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Nothing Petit about Audi victory.

While all this was going on, Johansson was grimly clinging to his slender lead as Kristensen made slightly better work of the almost constant slower traffic. However it took the factory driver until the next round of fuel stops, which for Kristensen coincided with the Wallace/Pirro Safety Car period, to retake the lead as suddenly Johansson found himself at the tail of the lead lap after making his stop under green.

Another spirited charge from Stefan paid off just shy of the five-hour mark when the safety car returned and he was able to make a full fuel/tyre and driver change under caution. With Herbert back behind the wheel he and Kristensen once again quickened the pace at the front as the gap between the two stabilised at around half a minute.

Another intervention from the safety car brought Herbert to within two seconds of Kristensen and as the evening drew in, the two drivers put on a mesmerising show. Still dicing through heavy traffic, Kristensen held off Herbert by less than a second for a good 20 minutes before Herbert found a way through and the situation was reversed. Herbert kept his lead, never more than two seconds, until 7hrs 15mins were on the clock and both team headed for the pits.

Whereas Kristensen handed the controls of the #2 Audi to Capello, Herbert stayed in the Champion car and the time he saved in the pits translated into a 25-second lead as night fell.

But Capello fought back and halved the deficit as Herbert overcame several very close calls with slower machinery before he headed to the pits at the eight-hour mark to hand back to Johansson. It was hear that the race was more or less decided for just two laps after the Swedish driver took the wheel, Mike Hezemans slammed hard into the turn six tyre barriers in the remaining American Viperacing Viper to bring out the safety car and allow Capello to pit under caution.

After spending most of the previous four hours attempting to regain their lost ground as a result of the last time they were caught out in the pits, Champion Racing and Stefan Johansson could do little but shake their heads in despair. Although Johansson was still on the same lap as the leading Audi he was more than a minute behind when the green flag flew again and had just 40 laps to turn the situation around.

Bravely Johansson gave his cause everything he had with Capello not only stuck in heavy traffic but also trying to conserve fuel in order to avoid another fuel stop. On lap 382 of 394 Johansson had reduced Capello's lead to just 27 seconds and was recording his fastest laps of the race despite the fact he was driving at night. But just as the already hyped crowd were beginning to think that a major shock was on the cards, Johansson brought the multi coloured #38 machine onto pit road for a late splash of fuel and that was that as far as the overall result was concerned.

Capello duly reeled off the final dozen laps without hassle to bring the factory Audi team a fifth successive victory in what could be the final hurrah for the team in its current guise. Factory participation from Audi next year is still far from certain as Kristensen was confirmed as LMP900 Champion and for the third straight year, the silver R8's dominated the season virtually from the word go.

Even the single lap margin of victory did not do the deflated Champion Audi team justice after another hugely spirited performance and they can now but wait for next March and the Sebring 12 Hours for another crack at taking a long awaited ALMS victory.

Four and five laps respectively behind the winners, Max Angelelli/JJ Lehto/Christophe Tinseau and their factory Cadillac teammates Emmanuel Collard/Eric Bernard/Wayne Taylor brought the two Northstar LMP-02's home in a deserved third and fourth overall in heir final appearance while Bryan Herta/Bill Auberlen/Gunnar Jeannette completed the top five in the first of the Panoz's.



Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
The Kristensen/Capello Audi R8 passes a GT class Porsche during Petit Le Mans
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