The Audi team of Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Michele Alboreto dominated and won the third running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta last night, but there was action aplenty in their wake.
The winning team completed 1000 miles around the 2.54-mile, 12-turn, road course in just over nine hours to take another pair of back-to-back victories in the American Le Mans Series, leaving McNish at the top of the standings as the championship race moves on to Laguna Seca in California in two weeks time.
The second Audi of Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen finished second, followed by the Panoz team of David Brabham and Jan Magnussen, but the results listing did not do justice to the fraught final laps where German faced Dane in a battle for the second step of the podium.
There was a similarly tense finish in the GTS class, where the Corvette team led by ex-pat Brit Andy Pilgrim pulled off a stunning late race move to deprive the first of the ORECA Vipers of victory. The GT class was won by Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen in a Dick Barbour-run Porsche, who finished 15th overall.
McNish led away as the scheduled ten-hour odyssey got underway just after lunch in Georgia, and quickly pulled out an advantage over the rest of the field. What followed was one of the Scot's now customary blistering opening stints, in which quickly pulled away from the rest of the field, setting fastest laps along the way, and demoralising the opposition.
The soon-to-be Toyota F1 test driver combined endurance with his pace, however, and could not be prised from the seat of the R8 for nigh on three hours. This allowed the team to enjoy the luxury of a one lap advantage by the time he finally handed over to Capello, while the rest scrapped for crumbs in his wake.
The early going did not show signs of producing an Audi 1-2, however, as the unfortunate Pirro missed a crucial yellow flag, and received a stop-go penalty for his pains. Dropping to fifth position on the road, the Italian then had to battle to claim back both time and places, which would see him scrapping with the two Panozs and the Lehto/Muller BMW for much of his stint.
Pirro's task was made slightly easier when the #1 Panoz of 1999 winner David Brabham and team-mate Jan Magnussen clashed with one of the GT classes Porsches, dropping back to fifth as the Dane pitted for flying repairs. As a result, it was the venerable BMW that posed the early threat to McNish's apparent dominance, although both of the 'art car's' drivers later admitted that they were praying for unreliability on the Ingolstadt camp if they were to get a shot at winning the race.
The clashes between GT and prototype machinery littered the event with its fair share of full course yellow flag periods and, while these were normally used sensibly by the teams to effect repairs and driver changes, slowly changed the complexion of the lead battle.