Emanuele Pirro withstood a furious charge from Lucas Luhr in the final 20 minutes as the Audi R10 TDI claimed victory its first American Le Mans Series race since March by winning the Utah Grand Prix on Saturday at Miller Motorsports Park.
Pirro and the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI crossed the finish line 0.314 seconds ahead of Luhr's Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder. The difference turned out to be a fuel-only change with just more than an hour left for the Audi. The Porsche took on fuel and tyres and changed drivers one minute later, hoping fresher tyres would allow Luhr to catch the Audi. In the end, it didn't.
"This was a great race," said an exhausted Pirro, who won with Frank Biela on Saturday and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. "I thank God I have 27 years of experience because the last few laps were so difficult."
Biela began on pole position but went off track in Turn 3 of the first lap. He then also was involved in a final-turn incident with a slower GT2 car. Chances looked pretty bleak, but typical Audi pit strategy and the torque of the V12 diesel won out.
"The first thing I have to say is this guy won the race despite the other car having problems," Biela said of Pirro. "I was struggling at the beginning. I don't know why. The first turn maybe because there wasn't enough heat in the tyre. Our aim was to stay close as possible to the Dysons and our sister car, but unfortunately it was not like that. Then after the pit stop and this old fart got in, I was just giving him motivation. It shouldn't be so easy for him all the time."
The Dyson Racing Lola of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger finished second in class, about a half minute in front of the other Audi R10 TDI of championship leader Allan McNish and Dindo Capello.
"The cars seem to be coming around a little bit," Dyson Racing owner Rob Dyson said. "We have been working on reliability. We have a lot of work to do, but I'm cautiously optimistic."
Penske Racing earned its third straight victory as Luhr and Sascha Maassen cruised after the sister car of Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas stopped at the pit exit with throttle problems. The victory propelled the two Germans to within 1 point of the class championship lead, held by Intersport Racing's Clint Field and Liz Halliday, who finished second in class together in their Lola B05/40-AER.
"We were looking forward to our first win (of 2006)," Maassen said. "It took a little bit and now we're there."
Everyone associated with Penske and Porsche weren't disappointed the team didn't their second overall race of the season. The P2 class championship has been the goal from the beginning and will continue to be through the season finale. Still, the chance was there to pull off one of the biggest stunners in recent sports car racing history.