Teams2006 American Le Mans Series By Jeremy McMullen
After dominating Le Mans and American Le Mans Series racing from 2000 to 2005, Audi Sport announced it would continue to exert its dominant form in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) into the 2006 season. However, to take on the challenge, Audi announced its newest challenger, the Audi R10.
Audi's new diesel-powered R10 would not, however, take part in all of the ALMS' events until after Le Mans. Although the R10 would not take part in all the remaining events of the ALMS season until after Le Mans, the radically-innovative car would still take part in the international 12 Hours of Sebring. Audi would use the 12 hour event to thoroughly shake the R10 down in preparation for its assault on Le Mans later on in June.
Not counting Le Mans, the American Le Mans Series consisted of ten races and ran from March all the way up into October. On the 18th of March, the 54th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring kicked-off the season.
Audi entered two cars for the race. The number 1 car was driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner. The number 2 car was driven by Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen.
Straightaway, the quiet pace of the R10 became very apparent. In qualifying Allan McNish put the R10 through its paces and earned the pole with a lap time of one minute and forty-five seconds. The number 1 sister-car would start the race from 2nd on the grid.
Although the early indications were that it would be a fairytale beginning for the R10, Audi wasn't without any challenges to face. A bad heat-exchanger in the pole-winning R10 needed to be replaced after the warm-ups before the start of the race. Because the heat-exchanger was replaced, the number 2 R10 would have to start the race from the pitlane.
However, when the race began the R10's performance was put on display for all to see. While Frank Biela led from the start of the race, Dindo Capello would have to come from dead-last in order to fight for the overall lead. It would only take about a half hour before Capello was in position behind the sister car.
Over the course of the next two hours, the two Audi R10s ran nose-to-tail. During the later part of the first two hours of the race it was noticed the engine temperatures on the leading Audi; car 1, was rising, and no explanation for it could be given. In order to prevent a total failure the leading R10 was withdrawn from the race. It was later found that rubber and other materials from around the race track had built up in the radiator, thereby reducing its ability to cool the engine. Despite finding the cause of the problem, the car was not returned to the track. Audi's sole hopes for a maiden victory with the R10 rested on car 2 with Capello, McNish and Kristensen.
Audi's hopes were secure. Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen were able to complete 349 laps and had a four lap advantage over the 2nd place finished LMP2 Intersport Racing Lola B05. 3rd overall was the number 4 GT1 Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R.
After twelve hours, Audi had been able to write an important and extremely historic notation into not only Sebring's racing history books, but also, the world's motor racing history books. Not only did the R10 win in its debut, which is always something special, it did so with a diesel-powered engine, which marks a first in motor sport history!
Records weren't just written by the R10 though. Tom Kristensen continued to write another chapter in his truly historical career when he had earned his fourth victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring. This fourth victory marked the most by a driver at America's best known endurance race. This was in addition to his already recording-breaking seven victories at Le Mans.
After the 12 Hours of Sebring race, the next race on the American Le Mans Series calendar was the Lone Star Grand Prix, held around Reliant Park in Houston, Texas. The event was a two hour and forty-five minute timed race and it was held on the 12th of May.
After the highly anticipated debut of the R10 at Sebring, Audi reverted back to its old R8 for the races leading up to Le Mans. With the introduction of diesel power attracting so much attention, many forgot the force Audi's R8 remained to be. The education would resume in Houston.
James Weaver, driving the Dyson Racing Lola B06 would take the pole with a lap of one minute and four seconds around the 1.70 mile street course. The pairing of Dindo Capello and Allan McNish would start the race 4th in the venerable R8.
At the start of the race, Dindo Capello, in the old R8, found himself amidst a battle with Weaver in the Lola and Romain Dumas in the DHL Porsche Spyder. Weaver would lead from the start. Then, after around a dozen laps, Romain Dumas took over the lead with his LMP2 Porsche Spyder. The pace was furious at the front throughout the first half of the race. As a testament to the speeds, Capello would record the fastest lap of the race within the first ten laps when he recorded a time less than a second slower than Weaver's qualifying time.
