Sunday
Aug102008

Road America: Race Report

The closing moments of Saturday’s Generac 500 presented by Time Warner Cable came almost too close for Audi’s liking. The diesel-powered R10 TDIs were marred back in fourth and fifth place overall with the clock ticking in the four-hour race. But the late-race pressure didn’t faze Marco Werner, as with just 14 minutes to go, the German powered his way past both LMP2 Acuras of Franck Montagny and David Brabham to take the overall lead and eventual win. Teammate Marcel Fassler followed closely in pursuit to give Audi a powerful 1-2 punch for the second straight American Le Mans Series race.

While the win may have come easy for the silver rings, it wasn’t as clear-cut as originally imagined. Without a doubt, the power-happy diesels were the odds on favorites, but a series of late-race cautions and shuffled pit strategy put the two LMP1 machines behind in the final hour. One P2 contender gambled on fuel, while others beat the Audis out of the pits. But unlike last year’s upset here when the lighter and more nimble car won, the fastest car took the top honors.

photo by: American Le Mans Series“It was an exciting race and wasn’t as easy as it looks especially after the second-to-last yellow,” Werner said. “It was really difficult to pass the Acuras but the traffic helped me get a little closer and then TDI power helped me overtake them. After that everything was really nice. Every time when I pushed very hard, we were very quick. I saw that I was getting closer and closer. On the restart and with cold tires, it was much more difficult than a couple of laps after that.”

Werner and co-driver Lucas Luhr should have cruised to a dominant win given its pace in the early stages of the race. However, that was changed with four full-course cautions in the final 80 minutes that shook up strategy. Some teams took on tires while others gambled for fuel-only. The differing tactics, and the sheer amount of time behind the pace car, almost caught the Audis out.

“The strategy that we had in our minds before the race did not work out because of the many yellows,” Luhr said. “Nevertheless I was able to pull away quite well. Unfortunately we always lost the advantage we had due to the caution periods. Thank God in the end it was still enough to win. I’m more than happy.”

photo by: American Le Mans Series

It was Werner and Luhr’s sixth class victory of the season and fourth overall. Audi also put in another 1-2 effort as the sister No. 1 entry of Fassler and co-driver Emanuele Pirro came home second after the Swiss driver made a daring move on Brabham’s outside on the front straight to take the position away.

“The final restart was unbelievable,” Fassler said. “It was pretty close between Brabham and the wall. But I said to myself: Now or never! It worked out. I am very happy that I was able to give the second place to the team.”

Fassler, in his Series debut, was very impressive behind the wheel of the Audi and didn’t turn a wheel wrong all weekend. “Marcel must also be praised,” race winner Luhr added. “It was his first race with this car and he was able to catch the two Acuras and thus make the Audi 1-2 victory perfect. This was again a great race weekend.”


One team that took advantage of strategy was Patron Highcroft Racing. The No. 9 Acura ARX-01b opted to gamble on fuel, making a sequence of three pit stops while under a yellow. The last stop to top Brabham’s car off with fuel came with one hour and five minutes remaining, more importantly keeping the car on the lead lap.

photo by: John Thawley Twenty minutes later while under another yellow, the rest of the leaders pitted for their service, putting Brabham out in front at the restart. The call made by team manager Robin Hill proved to be a good one as Brabham led the way for much of the remaining laps, only to get passed by the No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Acura of Franck Montgany when Werner took over the lead. However, Montagny’s time out front in P2 didn’t last long, as moments later, the Frenchman collided with Paul Drayson’s Aston Martin in Canada Corner, handing the class win back to Brabham.

“I thought when the opportunity came our way from a strategy perspective, the guys were great just like at Lime Rock,” Brabham said. “On the restart and I found myself in the lead, I got a great job on everyone. Of course another yellow came out and off we went again. It was really hard to keep in front of the Audis because they are so strong on the straights. I had to let them and Franck go and my main concern there was keeping the Porsches behind me, which we did. I think it was possible to have Acuras finish 1-2 but we managed to pick up the pieces.”

The win by the Duncan Dayton-led team is their third of the season and puts them 24 points behind P2 championship leaders Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in the drivers’ standings. The No. 7 Penske Porsche RS Spyder duo ended their night second in class, fourth overall after leading three laps early on.

“Duncan and Robin Hill did a great job of calling the race, and it was strange seeing the car coming in lap after lap as the last of the chasers,” Sharp said. “But we were in the right position. We picked a really great time to come in. I have a tremendous teammate no doubt who helps me a lot and is amazingly quick. We were hoping to just win one race much less three and hopefully at least one more.”

photo by: John Thawley The No. 20 Dyson Racing Porsche of Marino Franchitti and Butch Leitzinger finished in fifth overall, ahead of Penske’s sister machine of Sascha Maassen and Patrick Long, who ran in fourth, but was called to the team’s pit box late in the race. The tactic by the team favored the other car of Bernhard and Dumas, which gained positions (and points) for the championship. Team orders?

