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.
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.