Long Beach 2007: Penske heads Porsche 1-2-3
15 April 2007
Phenomenal strategy and a bit of luck handed Penske Motorsports its second overall 1-2 result in the American Le Mans Series, as Romain Dumas led team-mate Sascha Maassen across the line by 0.76secs in the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It was the second time in two years that Dumas and co-driver Timo Bernhard had claimed an overall win in their LMP2 entry, repeating the feat from Mid-Ohio last May. To complete a good day for Porsche, Dyson Racing's Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace finished 13secs behind the winners to secure an historic 1-2-3.
"It was a tough race," Dumas said, "Timo did a great job at the start and kept us in a good position. After the safety car came out, we made a perfect driver change. After I drove, we didn't have a lot of traffic obviously but, for Porsche to finish 1-2-3, is fantastic."
Dumas and Bernhard ran the entire race on one set of tyres, a strategy the team developed had prior to the race, which was scheduled shorter than the usual 2hr 45min affairs. Their pit-stop and the race's only caution also fell at the right time as Dumas re-joined the track with 70 minutes remaining, the maximum time allowed for one driver in the race.
"We decided to take the risk and it wasn't easy on the car," the Frenchman continued, "But we took the risk and it helped us win the race. The driver change was really good, the tyres were good and I knew I could push. Ten minutes from the end, I only had a ten-second lead so just had to focus on not making mistakes."
The win also ended a nine-race winning streak for Audi's R10 TDI, although Allan McNish and Dindo Capello won the LMP1 class for the second consecutive race. However, on a day that belonged to the LMP2 runners, the silver machine could only finish seventh overall. Team-mates Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner finished second in class, a lap down, handing the points advantage to the reigning champions.
"Every run of victories has to come to an end at some point, so we have to keep it all in perspective," McNish said phlegmatically, "We saw yesterday that it was going to be trickier than at St Petersburg, so we did the strategy the best way possible and I believe it was the right strategy. We just didn't have the pace to put us into the final parts of it today."
The issues started early as the brake ducts became clogged during Capello's stint. The car also had to pit late while running in the top five because it was running low on fuel.
Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin went wire-to-wire to win for the third consecutive race in GT1. The #4 Corvette took a 0.349secs win over the sister car of Jan Magnussen and Johnny O'Connell, who was chasing Beretta down in the closing laps. Both cars pitted at the halfway point, making the race a duel between the pit crews.
"It pretty much came down to the pit-stops," Gavin admitted, "When I was in the car after the caution, my tyres didn't come back and Jan was on me pretty hard. I had to push in traffic to keep him away and that allowed us a little space for the crew to get us out in front of the #3 car. Olivier did a great job of keeping the #3 car behind him."
While the focus for Gavin and Beretta is on winning a third straight ALMS championship, they also are looking forward to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, where they will go for four consecutive wins - and face a deal more opposition that is currently provided in the US series..
"We are both professional teams - they want to win and we want to win," Beretta said, "We just want to not mess up the car and be big on preparations for Le Mans. Everyone is waiting for that. It's always tough to know where Aston Martin is, and Saleen will be there too, but the last three years have been good, so we'll just wait and see."
Jaime Melo and Mika Salo also won their third straight race, taking GT2 for Ferrari and Risi Competizione. The class championship leaders were five seconds ahead of the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Long and Darren Law at the flag, with the second Risi Ferrari, driven by Anthony Lazzaro and Nic Jonsson, third on the road. The win was the fifth straight for Melo and Salo, dating back to Salt Lake City last season.
"I just tried to push as much at the start as possible at the beginning and keep the gap to second place," Melo reported, "At the yellow, we lost all the gap and decided to change drivers. Mika did a very great job and the guys on the team made a great strategy. For us, it is great to win another race. We have a good gap between us and Porsche."
The Flying Lizard Porsches and one of the Panoz Team PTGs Panoz Esperante GTLMs challenged the Ferraris throughout. In the end, fuel economy and the Ferrari's handling won out over the power of the Porsches and Panoz. Melo and Salo will go for their sixth straight win together next week in Risi's hometown of Houston.
"We knew we could go until the end on fuel after the stop," Salo said, "We weren't much quicker than the second Porsche. I was coasting on the straight line and riding the clutch to save fuel. It was a great job by the engineers. We definitely want to win Houston, as it is our home race."