Crash.Net ALMS News
Pirro is the Michelin Man
6 October 2002
Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela coaxed a remarkable victory out of their factory Audi R8 in an action packed Cadillac American Le Mans Challenge in Miami as all gripes over the track surface were forgotten in another gripping ALMS encounter.
Using just one set of Michelin tyres for both qualifying and the entire two and three quarter hour race, defending LMP900 Champions Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro drove faultlessly from start to finish to record their second win on the trot in Saturday's inaugural Cadillac American Le Mans Challenge.
From pole position Biela was able to maintain a slender lead during a caution-filled opening 45-minutes as the tight, bumpy and above all slippery 1.387-mile Bayfront Park circuit provided all the closely packed frantic action expected of it. With 35 cars (minus 1 Graham Nash Motorsports Saleen) taking the start the leading LMP900 drivers had to be on constant alert through the seemingly endless packs of slower traffic. Whereas many fell foul of the concrete walls, other cars and more often than not their own machinery, Biela and Pirro remained almost inch perfect.
Their passage wasn't an easy one and had it not been for a pair of late race stop/go penalties for their two nearest rivals, Pirro's well-worn rubber might not have held up in the closing laps.
A daring single-stop strategy by the privateer Champion Audi team came agonisingly close to paying off and Johnny Herbert led the middle portion of the race before the team were forced to push the car back in its pit stall during its sole intended stop in order to avoid a stationary Saleen in the next pit. As the #38 crew pushed Johansson back, the R8 ran over an air-hose, which resulted in a penalty and the loss of a lap.
The second factory Audi of current points leaders Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello had shadowed their teammate obediently from the word go but when the final caution period of the race ended with 20 minutes to go, Kristensen found himself mired deep in traffic. Not only that but with ten minutes to go Kristensen was given a penalty for earlier punting a slower GT class Porsche out of the way.
With the Danish driver smarting on pit road, into second place just half a minute behind the leaders came the Cadillac Northstar of Max Angelelli. A typically rapid opening stint from JJ Lehto had kept the #8 Northstar on the lead lap during the opening half of the race and Angelelli had moved into fourth place when he dispatched David Brabham's Panoz. When Johansson took his penalty Angelelli moved into a podium position and when Kristensen emerged from his unwanted pit visit, he was eight second behind the 'other' silver prototype.
With Pirro nursing his car home at the head of the pack, Angelelli soon began closing in during the final minutes but the real attention was focused on Kristensen, absolutely flying in third place and rapidly reeling Angelelli in. As the seconds wound down, Kristensen inexorably moved closer until with one lap to go, they were together.
Still fighting heavy traffic, Angelelli bravely took every chance on the final lap as he ducked and weaved passed two or three cars with Kristensen a matter of feet behind. Even as the two roared onto the final straight there were slower cars in the way but despite one final scare, Angelelli hung on for Cadillac's best ever result. Kristensen had to settle for third, less than 20 seconds behind Pirro and less than one second behind Angelelli.
Brabham made good use of new tyres in the final green flag stint to grab fourth from a disheartened Johansson and the leading Panoz was also on he same lap as the leaders by race's end, a total of 48 seconds behind the winner.
Marc Goossens and Tony Ave piloted the trusty Riley & Scott MkIIIC to a sixth place finish, the best the car could do under the circumstances, and were just a single lap off the pace at the end. Eric Bernard brought the second factory Caddy home in seventh place with co-driver Emmanuel Collard as the GM machines wind up their careers looking better than they ever have done.
The battle for LMP675 honours fell to the KnightHawk Racing MG/Lola of Chad Block, Claudia Huertgen and Steve Knight by an unrepresentative seven laps for as they did in Laguna Seca, the baby prototypes put on a great show.
For a long time it looked as though they class would go the way of the Dyson Racing EX257 driven by James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger before that car lost some ten laps in the pits with mechanical problems. Then the race seemed to be going the way of the hard-working Intersport team of Jon Field and Michael Durand. Durand held a slender lead over Block heading into the final hour but the chasing black and orange machine gradually closed in and finally grabbed the lead a few corners before Durand's rear suspension appeared to fail, putting him out of the race.
Block proceeded to bring the KnightHawk car home in a fine eighth place, just three laps behind Pirro while Leitzinger charged back up to second in class in the final five minutes as he passed local driver Orlam Sonora in the AB Motorsports Pilbeam.
The GTS class scrap was a real knock down drag out affair with bumping and barging the order of the day. Surviving the carnage with the least amount of bent metal was the Corvette of Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell although it was only after a truly epic four-marque battle in the early stages did the Chevrolet duo emerge with a one lap lead.
Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins gave the Pratt & Miller team a most welcome 1-2 finish following their Laguna Seca mishaps with Collins leading a rather battered looking Prodrive Ferrari home by just ten seconds for second in class. The Team Olive Garden Ferrari finished a steady fourth in class after the Marino Franchitti/Marc Bunting Viper and all three Saleen's encountered difficulties but only after leaving their mark on both the race and their rivals.
In the GT ranks, Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen led home Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard by a lap in yet another Alex Job/McKenna 1-2. Kevin Buckler and Brian Cunningham finished a somewhat familiar third in their Racers Group Porsche while the token BMW presence evaporated after less than five laps with the retirement of both Alegra Motorsports M3's.