All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr ended their championship season in fitting style Saturday with an overall victory for Audi Sport North America in the Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patrón. Werner passed Emanuele Pirro on a restart with 26 minutes left and won by 1.941 seconds at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
It was the sixth overall victory of the season and eighth LMP1 victory for the new class champions. The finish was the first 1-2 result for Audi at the circuit since 2004.
"We had a great year, and great season," Luhr said. "It's always good to end the year with a win, and a 1-2 with Audi. The last 20 minutes was a good memory for the 2008 season."
Luhr and Werner led twice for a total of 31 laps. There were 12 lead changes among eight different cars with eight cars finishing on the lead lap. The race also had 12 caution periods that allowed Audi to use its torque and power to charge toward the front on restarts.
It wasn't uncommon to see the Audis make up five positions or more by the end of the first lap following a green flag.
"There is a lot of sand on the track and it gives us a hard time," Werner said. "Not every lap is the same conditions. We see a lot of GT cars cutting the curbs and bringing the dirt on the track. With the prototype you have a lot of downforce and grip, and then it just goes away and you snap your rear and lose the car."
Pirro teamed with newcomer Christijan Albers for a second-place finish in what was his final race in an Audi prototype. Corsa Motorsports' duo of Stefan Johansson and Johnny Mowlem finished third in class in their Zytek 07S.
"It was kind of emotional for me to overtake EP in his last race," Werner said. "I had the opportunity and I knew I had to take it but it was hard. I had a good time in traffic and pulled out with a good gap. It was a good race and great day."
Tony Kanaan and Franck Montagny scored Andretti Green Racing's second LMP2 victory in three races with a tense 0.054-second win over fellow Acura team de Ferran Motorsports. Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud, who teamed with Gil de Ferran, exchanged the lead twice within the span of a lap with 15 minutes left as two Acura ARX-01bs finished first and second for the third time this year.
"The track is fun, no doubt about it," Montagny said. "It's quite sandy and windy. The grip is not so good a lot of time. It takes time to get used to it; that's why Tony qualified Friday. But getting through the race, I felt more confident and it was really good."
It was better than good. The pairing ran in the top three in class throughout the race and was consistently the quickest of the four Acuras. .
The victory was the second for both Montagny and Kanaan. Montagny was part of AGR's first overall victory two races ago in Detroit with James Rossiter. Kanaan helped score the first P2 win for Acura and AGR at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2007 with Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti.
The late cautions may have ruined AGR's chance for its second overall victory. Kanaan was in great position and won the race out of pit lane following the next-to-last caution period with 34 laps left. But Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion, said that was part of racing.
"Restarting with the two Audis behind me is not a fun thing," he said. " My team manager said watch you mirrors, I said for what? They are just going to go right by me. You can blame it on the gravel traps, but the traps are there just like in a street circuit there are walls so it is something you have to deal with. We are supposed to keep it on the track and not drive in the gravel.
"It was eye opening for me driving the Acura," he added. "We go through the corners so much faster than the Indy cars. The G-loads I put on my body reminds me of my old F1 test and some of the short ovals where you are trying to just hold on to the steering wheel."
The result wasn't enough for Acura to wrestle the class manufacturer championship away from Porsche as the German marque won the title by 1 point, thanks to a third-place finish for two-time driving champions Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas of Penske Racing.
Acura's six victories were one more than Porsche's five.
Corvette Racing's Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin successfully defended their GT1 victory from last season with a 12.858-second win over teammates Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen. It was the third win of the season for the Beretta/Gavin duo, who ceded their class championship to O'Connell and Magnussen.
Beretta became the first driver to win 40 races in the American Le Mans Series. He made the winning pass with 45 minutes left when he got by O'Connell following the 11th restart.
"With all the victories I have, I was lucky to drive for a good team and to have very good teammates. I was not alone," Beretta said. "I didn't want to lose today. I knew this was the last chance. I was thinking about the restart on cold tires and driving like I was in the wet. I put the power down and everything went OK. I could have spun because I put the power down very early, but the car stayed on the track and I managed to overtake Johnny."
Beretta and Gavin repeated their class victory from 2007 for Corvette Racing. If the team wins three straight at the circuit, next year's victory will come in GT2 as Corvette has announced plans to enter that class in the second half of the 2009 season.
"The engineering work is done and we know the rules," said Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan. "The car will probably debut at Mid-Ohio, and then we anticipate running the full season in 2010. We are going to try to dominate as quickly as we can. This team is not one that takes its time. Everything we do is a race, and our goal is to dominate. "
Tafel Racing closed the season with a victory for Dirk Mueller and Dominik Farnbacher in the team's Ferrari F430 GT. The pairing won for the fourth time this season as they beat Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo and Mika Salo in their Ferrari by 5.648 seconds.
Mueller and Farnbacher placed second in the class championship behind Flying Lizard Motorsports' Jörg Bergmeister and Wolf Henzler, who finished ninth in class after losing time in the pits to repair damage from early-race contact.
"Everyone was really down after Road Atlanta because of not winning the championship," Mueller said. "But for Tafel Racing to finish second in its first year with the Ferrari is quite an achievement. It was a good year and it feels good for sure."
Mueller and Farnbacher benefitted from a suspension failure on the Risi Ferrari, which started fifth but led on multiple occasions. The late problems with the Risi car allowed Mueller to slowly but surely pull away
"There were a lot of incidents - a lot of gravel and dirt and sand," said Farnbacher, who already has re-signed with the team for 2009. "We stayed out of trouble most of the time. The strategy is good and we didn't have any problems. That's why we won this race."
Panoz Team PTG's Tommy Milner and Joey Hand placed third in class in their Panoz Esperante GTLM. It was the best result for the team this season.
The 2009 American Le Mans Series season starts with the 57th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 21. It will mark the 100th race in the history of the American Le Mans Series. SPEED will televise the race live. American Le Mans Radio will have live coverage on americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring.