McNish, Capello add Petit Le Mans to record haul
1 October 2006
Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello overcame the various challenges presented to Audi's diesel-powered R10 at Road Atlanta, taking a four-lap victory in the ninth Petit Le Mans.
The pair claimed their seventh win of the season, setting a new series record and giving Audi Sport North America the LMP1 team championship and Audi the class manufacturers' title in the process. Despite being out-paced by Creation Autosportif's CA06 in qualifying, the 2006 champions finished four laps ahead of their nearest rival, the 'works' Zytek of Stefan Johansson, Johnny Mowlem and Haruki Kurosawa.
"We knew we were only two drivers so it would be a tough race for us," Capello said, "Road Atlanta is a different track. You have to be full concentration. It was a tough race for us. We did a good job as a team all together and with the strategy. But if you look at the speed of the Zytek, I think without their problems it would have been really, really, tough for us."
Capello and McNish led for the final three hours of a race that was intensely competitive in the opening. Audi, Zytek, Creation and Porsche each led early, before Audi took over with typical efficiency on the track and in the pits. That left the Zytek and Highcroft Racing Lola of Duncan Dayton, Vitor Meira and Memo Gidley to battle for the other two podium spots.
"We were losing ground at the beginning of the race, so we were trying hard to keep up," McNish revealed, "I was stressing the car more than I would have liked to. It might have looked easy, but I can tell you, from the cockpit, it was really hard. As the race went on, and the temperature went down, though the car came to us. Fortunately, it went that way."
Penske and Porsche won LMP2 despite early problems for the RS Spyders, allowing the combination to secure the teams and manufacturers' titles respectively. Intersport Racing again provided the closest opposition to the yellow machines, but suffered its own problems late on, allowing the trio of Sascha Maassen, Emmanuel Collard and Timo Bernhard to bounce back from their own delays to clinch victory by a lap in the #6 car, ahead of the sister car of Lucas Luhr, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller.
The winning trio capitalised on the steering trouble of Intersport Racing, which suffered steering rack issues that forced it to lose precious laps late while leading. Maassen now heads into the final round at Laguna Seca with a four-point lead over team-mate Luhr.
"We definitely had some concerns," Maassen admitted, "They were doing a great job the whole year. We knew we had to push and had a little bit of luck and yellows to catch them. We were running only 1.5secs ahead of them. We were happy they were having a problem and it made it easier for us."
The most thrilling battle of the race was a 30-minute duel between Bernhard and Intersport's Jon Field. Bernhard stayed in the veteran's tyre tracks in attempt to get a lap back near the midway point, and his patience paid off as he finally got by. Intersport's trouble struck soon after.
"It was really hard behind him because, when he had new tyres, he was quite quick," the German explained, "He had good traction in turn seven and I had to wait for a mistake. In my mirrors, I had the Highcroft car and, at the time we were two or three laps behind, so I knew I had to get around him to make up some time. Then, finally, after 25 laps or something, he made a mistake out of 10B and I was able to sneak by him."
Although Corvette Racing dominated in qualifying, and in spite of George Howard-Chappell's pre-race pessimism, Aston Martin Racing closed the GT1 championship gap after Tomas Enge, Darren Turner and the #007 DBR9 headed and AMR 1-2. They finished a lap up on team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy, with Corvette's Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen finished third.
Aston Martin Racing tightened the GT1 championship battle thanks to a victory by Tomas Enge and Darren Turner in the No. 007 Aston Martin DBR9. They finished a lap up on team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy and two laps on the No. 4 Corvette C6.R of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen.
"It was quite an exciting race from the word go," Turner said. "In the first 30 minutes we were aware of how good the Corvettes were. It seemed strange that at the same time the prototypes were lapping us, we were lapping the GT2 cars, which made it exciting."
Both teams ran a relatively trouble-free race. The Corvettes lost some time in the pits by changing brake cylinders and rotors late in the race, which sealed the win for Aston Martin. Corvette Racing still leads the team championship by 7 points heading to Monterey, with the same difference in the manufacturers championship.
"I have to say that we had a really great preparation here last weekend," said Enge, who moved into second place in the class drivers championship. "We've done a lot of laps. But it paid off. We had a great setup and tires for this race. We are pushing to make something better happen every race. We were very equal with the Corvettes. The whole race we were battling quite closely."
Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing triumphed in GT2, as Patrick Long, Nic Jonsson and Jorg Bergmeister claimed a two-lap victory over the second Risi Competizione Ferrari F430GT.
The PWL victory tightened the GT2 championship battle, but it didn't come without suspense, as Bergmeister spun in the esses during his opening stint, missing the walls and other cars flying by, but losing ground. He also suffered a puncture coming down the long backstretch in the third hour, but again saved the car from another impact with the wall.
"At first, I felt pretty bad because the team called me in a lap early and I didn't have a chance to loosen up my belts and suit, so I stayed out one more lap and that's when the puncture happened," Bergmeister reported, "I was lucky - again - that I didn't hit the wall. From then on, we just pushed really hard until the end."
That was the extent of the bad luck, though. As the Petersen/White Lightning team made its way back through the field, misfortune befell the #60 Risi Ferrari, in the shape of an accident, the #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche, with a broken front controller arm, and the #45 Flying Lizard Porsche, which ran into suspension problems.
With the win, Bergmeister moved within four points of Flying Lizard Motorsports' Johannes van Overbeek in the race for the GT2 drivers' crown, while Risi still leads Flying Lizard by six points and Petersen/White Lightning by ten in the teams' championship.
"We've worked well together, and the way we drive the car has become closer and closer," Long said, "We're manipulating each other as we go. It's just been a dream run since the middle of '04, when I raced for Petersen/White Lightning at Le Mans. That's one of the reasons I wanted to continue with Petersen/White Lightning and get this championship sewed up."