Sunday
Aug312008

Detroit: Race Report

Andretti Green Racing powered through with the overall win in Saturday’s Detroit Sports Car Challenge presented by Bosch, leading an Acura 1-2-3 sweep of the overall podium. Franck Montagny and James Rossiter steered the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b to the checkered flag on the Belle Isle street circuit, their first of their young American Le Mans Series careers.

Montagny took over reigns of the LMP2 machine from Rossiter at the 43-minute mark while under the second full course caution. What looked to be a costly mistake for the AGR team turned into be the right move. Rules state that a driver cannot drive more than two hours in the two-hour and 45-minute race, not including time spent in the pit lane. With this in mind, the team held the Frenchman in the pits for a few moments after the service, and brought Montagny back in for a top-off of fuel right before the restart.

photo by: John Thawley The clever strategy to keep Montagny in the car for the rest of the race worked out, but another call by the team was in fact the key of the race. With one hour and 10 minutes remaining, all the leaders pitted for their final stops. Everyone took four tires, except Montagny, who just needed fuel-only.

Montagny double-stinted his Michelin “street soft” tires to the end of the race, holding off a challenging David Brabham in the No. 9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura to land AGR back in victory lane for the first time since Sebring in 2007.

“It was a pretty good race,” Montagny said. “We were fastest from the beginning to the end. The Porsche was faster than me for a time because it had new tires. The team did a very good job in terms of strategy, which was especially good after Mosport where we struggled. I couldn’t find my way through the track at first in practice and qualifying. But the car was good for the race and this time we were a little bit lucky.”

photo by: John Thawley It was both Montagny and Rossiter’s first Series wins, after only joining the team a few races ago. The turnaround in AGR’s performance came when Montagny started his role as lead driver at Lime Rock Park in July. Rossiter joined in at Road America, and the two came minutes away from taking the class victory there. Their luck certainly turned around this weekend, with the right calls being made from the pits.

“I think we both feel very well about this,” Rossiter said. “We came very close in our first race together at Elkhart Lake. The team is really good and did a great job. The strategy was perfect and they deserved us to be in first place.”

Pole sitter Brabham and co-driver Scott Sharp in the Patron Highcroft Acura finished 3.985 seconds behind in second. Sharp led the opening 48 laps of the race before getting passed by the No. 66 de Ferran Motorsports Acura of Simon Pagenaud when both were trying to conserve fuel. In fact, both cars ended up only making one stop, which looked to be the way to go in the race. However, once Montagny got up front, nobody was able to catch him.

photo by: John Thawley “The car was flying and I was really hustling before we hit the last yellows,” Brabham said. “I had great grip on the Michelin tires but that naturally went away during the yellow. So, I didn’t quite have enough to tackle Franck at the end. We needed to score as many points as possible and we did that today. Scott drove beautifully to set us up for a great result and overall we are feeling and looking really strong.”

Brabham and Sharp made further gains in the LMP2 drivers’ standings, and now sit only four points from Penske Racing’s Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas. After two wins and a second place finish in the last three races, the Duncan Dayton-led Highcroft effort certainly carries the most momentum into the final two races.

De Ferran Motorsports made it an Acura sweep of the overall podium for the very first time. The team’s No. 66 entry of Pagenaud and Gil de Ferran finished 28 seconds back in third. After taking reigns from Pagenaud, de Ferran rejoined in fourth and looked to be in the battle for the overall win but suffered a late-race spin. He recovered the positions but was unable to make up the lost ground.

photo by: John Thawley “Today was a great day with Acura finishing 1-2-3 and not a bad day for our team as well with our second podium of the year,” de Ferran said. “The race came down to strategy. We did everything right but the yellows didn’t fall exactly where we needed them.”

Without a doubt, it was Acura’s best-ever weekend in the Series to date. After announcing on Friday that it will step up and compete in the LMP1 category next year, Patron Highcroft’s Brabham stormed to the overall pole. Then, top it off with a 1-2-3 sweep of the podium, and it couldn’t have gone much better. The brand also overtook Porsche in the manufacturers’ standings, now holding a four-point gap heading into the final two races.

After a disappointing run at Mosport, the No. 7 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder of Bernhard and Dumas looked to turn around their luck with a podium finish. It looked to be in reach Saturday, if not for an on-track incident. With 33 minutes remaining, Bernhard made contact with a GT2 Porsche, deemed “avoidable” by IMSA, and forcing him to pit from second place for a stop/go penalty. The next lap, Bernhard came in again, but this time for fresh tires because of a slow puncture caused by the contact. This dropped him to seventh. The German charged his way back up the leaderboard to finish fourth overall.

photo by: John Thawley Penske’s No. 6 RS Spyder of Patrick Long and Ryan Briscoe were on their way to a podium finish, but pitted with five minutes for tires only. Penske appeared to be playing team tactics, as this late stop gave Bernhard and Dumas one more position, and two more points in the drivers’ championship. Long and Briscoe finished fifth.

Audi Sport North America suffered a miserable weekend in the Motor City. After getting neither of its Audi R10 TDIs properly set-up to the 14-turn, 2.07-mile Belle Isle course, the team was not very optimistic to deliver an overall win in the race. However, nobody would have thought that an Audi would not win altogether.

LMP1 class Pole sitter Lucas Luhr got race day off to a bad start when he smashed his No. 2 Audi in the morning warm-up. Things went from bad to worse in the race, when the German’s foot slipped from the brake pedal when going over a bump, sending the diesel-powered machine caroming sideways into the tire barriers. Luhr was unhurt in the heavy crash, but it was day done for he and co-driver Marco Werner.

