Lehto and Herbert win Road America 500
25 August 2003
JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert scored their second American Le Mans Series win of the season Sunday by driving the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 to a one-lap win in the Road America 500 presented by the Chicago Tribune.
Their car led 51 of the 79 laps run in the two-hour, 45-minute timed sports car race on the 4.048-mile track. Herbert took the lead on lap 29 by passing the polesitting Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 of Marco Werner and the car never lost the lead again.
Werner and co-driver Frank Biela fell out of contention due to a problem with the starter box on their car, but still managed to finish third in the LMP 900 class to allow the two to maintain their lead in the series driver standings. Butch Leitzinger, who led the first six laps in the Dyson Racing Lola EX257-MG, crashed after tangling with the Panoz LMP01 driven by David Saelens.
"It [the win] is something we really needed," said Lehto. "Joest had a big problem and lost a lot of laps, and still finished third. I was expecting them to finish fifth because there were a lot of prototypes ahead of them. But in the end they still finished third.
"But we were able to catch the points a little, and we're closer now. The fight is on. It will be a tough fight the next three races, these last three races we have to win all the time basically. We learned a lot about the car at Mosport. The car is getting better and better and the team is getting better and better. If you want to win championships, you need to everything 110 percent."
Herbert was in the car in the first stint and saw the action unfolding when Leitzinger and Werner battled in the early laps, with Herbert close behind. "At the end of the first lap I went straight to the lean (fuel) map, so I was sitting there twiddling my thumbs, watching them in front of me," he said. "If I could keep pace, that was absolutely fine. If there weren't many cautions, we knew it would be tight on fuel. I wanted to save as much as I could, because the race would only be won later one. Obviously, they (Joest and Dyson) had their problems and it made our race easier after that. But it was important for us to win today, we had to win."
Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson finished second overall and won the LMP 675 class in the Dyson Racing Lola EX257-MG, while Olivier Beretta and David Saelens finished third overall and second in LMP 900. Dyson had difficulty getting his car started at the beginning of the event and had to start at the rear.
"We couldn't get the car started at the beginning, it bogged down on pit lane," said Dyson. "Then once we started racing, the balance wasn't good until half a tank was burned off. This finish is great for the points, and being second overall is great considering how the day started. We're pretty close to being competitive. It's a little car and you have to look after it. The name of the game is the championship and keeping the nose clean."
Jan Magnussen made a last-lap pass of Corvette driver Johnny O'Connell to win the GTS class for the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello team with co-driver David Brabham. O'Connell and Ron Fellows finished second in a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R. It was the second straight ALMS race in which the GTS class was decided in the closing moments, but in the most recent race it was O'Connell on the winning end.
"I tried to pass him (O'Connell) under the bridge but he shut the door on me," said Magnussen. "Then I braked (going into one) about a hundred meters later than I had all weekend. I knew he was going to try and block and I passed him anyway. Then I backed out and it worked. We talked on the podium and he's not as thrilled about it as I am, but we're good friends and he'll get some payback at another time."
"There at the end, I opened the door and he (Magnussen) just shot through," said O'Connell. "Jan was pushing really hard and it doesn't take much with someone like him behind you (to lose the position). I thought I had David Brabham pretty locked up so I wasn't trying to worry about him. But it was very difficult to concentrate, I was so worn down mentally and physically. My body was actually tingling. I thought there were Audis racing behind me, so I moved over from them. It was a mental mistake, it won't happen again. You can't just get caught up in each battle, you have to think about the war. Even with this second (place) we opened up our lead (in the championship) but the mental mistake is something you want to do over."
"The #80 car was just a little quicker than us at the end," said Fellows. "Johnny was doing his best, he drove his heart out. They were a little stronger. Our strength is handling, theirs is straight line speed and it looks like speed is the way to go today. Our result is nothing to be ashamed of."
The Michael Petersen-White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RS scored its first-ever win in the ALMS, taking GT class honours with drivers Johnny Mowlem and Craig Stanton.
"We've been consistent," said Mowlem, whose only previous ALMS win had come at Laguna Seca in 1999. "We lost a lap in the yellow, but worked our way up and then slowed down to protect the car. It's nice to win one. At Sebring we were second, and we worried Alex Job. I drove with Bob Wolleck in this car in 2001. We put the differential in that he liked and its doing a bloody good job. We need to spend more time testing because changes on this (the new) car don't react like the old one."
Kevin Buckler and Cort Wagner finished second in class in The Racers Group Porsche, with the Zip Racing Porsche of Andy Lally, Steve Ivankovich and Spencer Pumpelly third. Uncharacteristically, both cars from the Alex Job Racing stable experienced problems in the event, ending the team's undefeated streak in 2003.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series will be the Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Sept. 5-7.