The Allan McNish/Rinaldo Capello combination won its third race in four at Portland International Raceway but, for once, chose to do things the hard way.

The Scot inherited the lead of the Rose City Grand Prix when Capello brought the Audi R8R in after a long stint behind the wheel, and was unchallenged thereafter, but it had been a different story at the start of the race, however.

Capello led away from the start, but was harried all the way by Audi team-mate Emanuele Pirro. The Audis' superiority over the rest of the field was apparent from the first time both cars negotiated the Festival Turns at the end of the main straight, and both Capello and Pirro quickly began to pull away from the third placed Panoz of David Brabham.

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The Australian in turn led his own team-mate, Johnny O'Connell, as the pack took on a Noah's Ark appearance with the two BMWs following in line astern in fifth and sixth. This was in spite of Lehto being forced across the grass at the tight chicane following a touch with one of the red cars, but the Finn was smartly back in control of the pursuit, as both white cars dealt with the threat from Mimmo Schiattarella's Rafanelli Lola.

When the leaders began to catch backmarkers, however, the action became even more fraught, with the Capello sliding wide through turn two on the seventh lap and, suddenly under pressure from behind, then proceeded to collide with the GT class 911 of Dirk Muller.

The incident, and subsequent off-road moment, dropped the Audi down the order and, despite a determined recovery drive from Capello, it took a full course yellow to get the car back in with a shout of the race win.

Ironically, it was possibly fall-out from the Italian's incident that brought about the pace car period, as Bill Auberlen's BMW had a rear tyre explode under power down the back straight, something the American attributed to carbon fibre debris on the circuit. With the danger of further incidents looming, the organisers decided to throw a full course caution, allowing Capello to stop for fuel, tyres and attention to bodywork damage.

The Italian was slightly delayed by a sticking wheel-nut, however, and did not make up as much ground on those ahead of him as he would have hoped. When the green flew on lap 20, Pirro led comfortably from the Panoz Roadster of O'Connell, and the pair stayed at the head of the field despite making stops of their own.

Brabham found himself separated from the top two by Lehto's BMW, but was far enough ahead of the Rafanelli Lola and the first of the Johansson-Matthews Reynards to concentrate on running his own race. Capello emerged from his long stop in seventh, ahead of the lone Cadillac.

The second round of stops effectively decided the race, as Pirro and O'Connell came in under green, handing the lead to Brabham, who had forced his way past Lehto at Festival a lap earlier, and allowing Capello to make up vital ground. Then the luck turned in the #77 car's favour.

No sooner had the erstwhile leaders emerged from pit-road - Panoz ahead of Audi after another wheel-nut proved reluctant to dislodge itself - than the GT Porsche of Doc Bundy made heavy contact with the wall. The Skea Racing team suspected a brush with one of the Johansson cars, but the end result of the incident saw Bundy requiring attention from the marshals as he struggled to extricate himself from the damaged 911.

With bits of Porsche to be cleared up, the stewards felt there was no option but to rein in the pack, and the pace car was sent out for the second time of the afternoon. Its perfect timing allowed both Brabham and Capello to dive for the pits from first and second and, with the pace slowed dramatically, gain vital track positions over those who were unfortunate enough to jump the gun.

The two cars resumed in short order, with McNish taking over from his team-mate, but Brabham opting to stay on board in the hope of gaining even more time. Johansson's Reynard now led from O'Connell but, with the Swede still having to stop, the pre-race favourites were quickly into podium positions.

O'Connell's resistance lasted no time at all, as both cars forced their way past the second Panoz on lap 60, and the race rapidly distilled into a battle between the friends and former F3 rivals.

By this time, the #43 BMW had rejoined the race after requiring extensive bodywork and internal repair after its exploding tyre incident and, with Jean-Marc Gounon now at the wheel in search of his weekend's points, was about to provide an important factor in determining the final result.

McNish and Brabham caught the V12 LMR in close succession but, while the Audi managed to slip past without too much trouble, the Panoz found itself unceremoniously blocked while trying to add another lap to Gounon's misery. The incident cost Brabham vital seconds, and freed McNish of the pressure he was applying. Once clear of the Australian, the Audi driver was able to focus on extending his lead, and was hardly in danger thereafter.

Brabham was not the only Gounon victim either, although the Frenchman appeared to have something against red cars as he slowed the Australian's team-mate O'Connell in similar fashion. Both Brabham and O'Connell were approaching the point where they would have to have to hand over to their respective team-mates and, with the lead BMW of Lehto and team-mate Jorg Muller bearing down on the American, O'Connell was particularly keen to clear any obstacles in his path.