Over the course of the race, Weaver and co-driver Butch Leitzinger, began to slip down the order. After running about the first half of the race, Capello turned the car over to Allan McNish. Immediately, Allan began to fight for the lead. On the short and tight street circuit, even the GT1 cars were able to duel near the front of the grid. Finally, on the 112th lap, McNish would take the lead for good. Only a couple of laps after losing the lead to Allan Timo Bernhard retired from the race with a problem. This presented McNish with clear sailing.
Capello and McNish would go on to take yet another victory in an R8. There margin of victory in the overall standings was five laps over the leading GT1 finishing Corvette C6.R of Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin. Another GT1 Corvette finished 3rd overall just behind its sister car.
After the hard-fought battle in Houston, the next ALMS race took place on the 21st of May at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. This would be just one of two final races for the R8 with Audi.
The regulations made the competition between the LMP2 and LMP1 categories much tighter. Running almost the same size engine, the DHL Porsche Spyders were fast throughout qualifying. The number 6 car driven by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr proved incredibly quick and were able to take the pole. The R8, driven by Capello and McNish would start 2nd on the grid. The Lola of Leitzinger and Weaver would start 3rd. The second of the Porsche Spyders would have a truly daunting task ahead of them as they would start the race 22nd.
Throughout the extent of the two hour and forty-five minute race around the 2.25 mile road course it was all Porsche Spyders. Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr would lead the first 73 laps of the race. Bernhard and Dumas were on an absolute charge from the back of the field and would end up taking the lead on lap 74. Dumas would end up holding onto the lead throughout the rest of the event. Capello and McNish fought hard, but their R8 just didn't have the ability to truly take the fight to the smaller LMP2 Porsche Spyders.
Bernhard and Dumas took the victory over their sister car, driven by Maassen and Luhr. Finishing on the same lap with the number 7 and 6 Porsche Spyders was the number 2 Audi R8 of Capello and McNish. Obviously, the R8 had reached the end of its gloriously successful career. But it wasn't done just yet.
One more race remained on the calendar before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That meant one more race remained for the R8 before the R10 took over. The final race before the 24 hour crown jewel was the New England Grand Prix, held at the short Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.
As a tribute to the R8's tremendous success and memories, a special paint scheme was applied to Capello and McNish's Audi leading up to the race. The DHL team wasn't too in awe by all of its achievements painted on the R8. The two Porsche Spyders would go out and promptly take the first-two starting spots on the grid. The Dyson Racing Lola of Weaver and Leitzinger would even out-qualify Capello and McNish in the LMP1 category. However, the Audi pairing were still in a good position on the grid as they started the race 4th.
Knowing it was its last fight, the Audi drivers wouldn't let the R8 pass away into history without it putting up one last fight for a victory. Early on, Capello was filling the mirrors of the Porsches. Romain Dumas would hold onto the lead throughout the first 40 laps recorded during the two and three-quarter hour race.
Capello would only get a taste of the lead before he would hand the car over to his teammate McNish. The feisty Scot would really turn up the pressure on the Porsches. Allan would take the lead on the 58th lap and wouldn't lose it until lap 113. The last half-hour saw a furious and drama-filled battle up front. Romain Dumas held off McNish, but the R8's last race couldn't go down in history with anything less than a fitting victory.
On the 139th lap, Allan was able to get by and back into the lead. Over the remaining minutes of the race, McNish really stood on the old R8 to stay in front. Allan continued to click off lap-after-lap. At only a little over forty-six seconds a lap, it seemed the race would never end despite the laps continuing to tick off. McNish finally set off on the final lap of the race. Pushing till the end, the incredible R8 held together one more time to take one more victory. McNish would end up winning the race by almost twelve seconds over Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard. Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr suffered during the course of the race and would end up 3rd overall, but three laps down.
With one more victory, the R8-era thus came to an end. A new and exciting era was about to begin in less than a couple of weeks.
The 74th Grand Prix of Endurance took place on the 17th and 18th of June. Even before the race began race fans were abuzz with excitement about Audi's powerful, and yet, extremely quiet prototype. Barely audible as it approached coming down the Mulsanne, the R10 wasn't any louder after it passed, despite the fact it was doing well over 200 mph.
Symbolic to the engine noise, many wondered what all the noise was about when the petrol-powered Pescarolo C60's were able to sweep the top spots after Wednesday's qualifying. However, the qualifying took place in the wet, thus neutralizing much of the advantages offered by the diesel.
