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St Petersburg 2008: Audi scores repeat
6 April 2008
Audi's Lucas Luhr passed Romain Dumas on a restart with three minutes left Saturday to give Audi a victory in the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg presented by XM Satellite Radio, the German manufacturer's first overall victory of 2008.
Luhr teamed with Marco Werner in Audi Sport North America's #2 Audi R10 TDI as a diesel-powered prototype won on the streets of St. Petersburg for the second straight season.
The 0.818-second victory was Luhr's first overall in the American Le Mans Series and his seventh victory on a street circuit. Werner won overall for the first time since the 2007 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The car made just one pit stop in the race.
"We were not expecting the car to be this good so it was great to go out and win a race for Audi," Werner said. "It was for sure very exciting. I think it was very stressful for me in the pits. I could watch it on TV and was very nervous, especially with all the safety cars."
The last one preceded Luhr's winning move. Dyson Racing's Butch Leitzinger spun at Turn 2 after contact with Penske Racing's Patrick Long with 15 minutes left, a crash that also damaged Jörg Bergmeister's Flying Lizard GT2 Porsche. Dumas had taken the lead under green with 19 minutes to go but the torque of the Audi proved to be the difference. When the green flew, Luhr got on the diesel and beat Dumas to Turn 1 for a clean pass at the end of the long frontstretch.
"I was upset because I knew the safety car periods take a while so I didn't know if we had a chance to go for it again," Luhr said. "When I hit the throttle on the restart I knew I could get him, before we were dancing with the inside or the outside and during the race I had been picking my spots to pass so I was able to get around."
Dumas and Bernhard did salvage their weekend with their eighth straight LMP2 victory dating back to Mid-Ohio in July of last year. The duo was five seconds clear of David Brabham and Scott Sharp in the Patrón Highcroft Racing entry, the highest finisher among the three Acura ARX-01b cars.
The pairing controlled the P2 contest from the beginning with Bernhard starting first in class and second overall after Dumas' qualifying run. The German pitted just once as well, handing off to Dumas at the 44-minute mark. He led 35 of the final 43 laps.
"To race only two laps at the end, we had no chance," Dumas said. "We lost the victory overall but we won in class so it was a good weekend for everybody. I can tell you in the last hour, I was taking a lot of risks trying to keep up but that is street racing and how it goes. The tyres did a great job holding up. The new compound is very great. Michelin did a great job providing a great new tyre."
The win for Bernhard and Dumas ties an American Le Mans Series record for consecutive victories regardless of class. The two won eight times in P2 a year ago with six overall victories on their way to the class championship. They already are well on their way to a repeat.
"Romain and I have a very good relationship," Bernhard said. "The main key is we have the same idea about racing. We live motorsports and are always thinking racing. We have the same height and weight, it helps during the stops when it comes down to the driver change, we use the same main seat and it saves us a lot of seconds. The car will keep the same settings for the two of us so it makes it easier on the engineers."
The second Penske Porsche of Long and Sascha Maassen finished third in class and fourth overall although both drivers were docked three championship points for the incident with Leitzinger's Porsche. LMP2 cars held the second through seventh positions overall.
The second Audi of Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro was second in LMP1 but well back after two different instances of contact. Intersport Racing's cellulosic E85-powered Lola-AER was third in P1.
Corvette Racing's Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta led flag-to-flag for their second consecutive St. Petersburg victory in the #4 Corvette C6.R. Beretta qualified on the class pole position and never gave up his advantage as Gavin beat Jan Magnussen to the line by 4.754 seconds.
"Olivier had the harder job today," Gavin said. "I just had to keep the car in front and cruise around and keep the car out of trouble. It's been a very good weekend for Olivier and me. We were fast all weekend. We wanted to get back on our winning ways after a failure at Sebring."
That failure saw them finish eight laps behind the sister car of Johnny O'Connell and Magnussen. The Bell Motorsports Aston Martin DBR9 finished third in class but was retired after Terry Borcheller collided with the Joel Feinberg's Dodge Viper Competition Coupe.
Saturday also marked the first victory for cellulosic E85 in the American Le Mans Series as both Corvette factory cars are powered by the alternative fuel. Intersport's Lola and the Drayson-Barwell Aston Martin in GT2 also are competing on cellulosic E85.
"I think we demonstrated not only to our fellow competitors but also to the world of racing that E85R is a viable and powerful fuel," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "We're very pleased with how it turned out."
"The new fuel gave great performance and really good mileage," Beretta added. "It is really good for the environment too. It might not be the solution but it's a start."
Tafel Racing posted its first Series victory as Dirk Mueller and Dominik Farnbacher won in GT2. The duo stayed clean as electrical problems and contact sidelined the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 and the Sebring-winning Porsche from Flying Lizard Motorsports.
It was Mueller's first victory in the Series since 2000 and the first ever for Farnbacher. Mueller crossed the line by more than 13 seconds ahead of Flying Lizard's #46 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet.
"It was very hot. Our A/C did not work properly. So it was very hot in there," Farnbacher said. "During my stint I just tried to stay with the pack. (Wolf) Henzler and (Mika) Salo were fighting it out so I just tried to keep up with them. That worked pretty well."
What worked even better was Mueller's move to get around Bergmeister with 25 minutes left going into the first turn, the same spot where Luhr made his winning pass.
"Dominik did a great job taking care of the car so all I had to do is take it home," said Mueller, who returned the Series last year after a seven-year hiatus and most recently won on the street circuit in Adelaide, Australia at the end of 2000. "There was a lot of debris so it was a tough time getting the Michelins to keep grip but when they did, it gave me the opportunity to make the run on Bergmeister. I had the advantage to overtake him because I had fresh tyres. I got a run exiting the last corner so I got him braking into one."
Third place in class went to the Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche of Dirk Werner and Marc Basseng, a solid showing after being knocked out of the Sebring race at the six-hour mark.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on Saturday, April 19.
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