The #2 Panoz kicked off the final round of stops, O'Connell handing over to Hiroki Katoh and taking on only fuel, as the crew decided to triple stint the car's tyres. Brabham followed suit a few laps later, leaving Jan Magnussen to rejoin in fifth.

Both the red cars gained a place as Pirro changed with Frank Biela, but could not gain at all when McNish pitted from the lead for more fuel. The Scot was also sent on his way without changing tyres and consequently kept his top spot.

With the yellow-tinged Audi comfortably in front, attention switched to the battle for the remaining podium places. Muller headed Magnussen until making his own pit-stop, while Guy Smith, now behind the wheel of the Johansson car, held sway behind the Panoz until forced to come in for his own last gasp of fuel in the later stages.

The latter's stop promoted Katoh to fourth and Biela to fifth, but it quickly became apparent that all was not well with the second Panoz. Katoh was conceding ground hand over fist to the charging Audi and, without fifth gear, found it impossible to prevent Biela taking the place from him, despite both encountering a spun GT car in the middle of the critical corner.

The Japanese was not even safe in fifth, either, as the increasingly swift Reynard swept back in front of the Panoz, and only O'Connell's early pace saved the Roadster from dropping behind the unusually reliable Rafanelli Lola - now with Schiatarella back at the wheel - as it unlapped itself with just a couple of laps to run.

Katoh ended the race some three laps down on the eventual winner, with McNish easing off in the closing stages and allowing the pursuing Magnussen to close to within a minute of the Audi. It had been another crushing display by the Ingolstadt marque, but neither Capello nor McNish would have been willing to say it had been easy.

Indeed, if it had not been for the yellow flags and a couple of slowed pit-stops, their team-mates Pirro and Biela could have been celebrating back-to-back wins instead of winding up fourth.

If the battle at the front had been a bit disjointed, however, the same could not be said for the rest of the field. As always in endurance racing, the slower classes had made their presence felt, and not just in the incidents which produced the all important pace car periods.

Prototype, GTS and GT drivers all had harsh words for each other in parc ferme with the leaders ruing the amount of traffic that had to be negotiated, and the rest claiming that the open topped cars would do well to lose the notion that they owned the track.

In the absence of the Texan GP-winning Corvette, GTS again proved to be a Viper benefit, particularly as the only opposition hampered itself by losing its power steering on the final warm-up lap. The ORECA squad did not believe in making things easy for itself, however, with early leader Tommy Archer falling foul of a tyre problem just a couple of laps after pitting under the first yellow, and then the Beretta/Wendlinger car suffering a couple of moments of its own.

In the end, however, the Franco-Austrian combination won again to strengthen its advantage at the top of the table, as Archer and co-driver David Donohue were further delayed and finished two laps down.

The two red-and-white cars were split by the GT-winning Porsche of Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen, although both drivers would have been the first to admit that they should probably have been third on the day.

Series leader - and Dick Barbour cohort - Dirk Muller took an early lead in the class, but suffered badly in the clash with Capello's Audi. The resultant spin allowed the winner of the last two events, Randy Pobst, to move into the class lead, and a gap quickly opened out between the two Porsches.

Muller was not to be denied, however, and gradually reeled in his adversary. Having made up the best part of a lap on the Alex Job-run car, the German then forced his way through and proceeded to pull away, only to undo all his hard work with another spin opposite the pit-lane entrance just as the second yellow flew.

Although his quick thinking saw the silver Porsche tour down to the Barbour stall, the damage was too much to be dealt with in short order, and the car was pushed away for greater attention.

Pobst and team-mate Bruno Lambert should then have had the race in their pockets, but proceeded to spin too often to be real threats to the steadier Wollek/Maassen combination. Indeed, in the course of one rotation, the Job Porsche also fell behind the lead BMW M3 of Boris Said and Johannes van Overbeek, as the PTG crew ran a daring fuel strategy to try and overcome the Porsche hordes.. A late-race stop looked to be on the cards for the BMW but, by then, the American crew had opened up a lap's advantage over the Texas winners, and managed to hold firm.

Allan McNish has closed to within single figures of the long-time leaders Lehto and Muller, but can thank Dindo Capello for his improved championship chances. The Italian may have lost the lead, but did everything he could to give McNish a chance of taking it back. Muller did his bit to hold on to his slim advantage by taking third, but the Audi looks remorseless in its pursuit. As David Brabham admits, the silver cars are just that little bit better than the rest of the field.

Next stop for the ALMS series is the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. If ten hours of racing holds as much excitement as the last few, shorter, events have done, Don Panoz will be a very happy man.