Herbert, Lehto win Petit Le Mans
19 October 2003
JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert scored a dominating win Saturday in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, leading nearly all of the 1,000-mile American Le Mans Series sports car endurance race in the ADT Champion Racing Audi R8.
The race ended the nine-race 2003 season for the ALMS and determined several driving titles that had not yet been clinched.
Frank Biela and Marco Werner won the LMP 900 driving championship by finishing third overall, while Chris Dyson clinched the LMP 675 driving title. And by finishing third in the GTS class, Chevrolet won the GTS class Manufacturer's Championship with its Corvette team.
Lehto started third in the Champion car but took the lead on the first lap of the race. After racing hard with the Infineon Team Joest Audi of Biela and Werner in the early going, Lehto and Herbert were able to cruise after most of their strongest competitors experienced problems. They scored an eight-lap win.
"It was a nice, nice race for us," said Lehto, who lost the Petit Le Mans in 1999 in the waning stages when his co-driver spun out. "I've been trying for a long time to win this one and it's great to finally get it."
"JJ did a great job and did a lot of the hard work," said Herbert. "Every time I got into the car, he had given us a big lead. It's been wonderful driving with him this year."
David Saelens, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis finished second in a Panoz LMP01 for JML Team Panoz, while Biela and Werner finished third after a day that included several incidents.
Jon Field, Duncan Dayton and Larry Connor won the LMP 675 class in the Intersport Racing Lola EX257-Judd, while Chris Dyson, Didier de Radigues and Chad Block finished second. Dyson clinched the P675 class driving championship. Finishing third in class was the WR-Mazda of Jim Downing, Howard Katz and Yojira Terada.
The win was the second in a row in the Petit Le Mans for the Intersport team, which switched from AER to Judd power prior to the race. Despite some overheating problems, the car finished well ahead of the other P675 competitors.
"I have to give Jon [Field] credit for making that decision," said Dayton, who drove all season in the Intersport car and was part of three wins. "I could tell a big difference driving a non-turbo car, especially in traffic."
GTS class honours went to the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello of Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Alain Menu, while finishing second was another Prodrive Ferrari driven by Jan Magnussen, David Brabham and Anthony Davidson. The two team cars battled strongly for most of the race and finished 1,053 seconds apart.
"We'd like to have won more races and the ALMS championship, but we won Le Mans and the Petit Le Mans this year, so it was successful," said Kox. "Driving all year with Tomas has been a pleasure."
"Our car has become so much better and stronger," said Enge. "The changes that have been made have been very good for the car and the team. The last four races, we have won."
Finishing third in class was the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R of Oliver Gavin, Kelly Collins and Andy Pilgrim. Chevrolet entered the race needing a minimum finish of third to clinch its third straight GTS class Manufacturer's title.
Winning the GT class was the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS of Jorg Bergmeister, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, which dominated most of the event despite being involved in an early crash. The other Job car of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen finished second, the two drivers having already clinched the GT class driving championship.
Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro finished third in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 360 Modena.
The car lost its right-side door early in the race when it was clipped by a car that had spun. "I tried to miss that car but it moved into me," said Bernhard, who was driving at the time. "We were fortunate that it only hit the door and didn't hit one of the tyres. The team fixed the problem and we were good after that."