circuit constructed on what had been a parking lot for RFK Stadium. The race was run under brutally hot and humid conditions, with temperatures above 100 degrees F on the track.
The winning move for the Panoz team came under the race's final full-course caution, which occurred with just under an hour left in the race. The team elected to give up the lead and change tires on the car in addition to adding fuel, and also chose to make a driver change and put Magnussen back into the car for Brabham. Magnussen had driven the first 55 minutes and thought he was finished for the day. During their pit stop, the two Audis took on fuel only.
''When that caution came out, we thought it would be a good idea for Jan to get back in because he had had a chance to rest,'' said Brabham. ''We also had the chance to put new tires on the car.''
''The tires made a big difference,'' said Magnussen, who was seven seconds behind the two Audis when the race was restarted but caught and passed both of them.
''Kristensen was able to stay close, but I was able to get far enough away with just a few laps left and I knew he couldn't make a move.''
Earlier in the race, Magnussen had mercilessly harried pole sitter Frank Biela and Kristensen's partner Rinaldo Capello for the lead before passing both when Capello made contact with the Champion Audi of Stefan Johansson who was just about to go a lap down. That allowed Magnussen to dive through and take the lead but as he did so, he sustained a puncture and had to pit. Luckily the caution flag flew at that moment and he was able to make his stop and hand over to Brabham without losing the lead.
The only time the three leaders were separated was when Kristensen had to serve a drive-through penalty for Capello's avoidable contact with Johansson. Although this dropped the Danish driver 25 seconds, by the start of the final hour the three protagonists were back as one and remained virtually that way until the end.
The win was the second of the season in five races for Magnussen and Brabham, who also won at California's Infineon Raceway in May by less than a second over an Audi, on this occasion the Champion team car.
Behind the podium trio and overall stars of the show, Max Angelelli and Christophe Tinseau brought the sole surviving Cadillac prototype in fourth place one lap down with the Johansson/Johnny Herbert Audi a disappointed fifth.
Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell's Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, scored their fourth win in five ALMS races this season in the GTS class with an eighth place finish overall. They won by a lap over fellow factory Corvette drivers Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim. Emanuele Naspetti and Mimmo Schiattarella finished third in the Team Olive Garden Ferrari 550 Maranello after giving the Corvette's a sustained race-long challenge. For the first time. The Italian duo finished in tenth spot overall, just one lap behind the Pilgrim/Collins 'Vette and one lap ahead of the Konrad Motorsports Saleen.
Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen won for the third time this season in the GT class, driving a Porsche 911 GT3 RS for Alex Job Racing. As was the case in the Prototype class, the GT cars had a three-car battle throughout the event, with The Racers Group Porsche of Kevin Buckler and Brian Cunningham leading part of the race before ultimately finishing second. The second Job team car driven by Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard finished third. Overall the leading GT trio finished 13th, 14th and 15th.
The father-son driving team of Jon and Clint Field won the LMP 675 class for smaller Prototypes in the Intersport Racing Lola EX257-AER MG in 12th overall. It was the second win of the season for the elder Field, who was part of the winning team in the season opening 12 Hours of Sebring, but Clint Field scored his first ALMS win.
The Intersport team owed their participation in Sunday's race to rival MG LMP675 outfit Knighthawk Racing who loaned them equipment and parts after a sizable qualifying shunt on Saturday. Sadly Knighthawk's generosity and sportsmanship was not rewarded as Steve Knight and Chad Block retired after just 36 laps.
The Pilbeam MP84-Nissan of Chris McMurry, Bryan Willman and Jeff Bucknum were second in the LMP675 class, followed by Ben Devlin and Will Langhorne in a Lola B2K40-Ford.
The oppressive heat took its toll on both drivers and machinery with those in the enclosed, front-engined GTS machines most affected. Such were the temperatures that at one point, the Marino Franchitti/Tom Weickardt crewed American Viperracing entry sat silently on pit road, perfectly healthy but with two exhausted drivers. Franchitti and Weickardt eventually recovered enough to complete 108 laps in the oven-like machine.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series will be Le Grand Prix de Trois Rivieres on August 3 in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, Canada.