An exciting chapter was added to Team Joest's American Le Mans success story at the weekend, with a third place finish in the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta enough to add Frank Biela and Marco Werner to the list of the team's ALMS champions - but it so easily may not have been the case...

The season finale at Road Atlanta was a real thriller for the Joest squad - full of heart-stopping moments and euphoria. During the second hour of the 1000-mile race, Biela, then running second, left the track when he was forced off line while lapping a slower car. The German touched a wall but was able to bring the Audi R8 back into the pits on three wheels, allowing the Joest crew to once again display is legendary teamwork.

In less than eleven minutes, the team changed the entire front suspension, the whole front section, the rear end and the damaged parts of the bodywork. Ten laps down, and to a standing ovation from the spectators, the silver Audi rejoined the race. Biela and Werner both then recorded fastest lap times, working their way from the tail of the field to third position, before they dropped back again because the battery of their R8 had to be changed.

The real drama developed at the start of the eighth hour, however, as, on lap 276 - which Werner needed to complete in order to clinch the title by virtue of completing 70 per cent of the race, the series rookie spun off the track and got stuck in a gravel-trap when a lapping manoeuvre went wrong.

After several minutes of the team worrying that it may be about to lose the title by the slimmest of margins, the R8 was eventually towed out of the gravel, allowing a relieved Werner to continue the race and complete the missing lap.

"I've never experienced a race like this," admitted team boss Reinhold Joest, "After Frank's off, things started to go wrong, and that's why we are even more happy having reached our target of winning the championship for the fourth time in a row.

"Winning the ALMS four times in a row has a special place in Team Joest's history. This success makes us proud and is great for the whole team."

Despite dropping from third to fourth because of this incident, however, the all-German crew was able to move up to a podium position again as dusk fell on the closing stages, preventing ADT Champion Racing's JJ Lehto from sneaking in and taking the title at the death.

"After Frank's accident, the race seemed to be over for us," commented technical director Ralf J?ttner, "Despite so many things going wrong, however, we still achieved a good result. Without the little hiccups, like a wrong alert of a puncture, we would even have had the chance to finish second. It was tight, but we didn't quite make it.

"Despite that we are content as we have won the championship. Obviously, we would have loved to also win the final race, but the way things went this was not possible. Congratulations to Champion - they drove a great race and were a strong competitor during the whole year. They've won the final race, we are the champions - so each of us has something to celebrate."

 

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