Monday
Aug252008

Mosport: Race Report

Nothing can stop Audi Sport North America’s Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr from winning. The German duo overcame a number of challenges this weekend at Mosport International Raceway to claim a convincing win in Sunday’s Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport. They led home another Audi 1-2 for the third consecutive race, sealing up the manufacturers’ championship for the silver rings.

The win came as a complete team effort for the Brad Kettler-led crew, as on Friday, Werner and Luhr’s No. 2 Audi R10 TDI was in pieces. The car sustained tub damage when chunks of asphalt damaged the underside of the car, forcing the team to rebuild the diesel-powered LMP1 overnight around a new monocoque. While the work was completed in time for practice on Saturday, the handling of the R10 TDI wasn’t to Werner’s liking. The team kept on making improvements throughout the weekend and got it just right for the race, with a little help from Werner himself.

photo by: John Thawley “I’ve not seen such a great race for quite a while,” Werner said. “It was really exciting. It was nail-biting because we were not sure if we could bring the victory home. There were two different strategies for our two cars. It’s great that this gave us a 1-2 victory….I dedicate this victory to our boys who worked a lot this week and put a great car on the wheels for us.”

After starting from Second, Werner took over the lead from teammate Dindo Capello on Lap 7 and stayed out in front until the first round of pit stops. He lost the top spot after skidding out his pit box and making contact with the outside pit wall. The car sustained dive plane damage, which actually brought much-needed understeer for Werner and Luhr, who took controls of the car during the second yellow with one hour and 28 minutes complete.

“We had a good car,” Luhr said. “Marco did some aero adjustments that suited us both. When the green came I knew I had to push to get some of our gap. We made up about 30 seconds in the last part of the race. If that’s what it takes to win, then we do it.”

photo by: John Thawley Luhr rejoined the fray and retook the overall lead with 56 minutes remaining but pitted moments later for the final time, dropping him down to eighth. Luhr then put in a late-race charge up the leaderboard, quickly getting by the gaggle of P2 cars and passing Gil de Ferran for the overall lead with 10 minutes to go.

But the key of the race came in the closing laps. De Ferran in his No. 66 Acura ARX-01b gambled on fuel, trying to stretch the tank to go the distance. The Brazilian slowed to conserve fuel and looked to have the LMP2 class win in the bag. But on the final lap, de Ferran’s tank ran dry and coasted to a halt on track. This gave Audi a 1-2 overall finish, with the team’s No. 1 entry of Capello and Emanuele Pirro came home 21 seconds behind Werner and Luhr.

“I was surprised on the last couple of laps,” Luhr said. “I slowed down because there really wasn’t anyone behind me. I really expected the finish a lap early and I looked up at the stand and there was nothing. I was five or 10 seconds too early. But the timing was OK in the end because it gave our sister car second place when the Acura ran out of fuel.”

photo by: John Thawley The extra lap Luhr did cost de Ferran his maiden victory in the Series, but gave the LMP2 class victory to David Brabham and Scott Sharp in Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-01b. Brabham made the most of his final stint, charging up the leaderboard while still keeping an eye on the fuel mileage. The Australian had a heralded battle with the No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder of Romain Dumas and the Luis Diaz’s Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura in the closing stages, getting by both cars in the end.

“How the race panned out I have no idea,” Brabham said. “I didn’t know Gil was leading when he ran out of fuel. My main concern was getting past Fernandez toward the end. I think he was trying to save fuel as well. It was fantastic racing. We were passing backward and forward. It was a joy to be a part of it. The car was really hooked up. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how it would work out but we were there at the end.”

It was Brabham and Sharp’s third class win in the last four races, putting them even closer to Dumas and Timo Bernhard in the drivers’ standings. The Patron Highcroft duo made up even more ground thanks to a rare Penske mistake in the final laps. Dumas pitted with two minutes remaining for a very quick splash-and-go, relinquishing his fourth position in class. However, things got worse as on the final lap, Dumas’ car ran out of fuel and had to settle for a disappointing sixth place result, their worst of the season (and first non-podium finish of the year).

The falter by Bernhard and Dumas put Highcroft’s Brabham and Sharp now only 10 points of the lead in the drivers’ standings. Sharp, who celebrated his fourth consecutive win at Mosport (his last coming in a 1993 Trans-Am race), says the team still will do anything it can to catch the Penske duo with three races to go.

“I think we’ve had the mindset to keep it going,” Sharp said. “The Penske guys run pretty aggressive and we’re in a catch up mode. We’re going to be the aggressors from here on out. We have to catch them.”

photo by: John Thawley Lowe’s Fernandez Racing came home second in class, fourth overall after also gambling on fuel mileage. Adrian Fernandez conserved fuel in the closing stages, getting passed by Brabham for the eventual class lead. But that didn’t stop Fernandez and co-driver Luis Diaz from smiling, as they scored their best finish of the season. They also gave Acura its first 1-2 finish since the manufacturer’s debut at Sebring in 2007.

“When we saw that it was possibility going to be a fuel race, I started to save fuel,” Fernandez explained. “I was trying to hold off Brabham and the No. 7 [Penske Porsche] which was not easy. The team said that we weren’t going to make it and we needed better fuel mileage. I tried to stay in front which is easy to say. At the end, David was close to me and he decided to push the button for maximum fuel and make the pass. He had the momentum into Turn Eight and that was it. It was not worth pushing and wasting all the fuel because we were close. I wanted to make sure we made it to the end.”

