1 October 2006
McNish, Capello add Petit Le Mans to record haul.
Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello overcame the various challenges presented to Audi's diesel-powered R10 at Road Atlanta, taking a four-lap victory in the ninth Petit Le Mans.
The pair claimed their seventh win of the season, setting a new series record and giving Audi Sport North America the LMP1 team championship and Audi the class manufacturers' title in the process. Despite being out-paced by Creation Autosportif's CA06 in qualifying, the 2006 champions finished four laps ahead of their nearest rival, the 'works' Zytek of Stefan Johansson, Johnny Mowlem and Haruki Kurosawa.
"We knew we were only two drivers so it would be a tough race for us," Capello said, "Road Atlanta is a different track. You have to be full concentration. It was a tough race for us. We did a good job as a team all together and with the strategy. But if you look at the speed of the Zytek, I think without their problems it would have been really, really, tough for us."
Capello and McNish led for the final three hours of a race that was intensely competitive in the opening. Audi, Zytek, Creation and Porsche each led early, before Audi took over with typical efficiency on the track and in the pits. That left the Zytek and Highcroft Racing Lola of Duncan Dayton, Vitor Meira and Memo Gidley to battle for the other two podium spots.
"We were losing ground at the beginning of the race, so we were trying hard to keep up," McNish revealed, "I was stressing the car more than I would have liked to. It might have looked easy, but I can tell you, from the cockpit, it was really hard. As the race went on, and the temperature went down, though the car came to us. Fortunately, it went that way."
Penske and Porsche won LMP2 despite early problems for the RS Spyders, allowing the combination to secure the teams and manufacturers' titles respectively. Intersport Racing again provided the closest opposition to the yellow machines, but suffered its own problems late on, allowing the trio of Sascha Maassen, Emmanuel Collard and Timo Bernhard to bounce back from their own delays to clinch victory by a lap in the #6 car, ahead of the sister car of Lucas Luhr, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller.
The winning trio capitalised on the steering trouble of Intersport Racing, which suffered steering rack issues that forced it to lose precious laps late while leading. Maassen now heads into the final round at Laguna Seca with a four-point lead over team-mate Luhr.
"We definitely had some concerns," Maassen admitted, "They were doing a great job the whole year. We knew we had to push and had a little bit of luck and yellows to catch them. We were running only 1.5secs ahead of them. We were happy they were having a problem and it made it easier for us."
The most thrilling battle of the race was a 30-minute duel between Bernhard and Intersport's Jon Field. Bernhard stayed in the veteran's tyre tracks in attempt to get a lap back near the midway point, and his patience paid off as he finally got by. Intersport's trouble struck soon after.
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