However, on Thursday, it was an entirely different story. The track was dry. Thus, Audi's cars were able to be let loose. As a result, Audi swept the top spots after qualifying. Dindo Capello and Allan McNish were joined again by Tom Kristensen. Their car, number 7, would start from the pole after setting a lap of 3:30.466. As with Sebring, Audi's second car was driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner. Their best time was only a little over a tenth slower. This put the number 8 car 2nd on the grid. The fastest lap, in the dry, Pescarolo's C60 Judd could do was a lap time exactly two seconds slower than that of Biela, Pirro and Werner's.
Right from the start of the 24 hour enduro the number 7 car was fastest. Capello, McNish and Kristensen would lead throughout the majority of the race. However, their R10 proved to have more teething problems than the number 8 car. Though fast, the number 7 car would spend more time in the pits.
The seasoned drivers of Biela, Pirro and Werner soldiered on without any sort of problem. When the dawn broke, it was clear to see the new R10 was firmly in hold of the overall lead. World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and his fellow Pescarolo Sport teammates could do nothing to reel in the powerful diesel R10. The number 7 R10 also continued to run, albeit a number of laps down. While many of the more seasoned, and brand-new, prototypes had fallen out of the race, the brand-new R10 kept completing lap-after-lap.
At three in the afternoon, the two R10's ran line-abreast as they crossed the finish line 1st and 3rd! Not only had the new R10 been able to keep the Audi dynasty alive and well at Le Mans, it did it by absolutely ruling the field. Biela, Pirro and Werner would win the race by a four lap margin over Pescarolo Sport's C60 driven by Montagny, Helary and Loeb. Despite their problems, Capello, McNish and Kristensen's 3rd place at the 24 hour race could be considered a great success as well in that the R10 just continued to run and would not die.
Fresh from its success at Le Mans, the R10 appeared ready to assume command in the United States, but it would end up being more of a fight than perhaps thought or realized. The first opportunity the R10 would have to try and assert its command would come at the 2006 Utah Grand Prix at the Miller Motorsports Park one month after Le Mans.
The diesel-powered R10 was purposely built for the long and fast Circuit de la Sarthe, not the normally fast and twisty tracks used in the ALMS. The design philosophy would become obvious during the Utah Grand Prix.
In the first race after Le Mans, Audi decided to ship two cars back across the Atlantic and the majority of the United States in order to take part in the event. The team wanted to make a statement. Audi would end up receiving a wake-up call themselves.
Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro would start from the pole. Their Audi teammates, Capello and McNish would start alongside in 2nd. Setting a time not nearly as slow as expected, the Dyson Racing Lola would start 3rd. Lucas Luhr, in the LMP2 Porsche Spyder, ended up setting a qualifying time less than two seconds slower than the diesel-powered R10. The twisty track nullified the top-speed of the diesel. The torque ended up being the saving grace against the much lighter LMP2 prototypes.
At the start of the race, the dominative McNish took control of the race. Though controlling the race throughout the first third, Audi would see the second third of the race be controlled by the Porsche Spyders with the R10s chasing.
Allan exited and Dindo took over. Dindo pushed the R10 hard. Then, during the last third of the race, Capello was able to finally re-take the lead for Audi. Although in the lead, the fight was far from over. Dindo was unable to hold on to the lead. Emanuele Pirro would get by and lead the race. Once passed by Pirro, Capello began to slip down the order due to a slow puncture in one of the R10's tires.
When the two hour and forty-five minute race came to an end, the finish was amazingly close. Pirro would end up winning the race in the R10 by a margin of only three tenths of a second over Lucas Luhr. Dindo Capello would end up on the podium for LMP1 honors, but would finish 4th overall. Dyson Racing would finish 3rd overall and 2nd in the LMP1 class. Although disappointing for McNish and Capello, the two drivers still held the championship lead after the end of the race.
The next chance McNish and Capello would have to overcome the disappointment of the Utah Grand Prix would come at the end of the month at the Portland Grand Prix.
Eventhough the Portland International Raceway boasts a couple of notable straight-aways, the 1.96 mile course still favored the Porsche Spyders, even the Lolas of Dyson Racing.
The Lola of Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver set the fastest time in qualifying. A second car for Dyson Racing would end up setting the 2nd fastest time. The R10 of Capello and McNish would start the race 3rd, while the other R10 of Biela and Pirro would start 5th.
