Crash.Net ALMS News

Lehto, Herbert just Champion in Miami

28 September 2003

Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto scored their third American Le Mans Series win of the season by driving the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 to victory in the Grand Prix Americas presented by Sportsbook.com on the streets of downtown Miami.

The win, while valuable for the Finn's championship chances, was extra sweet for Champion team owner Dave Maraj, who bases the team in nearby Pompano Beach, and for team sponsor ADT, also headquartered in the Miami area.

"The track was very slippery at the start, but I didn't have any real problems," Lehto said, "It's been a perfect
weekend for Team ADT Champion Racing. We started from
outright pole for the first time this season, won
our 'local' race, set the fastest race lap and have moved
closer in the championship. We were on the pace from the
start and deserved our third win of the season - perfect!"

The winning car finished 40.642secs ahead of the Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 of Frank Biela and Marco Werner although, with their second-place finish, the two Germans moved closer to winning the LMP 900 title. Only Lehto has any chance of unseating them in the season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta next month, but must win that race too.

The first and second-place cars ran the two-hour, 45-minute race on one fuel stop, each planning its race strategy on the high likelihood of numerous yellow flag laps on the tight 1.15-mile street circuit. In the end, only 36 of the 157 race laps were run under caution, but the yellows were spaced far enough apart for the strategies to work.

"We did plan it that way, and it worked in our favour," said Herbert, who drove nearly two hours of the race, "We still had to save fuel in the last part of the race, so we had to back off a bit. That saved so much fuel that we could finish. It was perfect for us. We had some fuel in the end - I got the final warning light about one lap from the finish.

"The pit-stop was a little nerve-wracking when some fuel caught fire, which delayed JJ from strapping me in. It also caused me to get a little hot! In terms of the car, though, everything ran perfectly without any problems.

"It's massive for Dave Maraj and the team. He tells me he could have gone cruising in the Caribbean, but he chooses to do this because he loves motorsports. It's great that we can both give him this victory down here. We get all the glory, but the team does all the work."

The Panoz LMP01 of Olivier Beretta and David Saelens finished third in the LMP 900 class for JML Team Panoz, extending their record run of podium finishes in recent events.

The Dyson Racing Lola EX257-MG of Chris Dyson and Andy Wallace won the LMP 675 class, but only took the lead near the end of the race after the Dyson Racing sister car driven by James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger experienced a drivetrain problem while at the head of the class. Weaver and Leitzinger still finished second in class, albeit two laps behind Dyson and Wallace, following the lowly finish of the rebuilt Intersport entry. The two Dyson cars had battled among themselves for a great portion of the race, with the veteran Wallace raving about the track afterward.

"Its really good fun to drive here, even though it seems crazy sometimes," he said, "I enjoy street circuits and I like this track. I don't get to race enough of them. It keeps you awake, that's for sure."

Dyson's win, coupled with the fourth-place class finish of nearest challengers Duncan Dayton and Jon Field, moved him closer to winning the LMP 675 class championship.

"I'm not sure yet how we will go into the Petit," he admitted, "but this should give us a bit of a comfort zone going into the last race. The bigger the lead the better."

It was a great day for Ferrari too, as cars from the Italian manufacturer swept the top three spots in the GTS class - the first time that has happened in ALMS history.

The Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello of David Brabham and Darren Turner took the class win, with the other Prodrive entry of Tomas Enge and Peter Kox 1.778secs behind in second place. The Team Olive Garden Ferrari of Mimmo Schiattarella and Emanuele Naspetti took full advantage of an uncharacteristically bad race for the Corvette team to finish third.

The win was the third straight for Brabham in the GTS class, while Turner, who was substituting for Jan Magnussen as the Australian's team-mate, scored his first career ALMS win.

"It was a very difficult race with the traffic and the conditions," said Brabham afterwards, "It was hard to pass and then it started raining right at the end and parts of the track were slick. I have to thank Darren, though, who did a great job for us."

"It was my first street race and I really liked it," said Turner, who won in only his second ALMS start after debuting at Sebring earlier in the year, "It seemed that the traffic really worked well for me during my stint. I got very hot in the car and needed to get out, but then I was disappointed when they told me David would finish and I
wouldn't get back in."

Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell finished fourth in class after a multitude of problems during the race, but still managed to lock up the GTS class title for the season.

Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr won the GT class in the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS, with the veteran German claiming his 20th win in ALMS competition and an early 34th birthday present.

The race had boiled down to a battle between the two Alex Job cars, and Maassen and Luhr won after Jorg Bergmeister clipped a wall while leading Luhr near the end of the race.

"Our sister car lost the rear end and crashed, which threw the win away," Luhr reported, "I was right behind him when he crashed and I couldn't believe it. Then I had to be careful to keep from crashing too. I had a hard time keeping the car on the track [in the rain] at the end."

Finishing second in the GT class was the Risi Competizione Ferrari 360 Modena of Anthony Lazzaro and Ralf Kelleners, with third going to the PK Sport Porsche of Robin Liddell and Alex Caffi.