Intersport Racing had another spectacular race as Jon Field led eight laps overall in his No. 37 Lola B06/10 AER in the early stages. Clint Field and Richard Berry drove the remainder of race, bringing the car home in a season-high seventh overall, third in LMP1.

In addition to Montagny’s late-race smash that took the Andretti Green entry out of the race, another Acura’s hopes for the win were dashed in the final hour. With 35 minutes remaining, Adrian Fernandez’s No. 15 Lowe’s Fernandez Racing car snapped sideways entering Turn 3, sending the P2 car hard into the gravel bed with suspension failure. Another Acura, the de Ferran Motorsports example, fell out of contention early after contact with a Doran Ford GT-R.

The battle for the GT1 win was turned upside down with 50 minutes to go when class leader Oliver Gavin lost control of his No. 4 Corvette Racing C6.R at the Kink, slamming into a large banner, and coming to rest in Canada Corner’s gravel trap. This gave the win to the team’s sister No. 3 entry of Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen.

photo by: John Thawley “Over the past three years I thought I must have been an adopted Irishman, but our luck has definitely come back,” O’Connell said. “The important thing is that Oliver is okay. Anytime you go off at the Kink it’s a big deal, so we’re grateful that he is all right. In fact, I welcomed him to the ‘I Wrecked at the Kink Club.’”

The No. 3 Corvette had problems of its own during the race, as Magnussen had to make an unscheduled pit stop, fighting handling issues early in the race. But they fought back from adversary to take yet another class victory, inching even closer to the drivers’ title.

“The car wasn’t great at the beginning of the race, but everything came to us,” Magnussen said. “We made adjustments that gave us a good car at the end. Then unfortunately the No. 4 car had a bigger problem than we did.”

Gavin was uninjured in the accident, but the incident provided some laughs, as the banner he hit had turned inside out to display the now-defunct Champ Car logo.

“We provided a great deal of exposure for Champ Car by displaying their banner prominently on the front of the No. 4 Corvette after its encounter with the wall in the Kink,” added Corvette Program Manager Doug Fehan.

The retirement by the No. 4 Corvette gave Bell Motorsports’ Aston Martin DBR9 of Terry Borcheller and Champman Ducote a runner-up finish, coming home only two laps behind O’Connell and Magnussen. The Jim Bell-led effort should be congratulated after battling through adversary earlier this season to bag a solid finish.

photo by: John Thawley The GT2 category provided a thrilling last-lap battle that ended in dejection for one race-hungry team. Mika Salo in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT was leading on the final lap but got blocked by teammate Harrison Brix in the No. 61 Prancing Horse on the front straight, opening the door for the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Dirk Werner to slide to the inside and take over the lead. Werner held the top spot for a few corners, but Salo retaliated, diving to the inside of Werner heading into Turn 5. However, the Finn couldn’t get his car to stick in the corner and spun. Salo’s last-ditch effort to take back the win ended up costing him and co-driver Jamie Melo a sure podium finish.

A freight train of cars passed Salo, before he rejoined and finished fifth in class. Werner cruised to the win, taking Farnbacher Loles’ maiden victory in the Series. It was also he and co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Bryce Miller’s first visit to the top step of the podium as well.

“The cautions before I couldn’t keep up to speed with Mika because the tires were a little cold,” Werner explained. “But on the last lap the tires were there. I tried it on approaching Turn 1 but he blocked me. And then on the last lap I knew I had to try something and I think Mika’s team car blocked him. The next three corners were amazing because he was on my bumper the whole way. I think he was desperate and saw an advantage at Turn 5. He tried to brake later than I did but ended up spinning out.”

photo by: John Thawley Championship leaders Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche finished second, just ahead of the No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari pairing of Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher, who now fall three further points behind in the championship chase.

Salo and Melo had to settle for fifth, behind the fourth-place finishing No. 46 Flying Lizard Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet. All five of these GT2 cars remained in the thick of thing all race, providing great battles throughout the four-hour enduro.

While the sun has set on yet another memorable race at Road America, the stars and cars won’t have much time to sleep, as the Series fires back up North of the Border for the Grand Prix of Mosport in two weeks’ time. While it’s back to a two-hour and 45-minute format, there will certainly be plenty to talk about at another one of North America’s classic circuits.

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