Throughout the first 50+ laps of the race, drivers of the number 20 Dyson Racing Lola would hold position at the front of the pack. At the time of the driver exchanges Frank Biela was able to take over the lead before heading into the pits. Troubles hit the Dyson racing team Lolas and they lost time in the pits. These issues enable McNish to take the lead and hold it for almost 40 laps.
After a brief period with Lucas Luhr in the lead in his Porsche Spyder, Allan regained the lead and would hold it throughout the remainder of the race. Both of the Audis would benefit from Dyson Racing struggles. McNish would take the victory by over forty-two seconds in front of Pirro in the number 1 Audi R10. The two Audis would finish with a two lap advantage over 3rd place finisher Dyson Racing's car number 20 of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson.
On the 20th of August, the seventh round of the ALMS took place. The race was the Generac 500 held at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The race was another two hour and forty-five minute race around the 4.0 mile road course that features the steep climb up to the start/finish line.
Road America enabled the R10s to get out and run a little. Allan McNish would take advantage of this fact and would take the pole with a time of one minute and forty-nine seconds. Audi teammates, Biela and Pirro would start alongside in 2nd. Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas would end up forcing the Porsche Spyder into a 3rd place starting spot on the grid.
The start of the race witnessed a heated battle between McNish and Luhr rage throughout the first 30+ laps of the timed race. Once Capello took over for McNish, and Dumas for Luhr, the battle would resume for another 20 laps. After a brief interlude with Leitzinger in the lead, Capello reassumed the point.
The top six cars were all on the same lap. The competition was incredibly tight. Quietly riding amongst the leaders was the R10 of Biela and Pirro. Emanuele would look for his opportunities and would eventually make his way into the lead with only about twenty minutes left to go in the race. Pirro and Capello would battle all the way to the finish. At the end of the timed race, Pirro would take the victory by only four tenths over Dindo Capello. Dyson Racing's Lola would end up 3rd overall.
Three rounds of the ALMS Championship still remained. The eighth round actually took place north of the border in Canada at Mosport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
Qualifying for the Grand Prix of Mosport would be cancelled due to rain showers falling on the 2.45 mile road course that were too heavy to safely navigate. Therefore, qualifying positions for the race timed race were based upon practice times. Dyson Racing car number 16 took the pole as a result of setting the fastest time in practice.
The race would end up being a battle between the Audi R10 of Capello and McNish and the two Dyson Racing chassis. Dyson's car number 16 led from the start of the race. With the exception of a single lap during pit-stop cycles, the number 16 Dyson led the first 46 laps of the race.
Capello and McNish would enjoy the view up front for almost twenty laps before the lead was re-taken by Weaver and Leitzinger. Throughout the last half of the race, McNish and Capello, along with Dyson's two cars, would end up trading the lead about every ten laps. After a period just under ten laps with car 20 in the lead, the number 2 of Capello and McNish was able to reassume the point and would hold onto it over the next 35 laps.
Capello and McNish's margin of victory was in excess of two seconds over Chris Dyson and Guy Smith's number 20 Lola. The 16 of Weaver, Leitzinger and Rob Dyson would end up slipping back and finishing thirty-seven seconds down. Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro struggled with their R10 and finished in 4th, one lap down. This result helped McNish and Capello firm up their lead in the Championship battle.
Only two rounds remained on the 2006 ALMS calendar. The first of the two was one of the two important races on the ALMS list of races.
On September 30th, the ALMS was in Braselton, Georgia for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The Petit Le Mans is either 10 hours or 1000 miles. The race's distance and reputation also attracts a number of foreign entries. These foreign entries stiffen the competition and the pace.
Sure enough, Nicolas Minassian, driving a Creation CA06 for Creation Autosportif, would end up setting the pole time around the 2.54 mile road course with one minute and ten second lap. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello would end up starting 2nd in the R10. In the 3rd place position on the grid would the Zytek 06S of Zytek Engineering, driven by Stefan Johansson, Johnny Mowlem and Haruki Kurosawa. The Zytek just edged out the second R10 driven in the race by Biela, Pirro and Werner.
