The fifth running of the Petit Le Mans provided all the drama and excitement expected from such a high quality field and although a factory Audi emerged victorious, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello had to fight every inch of the way.
The 2.54-mile, twelve turn Road Atlanta circuit has rarely seen a race like the 2002 edition of the Petit Le Mans, which saw newly crowned LMP900 Driver's Champion Tom Kristensen and his co-driver Rinaldo Capello eke out a hard fought, if somewhat fortuitous victory.
The two factory Audi drivers completed the required 394 laps in a shade under nine and a half hours aboard their #2 R8 despite starting the 1000-mile event with a car that was suffering from vicious oversteer.
The race boiled down to a straight duel between the #2 factory Audi and the #38 privateer Champion Racing Audi of former Formula One duo Johnny Herbert and Stefan Johansson. Following the fiery demise of the superb Dyson Racing MG/Lola, which James Weaver had running as high as second in the opening hour and three lengthy delays for the pole winning Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro Audi, the two remaining Audi's had the large Road Atlanta crowd enthralled as they repeatedly traded top spot.
Capello first took the lead for his team right on the two-hour mark when Biela was called into the pits for a penalty after he shoved one of Franz Konrad's Saleen's onto the grass. In the Champion car Herbert's usual mammoth first stint lasted a full 2hrs 30mins as the #38 team used the full course caution periods to top up their fuel and remain on the lead lap.
Johansson and Kristensen stepped in at the same time with Champion's quicker pit stop allowing the Swedish driver to leave the pits some seven seconds ahead of his fellow Scandinavian. Then just minutes later Biela pitted from the lead and a chink appeared in Audi's armoury.
The headlights of the #1 Audi had been flickering wildly since the word go and this had an adverse affect on the battery. When Pirro turned the switch to begin his stint there was nothing. The rear bodywork was swiftly removed as the Joest crew swarmed over the mechanicals of the car, losing the defending Champions four laps.
Another extended stop to swap batteries and rectify the headlight problem cost the defending Petit Le Mans Champions more time but worse was to come at the 3hrs 30min mark when Pirro was following the fifth placed Dyson Racing MG/Lola being driven by Andy Wallace.
Accelerating at full pelt on the run out of turn seven, Wallace's MG/Lola suddenly burst into flames when a mixture of hot oil and leaking fuel ignited. With nowhere to go Pirro rammed the rear of the little LMP675 machine and was left with fairly serious front-end damage. The Dyson machine was out altogether although Wallace was uninjured while Pirro was able to limp back to the pits for repairs after one of his most testing single driving stints ever.