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Audi take Trois Rivieres
3 August 2002
Determined not to allow Panoz a second straight street course success, the American Le Mans Audi steamroller blasted into action at the tight Trois Rivieres circuit on Saturday as the German marque swept all three-podium positions.
Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello won Saturday's inaugural three-hour ALMS Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres from a lowly 20th position on the starting grid after making a late-race tire change that gave their Audi R8 the speed needed to win.
The final caution period of the three-hour race occurred when Kevin Allen crashed his Dodge Viper in turn one with 55 minutes remaining. Capello, who was driving and running second at the time, pitted and took on four tires, while the Audi of Frank Biela only added fuel and therefore maintained the lead. However, the new tires enabled Capello to catch and pass Biela, and then cruise to a 17.802-second margin of victory.
''The new tires were definitely the key to victory,'' said Capello, from Italy, who won for the third time in six ALMS races this season. ''We lost the race at Washington (two weeks ago) because we didn't change tires under the yellow flag, so it was a lesson learned.''
Kristensen, from Denmark, maintained the ALMS point lead with his second win of the season. The car started near the back of the grid on the 1.52-mile street circuit after not being able to post a fast qualifying lap on Friday. ''To win from that far back on the grid on a circuit this small is a tribute to our team,'' said Kristensen.
Finishing third behind Biela and co-driver Emanuele Pirro were Stefan Johansson and Johnny Herbert, giving Audis a sweep of the top three. The Champion squad had an eventful time of things as Johnny Herbert found out to his cost in the very first turn. Braking early to avoid any carnage amongst the front-runners, Herbert was punted around by the fast-starting LMP675-class Knighthawk Racing MG-Lola EX257 of Chad Block.
Although the MG was out on the spot, Herbert was able to continue back to the pits as the race went under caution and get the rear bodywork replaced without losing a lap. However, despite scything his way through the field, a couple of small, yet costly errors cost the team any hope of victory.
Bryan Herta and Bill Auberlen finished fourth in the highest placed Panoz LMP-1 after Washington winners David Brabham and Jan Magnussen were slowed with a variety of difficulties.
The Washington winners gave the factory Audi duo a real run for their money in the opening hour before Jan Magnussen was forced behind the wall with a small electrical failure that kept the car stalling in the pits and then David Brabham had an uncharacteristic off in turn one. Despite losing some 12 laps to the leaders, the ex Formula One duo hung on for sixth place overall.
Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins won the GTS class in a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, finishing fifth overall. Ron Fellows, who had won the pole in the team Corvette, finished second with co-driver Johnny O'Connell. The Fellows car finished two laps down after suffering front-end damage in a turn three accident in the race's second hour but was still quick enough to claim seventh overall, one lap ahead of the Team Olive Garden Ferrari.
Fellows had led most of the first hour although the early highlight of the GTS battle was the performance of Marino Franchitti in the oft maligned American Viperracing Dodge. The young Scotsman ran as high as third in class and ninth overall in the early stages and matched the pace of the Corvette's, Saleen and Ferrari for the first time. However a suspected brake failure later pitched Franchitti out of contention..
Sascha Maassen made the winning pass with one lap remaining to win the GT class in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS that he shared with Lucas Luhr. The second Alex Job Racing car driven by Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard finished second after a typically clockwork run.
Chris McMurry, Bryan Willman and Jeff Bucknum won the LMP 675 class in a Pilbeam MP84-Nissan. The car inherited the lead when the engine in the car of previous leaders Ben Devlin and Marc-Antoine Camirand blew with two minutes left in the race.
Canadian lady racer and former International skier Melanie Paterson had a successful ALMS debut with co-driver Paul Fix and the Essex Racing Lola-Nissan team. Despite several excursions around the bumpy and tight 1.52-mile track, Paterson and Fix ran smoothly most of the way and were rewarded with 16th place overall and third in LMP675 (second if you discount the retired Devlin/Camirand Lola-Ford).
The next race for the American Le Mans Series will be the mail2web Grand Prix of Mosport at Mosport International Raceway near Toronto on August 18th.
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