Minassian would lead the race from the pole throughout the first 25 laps. Werner would come up from 4th place and lead for almost 20 laps before McNish took control for over a dozen laps. After spells with Johansson and Luhr leading the race, Biela would take the lead in the number 1 Audi. He would hold onto the lead for the better part of 80 laps. Troubles then hit the number 1 Audi and it slipped down the order. This handed the lead to Allan McNish who remained at the point for over 100 laps. After 9 laps with Johansson in the lead, Allan reassumed the lead and dominated the remainder of the race.
Allan led what was almost 130 laps. McNish and Capello completed 394 laps and finished the 1000 mile race in 1st. Their winning margin over Zytek Engineering's Zytek 06S was four laps. Highcroft Racing's AER-powered Lola finished in 3rd overall another lap further in arrears. Though it struggled, the number 1 R10 of Biela, Pirro and Werner, did finish in 7th overall and 4th in class.
The R10, like its R8 predecessor, proved that over longer distances Audi was almost unbeatable. The diesel R10 further proved it not only could last a great race distance, it could do so with a pace that was every bit as fast as during the early stages of a race.
Headed into the eighth round of the championship, Audi Sport North America practically had the constructor championship sown up over Dyson Racing. In addition, the driver's championship was also over after the seventh round. The victory at Road Atlanta only cemented Dindo Capello and Allan McNish's reign at the top of the driver's championship standings in LMP1.
Although the championship had been concluded, the ALMS and, by extension, Audi Sport still had one more round to go for the successful 2006 campaign. The tenth, and final, round was the Monterey Sports Car Championships held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California on the 21st of October.
The Monterey Sports Car Championships was another longer timed event. Instead of the usual two hours and forty-five minutes, the race at Laguna Seca would be a four hour race. By the end of the event, 159 times the LMP1 cars would ascend the hill and drop down through the famous corkscrew.
As with the Petit Le Mans, the field was filled with foreign entries. The Zytek Engineering and Creation Autosportif team remained in the states to take part in the four hour enduro.
The Mazda Raceway was yet another track that did not fit the Audi R10 very well and it was evident in qualifying. Stefan Johansson would end up taking the pole in the Zytek 06S after recording a lap of one minute and thirteen seconds around the 2.23 mile road course. Nicolas Minassian would pilot the Creation CA06/Judd to a 2nd place starting position on the grid. The best of the Audi Sport team and the R10 would be the number 2 of Capello and McNish. They would start the race in 4th position. The second R10, that of Biela and Pirro, would start on the third row in 5th position.
With the exception of a token couple of laps, neither of the R10s were near the lead throughout the first 70 laps of the race. Then, on lap 71, McNish was able to take the lead for five laps.
After relinquishing the lead to James Weaver on the 77th lap, neither of the Audi's would be on point for over the next 30 laps of the race. Always lurking near the top, Allan was looking for his moment to push the R10 into the lead. That moment would come on the 108th lap of the race.
The end of the race was drawing close. It was time for McNish to not merely be among the front-runners, or, allowing others to pass him. He needed to get to the lead and hold it to ensure another victory for Audi and the R10. On the 108th lap McNish would take the lead. With great confidence in the reliability of the diesel-powered Audi R10, Allan began to pull away. The second R10, car number 1, slotted into 2nd place. Having a buffer between himself and the other competitors, McNish would hold on through what would be the remaining 51 laps to take the victory. Over eighteen seconds later, the second R10 crossed the line making it an Audi one-two. The Creation/Judd of Nicolas Minassian and Harold Primat would finish the race in 3rd place.
The brand-new R10 won for Audi Sport in its debut race, the 12 Hours of Sebring. In its remaining races, the venerable R8 remained unbeaten in the LMP1 category. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi Sport remained dominant with the brand-new R10, finishing the punishing event 1st and 3rd. More importantly, it was Audi's 6th victory in the last seven seasons, and seven in a row as an engine manufacturer. Upon return to the United States for the remainder of the ALMS, the R10 picked up where the R8 left off and won every event overall and in the LMP1 category.
Audi Sport built its dynasty in prototype racing by taking existing, and new, technology and working with them to fashion incredibly fast and reliable racing machines. The 2006 season went a long way to prove, though new, the R10 was ready and more than capable of continuing Audi's reign of dominance. It also went a long way to prove that Audi was one team capable of taking difficult and un-harnessed technology and making it into an ultra-reliable and devastating weapon to help maintain Audi's advantage on the competition.