Allan McNish overcame a sore back to cruise to the American Le Mans Series drivers' championship as he and Audi team-mate Rinaldo Capello scored a dominant victory in the Race of a Thousand Years
The Audi R8 of McNish and Capello finished 21 laps clear of the second-place Konrad Motorsport Lola in the six-hour endurance event, with the Scot, who had injured his back a few days before the race, starting the race and also driving the final stints on the 2.4-mile circuit.
Audi's plan had originally been to put McNish in the car for the opening shift, in order to rack up enough laps for him to qualify for points and become champion, but McNish said that he felt comfortable to return to the fray later on, and also took the chequered flag for the team.
In front of a crowd estimated at more than 130,000, McNish ceded Capello's hard-earned pole position to Audi team-mate Frank Biela at the first turn, but wasted little time in re-passing the German to ensure that he was in front at the all-important 25-lap mark when he clinched the championship.
From that point on, the #77 Audi, resplendent in its crocodile livery, was never headed, as McNish eased away from Biela despite the tight confines of the street circuit, establishing enough of a cushion to ensure Capello inherited the lead after the first driver change. The Italian then added to both the advantage and his own reputation by piling on the pressure and extending the gap back to fellow countryman Emanuele Pirro, who took over from Biela at one-third distance.
The pace finally told on the #78 Audi, as Pirro suffered a mechanical problem and was forced to pull over at the side of the road to effect repairs. The red-and-silver machine had earlier been involved in a collision with one of the GT class Porsches and, although Pirro eventually managed to make it roadworthy again, fell so far off the pace that it could only finish a lowly 16th.
''The car was very good all day,'' said McNish, who will be honoured at an awards banquet Monday night in Adelaide, ''and I am very relieved. I didn't feel as though I could finish 25 laps yesterday, let alone two stints and the end of the race, but we did the hard work at the beginning, and, hopefully, tomorrow will be an easier day.
''Dindo was great in getting us the pole and, although I let Frank slip through at the first corner, it meant that I could keep my head down and concentrate on the race. Winning is a great painkiller, and I guess a couple of whiskies tonight will help as well!''
The second-place finisher was something of a surprise, with the Lola-Ford B2K of Franz Konrad, Charlie Slater and Alan Heath beating the cream of the ALMS field to take to the podium.