20 April 2008
Long Beach 2008: Audi upsets the applecart.
While victory on the streets of St Petersburg was accepted, Long Beach should have been a different matter when it came to Audi taking on - and beating - the massed ranks of LMP2 rivals in the American Le Mans Series.
While it is hard to remember a time when an Audi victory in the ALMS was considered a surprise, that's just what happened on Saturday as Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr scored an unlikely win in the Tequila Patrón event in Long Beach. To make matters 'worse, both R10 TDIs finished ahead of the LMP2 cars to claim an unexpected 1-2. Werner crossed the finish line 1.964secs ahead of Emanuele Pirro in the sister Audi as the German manufacturer claimed its first podium sweep since St Petersburg last season.
"From the beginning, the car was good so we didn't make many changes," Werner said, "I was never fastest, and free practice and qualifying are never the same thing, so you can guess we are quite happy with Michelin at the moment. The car set-up is really helping us a lot this year, especially in the street circuits. We are in max lock trying to make the turns, especially in the hairpins. But the Michelins are keeping the car where it should be and helping us deal with all the corners."
Werner got around Penske Racing's Romain Dumas with eleven minutes remaining, taking the overall lead from the best of the Porsche RS Spyders and using the torque and power of the R10 TDI to pull away after a late caution period. Pirro did the same to claim runners-up honours with fellow veteran Frank Biela, as Audi added to its win last time out in Florida. On that occasion, it was Luhr who drove the closing stint and passed Dumas with three minutes remaining.
"Marco got to do the same thing I did last race at St Pete," Luhr said, "Now I know how it feels. I couldn't watch it. The team said it would be okay, but I said 'I'm too old, I can't watch'."
Luhr started sixth on the grid but moved up to second overall before pitting near the 40-minute mark. He was held up in pit-lane by Jon Field's Intersport Lola and lost several seconds before Werner rejoined in ninth place. Werner then worked his way back through the field using the power of the R10 TDI and timely yellow flags to get within range of Dumas, before ultimately taking the lead.
The deciding yellow flag came at the one-hour mark of the shorter-than-usual event, with debris reported at turn eleven. It only took a couple of laps after the restart for Werner to thunder by Dumas at the end of the frontstretch.
"I think I was quite okay in traffic today," the German said, "It was the key for the victory, especially before the yellow came out. I think Romain expected me not to make the pass with the GT car ahead. But I tried - it wasn't too much risk, but you have to try. We knew he'd be better on braking, but I closed the door and had a good first corner but better second - then the torque took over, so I could pull away."
In LMP2, David Brabham and Scott Sharp scored the first victory for Patrón Highcroft Racing as Brabham made a diving pass on Dumas on the penultimate lap to score the first win for the new Acura ARX-01b. Brabham crossed the finish line 1.036secs ahead of the Porsche as Acura won for the first time since its series debut last year at Sebring. Brabham and Sharp also finished third overall for the second consecutive race, as the Australian became the first driver in series history to score victories in all four classes.
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