Pit-stop strategy helped Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen take American Le Mans Series victory in the X-Factor Grand Prix of Sonoma.at Sears Point Raceway.
The drivers benefited from a team decision to stretch time between pit-stops in the two-hour 45-minute endurance race, which helped to overcome a stern challenge from Joest team-mates Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro. The decision allowed this year's unbeaten team to turn its final pit-stop into a 20-second fuel splash that kept the Audi R8 in the race lead.
Championship leader Capello and Kristensen went on to score a 6.674secs win over Pirro and Biela, and the winning Italian was convinced that the strategy was the key in allowing him to take his third ALMS win of the this season.
''Our cars were very even,'' he said of the two Audi factory machines, ''It was only the traffic that separated us on the track, but they made the wrong strategy and you can see the result.''
David Brabham and Jan Magnussen, driving a Panoz LMP-1, finished third, on the lead lap with the two Audis.
The race began, as expected, with the two works Audis pulling away from the rest of the field, a task eased as Brabham moved the lead Panoz ahead of the Champion Racing R8, preventing Andy Wallace from mixing it with the two silver machines. Capello, from the pole, slowly eked out an advantage over Biela, establishing a pattern that would last throughout the race, although the red and yellow-hued cars would enjoy some close quarter dicing as the event wore on.
Wallace remained stuck behind Brabham's well-driven Panoz for what must have seemed an eternity, and led to a change in strategy for the Champion team, as it elected to reverse its pit-stop programme and use the expected late race 'splash-and-dash' to try and find some clear track for the white R8.
The plan went to pot at around the one hour mark, when the first caution flags flew for a clash between two of the GT Porsches. With the leaders now able to pit under yellow, Champion found itself still behind the pesky Panoz, as the two Joest-run Audis continued to make good their escape.
A second full course caution not long after the first - brought about by one of the two Cadillacs attempting to three-wheel back to the pits - also failed to reverse the order of the third-fourth battle, leaving the Champion team champing at the bit in frustration. Now with former GP drivers Jan Magnussen and Johnny Herbert at the wheel of the Panoz and Audi respectively, the two cars battled right to the end, but it was the 2000-spec Roadster that came out on top of the 2000-spec R8.
The rest of the prototype field endured a troubled day, with the second Panoz grinding to a halt with a box full of neutrals as early as lap 19. Emmanuel Collard's Cadillac finished twelfth, some twelve laps down on the leader, while the other car was the last classified finisher, despite completing only just over half the distance of Capello's Audi after the wheel problem. The Intersport Lola, forced to start at the back after opting to change tyres between qualifying and the race, clawed its way back to 15th.