This gave the win to the No. 1 Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Marcel Fassler, who crossed the line in third overall. However, post-race technical inspection found the car to have been 2.5 kg too light. The infraction was caused when the team fitted a spare nose to the car during warm-up that was not specifically set up for the No. 1 car. Fassler and Pirro were excluded from the results.

photo by: John Thawley The No. 1 Audi’s exclusion handed the LMP1 class victory to the No. 37 Intersport Racing Lola B06/10 AER of Jon and Clint Field and Richard Berry, which finished the race in 23rd position overall, some 21 laps down from the overall race winners. The surprising win was Intersport’s first in the Series since Portland 2006, and its maiden LMP1 victory. It also ended Audi’s 30-race class winning streak that dated back to Sebring in 2006.

“While this is not exactly how we had hoped to claim our first LMP1 win, we’ll take it anyway,” Clint Field said. “A win is a win. We admire and respect our friends at Audi. We race them hard and fair every time out. It is a huge challenge for a small privateer like Intersport to go out there and compete with a team of Audi’s caliber. This is great for our guys. The whole crew works so hard every week, and we’re really happy to share this with them.”

Audi didn’t walk away empty-handed though, as with the No. 1 car’s DQ, it sealed the drivers’ championship to Luhr and Werner. “Of course we would have preferred to have won the title under different circumstances,” they said. “But with seven consecutive victories already this season we certainly feel we have earned the title.”

photo by: John Thawley Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta finally pulled through to take a well-deserved victory in GT1, breaking their teammates’ seven-race winning streak. The No. 4 Compuware C6.R has often been the faster car this season, but has not had luck on its side until now.
 
“It’s been a rough season for us, but if you’re going to win anywhere, Detroit is the one you want to win,” Gavin said. “Everybody on the team was very focused on this event, and it was a hard, close race for many laps. I have to thank all of the guys on the No. 4 Corvette C6.R – they’ve worked brilliantly over the last few events. I haven’t been so kind to this car, I’ve had some incidents and accidents, but they’ve fixed it fantastically. (Crew chief) Mike West and (engineer) Steve Cole have worked magic, setting up the car and getting it good for the races. We’ve been fast in every event, and finally it’s all fallen into place for the No. 4 Corvette.”

Gavin and Beretta scored their second victory of the year after teaming with Max Papis to win the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring. With the lack of dry running this weekend, the team gambled on the car’s setup, which didn’t work very well in practice. Come race day, though, team continued working away at it, and it proved to be well-suited to the circuit.

“I need to thank my crew because they work hard on the pit stops, and they work hard at the shop even when we are having bad luck,” said Beretta. “We have been quick all year, but even when we didn’t achieve what we wanted to do, they never gave up. That is the spirit of Corvette Racing.”

Teammates Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen finished second, with the Bell Motorsports Aston Martin DBR9 of Terry Borcheller and Chapman Ducote recording another finish in third.

photo by: John Thawley Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Jorg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler claimed the GT2 category victory, extending their lead in the drivers’ standings after their title rival faltered. The No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Henzler started from the pole posision and led most of the race, staying out of trouble and leading home a 1-2 finish for the Sonoma, California-based team.

“I said yesterday that my favorite part of the track was the start-finish line,” Henzler joked. “My second stint, I came out behind [teammate] Johannes [van Overbeek]. I clearly wasn’t going to make a stupid move on him. Unfortunately he had an incident with a prototype and it was hard to communicate with the pit crew. They couldn’t hear me and I could barely hear them. I unplugged the radio, twisted it and suddenly it worked. Then they told me our cars were running 1-2-3. At the end, another yellow came and I had to push a little more. Even after one lap, there was a big gap and it was easy at the end.”

It was Bergmeister and Henzler’s fourth win of the season, giving them a 28-point lead in the drivers’ standings. The No. 71 Tafel Racing Ferrari F430 GT of title rivals Dirk Muller and Dominik Farnbacher suffered starter motor failure early in the race, regulating them to a ninth place result.

“On one side I feel sorry for them because they had an issue with the starter,” Henzler added. “But our goal is to finish ahead of them in the race and championship. It was a great day for us because we scored many more points than the Ferrari.”

photo by: John Thawley Fifty-five points are up for grabs in the remaining two races. While it now looks to be going in the way of the Lizards, nothing is over until the checkered flag comes out.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” Bergmeister said. “We are in good shape and still have to fight for race wins. You have to have luck to win a championship and everyone is trying their best. We’re keeping our heads down and going forward.”

Johannes van Overbeek and Patrick Pilet in the No. 46 Porsche finished second, giving the Lizards its third 1-2 finish of the year. The team looked to be on their way to a historic 1-2-3 result, but its No. 44 Porsche of Lonnie Pechnik and Martin Ragginger was passed by the hard-charging No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Mika Salo and Jamie Melo in the closing stages. The Prancing Horse led after the third caution, but its door came loose, requiring an extra stop.

One car that also looked to be in podium contention was Panoz Team PTG’s Esperante of Tommy Milner and Tom Sutherland. It was running third late in the race, but Sutherland spun the front-engined machine, damaging parts of the car. It was later retired.

After three hectic races in the last four weeks, the American Le Mans Series enjoys a month-long break before reconvening in October at Road Atlanta for the Petit Le Mans. The 1,000-mile or 10-hour endurance race will surely bring out the biggest and brightest stars in the world of sports car racing. It will also play host to the first-ever Green Challenge. Stay tuned; this will be one race you won’t want to miss.

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