JJ Lehto and Johnny Herbert scored a famous win for ADT Champion Racing in Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, but third place was enough for the Infineon Joest Audi team of Frank Biela and Marco Werner to clinch the American Le Mans Series title - the fourth time in a row for the squad.

Lehto had started third on the 36-car grid, but completed the opening lap in the lead after slipping ahead of the pole-starting Werner on the exit of turn one. Meanwhile, front row starter James Weaver was instructed to drop behind Werner, having jumped the rolling start, and retired soon afterwards to cap an impressive weekend for the LMP675 class Lola-MG in disappointing style.

The two Audis were never more than twelve seconds apart for the opening 96-minutes of hard racing but Biela, having taken over from Werner during the third full course
yellow, collided with a backmarker which sent the Joest Audi in to the outside wall. Major repairs were made and Biela resumed in 27th place - and sixth in class - over ten minutes later, which left the ADT Champion Audi two laps clear of the second-placed Panoz car.

At one-third distance, Herbert led the Panoz by almost three laps, while the Biela/Joest Audi had clawed its way back to ninth overall, and fourth in class. With 500 miles run, all in warm sunshine and under a clear, blue sky, Lehto had extended the advantage to almost five laps with the Joest Audi now sixth overall, albeit still fourth in class.

The comeback continued up to the six hour mark, with the Biela/Werner combination back up to third, despite losing time having to change a battery - a problem that had also affected the Champion team an hour earlier, but had not prevented the white car from now enjoying a four-lap advantage.

Despite the Joest Audi duo needing only to complete 70 per cent of the race to claim the drivers' and teams' titles, Werner managed to spin on the very lap equating
to that distance, requiring a tow out of the gravel trap followed by a precautionary pit-stop, effectively winning the titles while in pit-lane.

"Today we have seen how difficult it is to win a race or a championship," Biela admitted, "Victories will mean even more to me in future.

"Things can happen and go wrong so easily. After 69.8 per cent of the race we thought we had the title - just to see us standing in the gravel. I had a similar situation earlier in the race, although I was pushed off, and had to brake hard to avoid a collision. The contact with the wall was heavy, and I was sure that I would not make
it back to the pits. Luckily, I was able to bring the car back and the boys were able to repair it."

"This was an incredible race!" Werner echoed, "Twice we almost threw away the championship, especially when I ended up in the gravel because two cars in front of me slowed down so much that I lost the car under braking. I only learned later that it happened exactly in the last lap we needed for the title!

"Despite that, we eventually finished third and clinched the title so, for me, it was a marvellous season. Coming as a newcomer and leaving as a champion is simply fantastic. Thanks to Team Joest, Audi, Infineon and everybody who helped."

With ADT Champion Racing winning the race, however, it still proved to be an extremely successful and satisfying weekend for Audi. The victory was the fourth of the year for the Lehto/Herbert combination - which had not previously triumphed in the ALMS - while Joest wrapped up another title double to follow on from the years in which Allan McNish, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen came out on top.

 

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