- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

With four classes, 33 cars, 69 drivers and 14 different manufacturers all competing in one race, the inaugural Cadillac Grand Prix of the American Le Mans Series came down to two Audis and an underdog Panoz car.
It took all of 20 laps around the RFK Stadium Circuit for the trio of Frank Biela, Rinaldo Capello and Jan Magnussen to establish their rides as the fastest on the freshly-paved, 1.7-mile track.
And when the race ended more than two hours later, that trio had raced 140 laps, one more than any other car during the timed event. And for just the second time this season, a Panoz car not to mention a non-Audi took the checkered flag as Magnussen and teammate David Brabham held off the Audis for the final 45 minutes.
"We've had some bad luck this year," said Magnussen, who along with Brabham won for the second time this season. "It's nice to come back in a big way."
Audi had dominated this season, winning three of the first four ALMS races and winning every pole; Beila and teammate Emanuele Pirro started yesterday's race from the front, the third time this season they've accomplished that feat.
"We know Audi is really good in qualifying," Brabham said. "But Jan and I learned in the past that any opportunity that comes, we take it."
That opportunity came with less than 45 minutes remaining when the three leading cars went into the pits. Brabham brought the car in and the Panoz team took fuel, changed tires and the driver. The two Audi teams simply took fuel.
"I asked for Jan to get in because he was fresh, " Brabham said. And, "he showed early on he was pretty quick around here."
With new Michelins under the car and a fresh driver behind the wheel, the No.50 Panoz car battled hard and held on for a narrow victory, providing a thrilling finish to the District's first American Le Mans Series race. And the significance of winning in the nation's capital in an American-owned car painted blue with red stripes and white stars wasn't lost on the international drivers. "After September 11, the United States has become very united together," said Brabham, an Australian who resides in England. "For Jan and I to win the race here, for an American team, is nice."
The crowd of close to 40,000 got a face full of patriotism early in the day, as "Kaptain" Robbie Knievel started the show by jumping his motorcycle over 25 American flags accompanied by enough pyrotechnics to light up a small town's July Fourth celebration.
But the race at times proved difficult to follow; rarely does any sporting event have more than one victor, much less four. And at auto races, if a car gets passed, it usually does not win.
But that's not the case in the American Le Mans Series, which has four different car classes driving at the same time: LMP 900, LMP 675, GTS and GT.
And though the cars have a lighting system on the sides which informs the fans in attendance who sits in first, second and third in each class (each group sports different colored lights), most of the fans seated in the RFK Stadium Circuit's grandstand kept their eyes on the large screens showing the television feed.
The number of different car types, in addition to the length of the road course, also separates the cars rather dramatically. Halfway through the two hour, 45 minute race, only three cars the top three that started the race, though not in the same order remained on the lead lap. The Corvette C5-R driven by Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell dominated the GTS class but raced five laps back midway through the race and finished nine laps behind the eventual winner.
So even though the lion's share of attention went to Brabham and Magnussen, three other teams received trophies and champagne showers at the podium. For Fellows and O'Connell, it was their fourth GTS win in five American Le Mans Series races this season.
The pair has dominated the GTS series, with Fellows leading the points coming in with 107 followed by O'Connell with 103. And in the torrid temperatures, they tried a new heat-exchange machine in an attempt to keep cool. Fellows called the result "much better," though near the end things still got pretty warm.
"It's just incredibly hot with that much power under your foot and in front of you," he said.
Jon Field didn't have the luxury of finding ways to keep cooler. The leading driver in the LMP685 class instead needed to find a way to get his car back on the track after a wreck late during Saturday's qualifying broke the A arm on his Lola.
His team got help from the KnightHawk Racing Team and got the part fabricated; when he and his driving partner, his son Clint, arrived at the circuit yesterday, the car was ready.
The new parts apparently cured the bad luck Field had faced in three previous ALMS races. The father-son duo battled late braking problems but cruised to a win over the three other LMP675s on the track.
"We babied the car," said the elder Field, the series points leader who hadn't won since the season-opener at Sebring.
Sasha Maassen and Lucas Luhr was the third driving duo to win from the pole. The Porsche 911 GT3 RS drivers finished right behind the Fields in 13th-place overall, just two laps behind the father-son duo. They overcame a stiff gear box early in the race before making it drivable in a pit stop. "We improved the car," Maassen said of the stop. "It was not perfect, but better than the beginning. The beginning was impossible."

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