6 October 2002
Pirro is the Michelin Man.
Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela coaxed a remarkable victory out of their factory Audi R8 in an action packed Cadillac American Le Mans Challenge in Miami as all gripes over the track surface were forgotten in another gripping ALMS encounter.
Using just one set of Michelin tyres for both qualifying and the entire two and three quarter hour race, defending LMP900 Champions Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro drove faultlessly from start to finish to record their second win on the trot in Saturday's inaugural Cadillac American Le Mans Challenge.
From pole position Biela was able to maintain a slender lead during a caution-filled opening 45-minutes as the tight, bumpy and above all slippery 1.387-mile Bayfront Park circuit provided all the closely packed frantic action expected of it. With 35 cars (minus 1 Graham Nash Motorsports Saleen) taking the start the leading LMP900 drivers had to be on constant alert through the seemingly endless packs of slower traffic. Whereas many fell foul of the concrete walls, other cars and more often than not their own machinery, Biela and Pirro remained almost inch perfect.
Their passage wasn't an easy one and had it not been for a pair of late race stop/go penalties for their two nearest rivals, Pirro's well-worn rubber might not have held up in the closing laps.
A daring single-stop strategy by the privateer Champion Audi team came agonisingly close to paying off and Johnny Herbert led the middle portion of the race before the team were forced to push the car back in its pit stall during its sole intended stop in order to avoid a stationary Saleen in the next pit. As the #38 crew pushed Johansson back, the R8 ran over an air-hose, which resulted in a penalty and the loss of a lap.
The second factory Audi of current points leaders Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello had shadowed their teammate obediently from the word go but when the final caution period of the race ended with 20 minutes to go, Kristensen found himself mired deep in traffic. Not only that but with ten minutes to go Kristensen was given a penalty for earlier punting a slower GT class Porsche out of the way.
With the Danish driver smarting on pit road, into second place just half a minute behind the leaders came the Cadillac Northstar of Max Angelelli. A typically rapid opening stint from JJ Lehto had kept the #8 Northstar on the lead lap during the opening half of the race and Angelelli had moved into fourth place when he dispatched David Brabham's Panoz. When Johansson took his penalty Angelelli moved into a podium position and when Kristensen emerged from his unwanted pit visit, he was eight second behind the 'other' silver prototype.
With Pirro nursing his car home at the head of the pack, Angelelli soon began closing in during the final minutes but the real attention was focused on Kristensen, absolutely flying in third place and rapidly reeling Angelelli in. As the seconds wound down, Kristensen inexorably moved closer until with one lap to go, they were together.
Still fighting heavy traffic, Angelelli bravely took every chance on the final lap as he ducked and weaved passed two or three cars with Kristensen a matter of feet behind. Even as the two roared onto the final straight there were slower cars in the way but despite one final scare, Angelelli hung on for Cadillac's best ever result. Kristensen had to settle for third, less than 20 seconds behind Pirro and less than one second behind Angelelli.
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