31 December 2000
McNish back to his best to land title.
For some time, it looked as though both Lolas in the line-up would make it into the top three, but Gabriele Rafanelli's persistent bad luck struck with less than an hour remaining, stranding Didier de Radigues at the end of the Brabham Straight with gearbox failure and dropping the Olive Garden car to the lower reaches of the top 15.
The Konrad entry was more fortunate, having seemingly used up its quota of misfortune on Friday, when Slater dismantled the Lola against one of the unforgiving concrete walls. An overnight rebuild, ironically aided by the Rafanelli crew, was rewarded with a trouble-free run to the flag on Sunday, as those around them fell by the wayside.
''I am really happy for my team and the other drivers,'' said Franz Konrad, ''Everyone did a great job and, most importantly, we had luck with the car.''
Among those falling away were the three Panoz entries - one of which did not make it as far as the third lap.
Jan Magnussen admitted before the start of the race that he and co-driver Klaus Graf would have to be gentle with the new-for-2001 LMP07, following problems throughout the first two days, but the Dane could not have expected a recurrence of an alternator problem which would force him into the pits and out of the race on lap two.
The other two red cars, both of 2000 specification, ran well in the opening stages and occupied top four places behind the two Audis with David Brabham and Johnny O'Connell at the wheel.
The American's LMP-1 was the first to hit trouble, when the brake pedal went soft shortly after he handed over to team-mate Hiroki Katoh. The #2 car was then a regular pit visitor as the Dave Price-run team attempted to keep it on the road. The persistent delays naturally dropped it down the order, and further damage to its recovery was done when Graf swapped from the #1 entry and promptly put the car in the wall during the closing stages. Thirteenth place was poor reward for a difficult afternoon.
''It wasn't an easy race,'' O'Connell admitted, ''and, to cap it all, I think I trapped a nerve in my back which was giving me lots of pain. Unfortunately, it wasn't the finish to the year that I was looking for!''
Brabham's car - the self-dubbed 'crocodile hunters' line-up including antipodeans Jason Bright and Greg Murphy - looked set for a podium finish while the former F1 driver was at the wheel, but dropped own the order as problems beset his less experienced partners.
Murphy was still holding a comfortable third place when he ran into brake caliper problems and was forced off the road. Initially walking away from the dented Panoz, the New Zealander was persuaded to return and, after much coaxing, finally got the car back to the pits. There, the team set to work and finally got Bright out on track for the last two stints of the event.
The Australian was not without problems of his own, however, and, having hauled the car back into the top ten, was sent sliding off the road by oil dropped by the Rafanelli Lola. The only full-course caution of the day ensued, providing Bright with the chance to accept assistance and return the car to the pits where, once again, the mechanics got to work. The team was rewarded with ninth overall, and third in class, but it was a frustrating day for all concerned.
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