Sascha Maassen and Patrick Long in the No. 6 Penske Porsche completed the LMP2 podium in third, ahead of the No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Acura and de Ferran and co-driver Simon Pagenaud’s dried up Acura.

Intersport Racing’s No. 37 Lola B06/10 was credited with third in P1, but failed to complete the minimum 70 percent distance to score points. They battled overheating issues and an oil leak in the second half of the race. The team’s No. 30 Lola suffered a serious accident in the second hour, sending driver John Faulkner to the hospital for precautionary checks. Faulkner lost control of the AER-powered machine and slammed into the Turn 2 wall. The car’s front crash box broke in half, but Faulkner luckily walked away with no serious injuries. The car, though, has been totaled and won’t be seeing the day of light anytime soon.

photo by: John Thawley

Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen took a dominant flag-to-flag victory in GT1, scoring their seventh class win in a row in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C6.R. The duo had an eventless race, opening up an even larger gap in the drivers’ standings over teammates Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin, who finished second in the No. 4 machine.

“The race to us wasn’t about the ultimate lap time but being smart in traffic,” Magnussen said. “I was very happy with our guys who helped us know who was coming. We didn’t have a scratch on our car and was able to put some time on the second car. The Michelins were absolutely great throughout.”

Earlier in the week, many concerns were over the condition of the Turn 4 area of the circuit after pieces of asphalt broke away. Track officials continued to patch the sections throughout the weekend, and the surface held up fine in the race. O’Connell had nothing but good things to say about the situation.

“Every now and then a track gets presented with a challenge,” O’Connell said. “The guys here thought about safety first and made the necessary repairs. This was an amazing race. The history of this place is magical and for us to compete here is a very cool deal to be a part of history.”

In GT2, Risi Competizione finally turned their luck around, as Jamie Melo and Mika Salo drove the team’s No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT to a dominant victory. The Houston-based squad didn’t turn a wheel wrong all weekend, a key to success in the eyes of the Finn.

photo by: John Thawley “We’ve had a lot of chances to win other races,” Salo said. “Either we made a mistake, something broke or something else just went wrong. We were quickest in every session including warmup. It was just like last year. If we pushed, the 87 car was a second a lap slower. It was a matter of staying out of trouble. Passing is tough here because the only place to do it is on the backstretch.”

Melo passed the Farnbacher Loles Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Dirk Werner with 22 minutes remaining to take the win, adding to Le Mans class honors they claimed in June. Risi is the fourth GT2 team to claim victory this season, joining Flying Lizard Motorsports (3 wins), Tafel Racing (3 wins) and Farnbacher Loles (1 win).

“It’s amazing after a very tough year,” Melo said. “We showed that we are very competitive at every race and we couldn’t finish on the top position. We finally got it. It’s something we’ve known we’d be able to do all week. The Michelin tires were amazing and we could turn very good lap times.”

Werner and co-driver Pierre Kaffer scored Farnbacher Loles’ fourth podium finish of the year after clever pit strategy that put them out in the lead in the final hour. Werner pitted out of sequence at the one-hour and 30-minute mark and conserved fuel to the end to take the runner-up spot.

“With a little bit more luck in finding the right race setup, we could have had a chance to win the race, but today the Ferrari was just a little bit stronger,” Werner said. “I had to fight very hard to go the speed I went; I couldn’t do it over the whole stint. But we can be happy with the result because everything went right for us. Thanks to the team for a great race!”

photo by: John Thawley The fight for third in class wasn’t decided until after the race, as the two championship rivals traded paint in the closing laps. Jorg Bergmeister in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche held the third position in class but came under attack from Dirk Muller in the No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari. The two scuffled in the remaining minutes, both receiving the “unsportsmanlike” flag from race officials. Muller then made a move on the inside of Bergmeister in Turn 5, making contact with the Porsche and taking over the spot.

However, IMSA handed down a 30-second penalty for the No. 71 car of Muller and Dominik Farnbacher after the race for “avoidable contact.”. This reversed the positions back to the No. 45 car of Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler finishing third, behind the Tafel pair in fourth.

“I am incredibly disappointed for the team, the drivers and the fans for such a fantastic race being ended by the stewards in such a manner,” said Tony Dowe, Tafel Racing’s technical director. “Clearly for many, many laps the 45 Porsche blocked us continuously. There were many incidents where we had been taken off the course and I was really proud of the patience that Dirk showed and the racecraft he used at the end to force the 45 into a mistake. The penalty is non-protestable. Clearly it leaves a very bad taste in everybody’s mouth. We are racing those guys for a championship and it does seem that following the Elkhart Lake [Road America] incident nothing was done and now there is a decision made against us. Clearly, the obvious thing is to go home and fight again another day.”

The swap in the finishing positions puts Bergmeister and Henzler ahead in the drivers’ standings by ten points over Muller and Farnbacher heading into this weekend’s race at Detroit. If the championship hasn’t already heated up, it sure will now!

Detroit is next on the calendar, only a few days after the checkered flag at Mosport. If Sunday’s race North of the Border was any kind of indication of the battle that will be seen in the streets of Belle Isle this weekend, we’ll be treated to another amazing race.

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