LEXINGTON, OH, JUNE 27, 2004 — The Thetford / Norcold Lola of Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson led the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio, but in the end the Dyson Racing pair finished second behind the Audi R8 of Marco Werner and JJ Lehto. That second place finish for the team’s #20 car salvaged a day that began badly when the pole-winning Dyson entry of James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger suffered terminal engine problems as the field came down to take the green flag for the start of the race.
“It was a pity that Butch and James didn’t get to be part of it, but we had a terrific race today with the Audi. I’m happy for the team,” Wallace said following the race. “The car was very competitive and that showed that all the work we put in between the Sebring race and now was well justified.”
Wallace gave major credit to Goodyear for supplying a tire that matched the competition. “Not only were the Goodyear tires very good, but they hung in there,” he said. “Goodyear did a fantastic job.”
The failure of the #16 car’s engine before the race proper even began was a major disappointment, both to the Dyson team and to the fans who were looking for a three-way battle among the two Dyson cars and the Audi. Coming down for the start on the pole position, Leitzinger suddenly raised his arm to alert the field behind him that his car was slowing. “The oil pressure suddenly just dropped to zero,” Leitzinger reported. “And the water temperature went up.” The cockpit was filling up with smoke and Leitzinger could feel the engine beginning to seize as he pulled off onto the grass and the race began. An inspection of the powerplant following the race revealed that the oil pump drive had failed.
“These things happen in racing,” said Weaver, Leitzinger’s co-driver. “We regularly run the same engine for an entire race meet, and this one had performed flawlessly in all of our practice sessions as well as qualifying and then warm-ups this morning. And the #20 car’s engine ran like a clock all weekend.”
With Leitzinger failing to make the starting line, Werner’s Audi grabbed the lead at the start of the race. But Wallace in the other Dyson entry dogged the Audi around the hill-and-dale road circuit. Coming into the track’s signature Carousel corner, Wallace saw that Werner was going to be momentarily slowed by lapped traffic.
“I dropped back just a little bit, so that I wouldn’t have to slow in the corner,” Wallace said. “And then I got flat on the gas when Marco had to lift a little and I had enough momentum to get up alongside him on the pit straight. I was on the inside for the next corner, so I had him. After that I had to be very careful with lapped traffic, so that Marco didn’t have a chance to return the favor.”
Wallace held the lead for 35 laps, but only by a narrow margin, and the Audi, now piloted by JJ Lehto, got back into the lead during an exchange of pit stops. Trailing Lehto by a few seconds, Dyson kept the pressure on until the Lola’s rear wheels locked up under braking for Mid-Ohio’s tricky up-and-downhill turn.
“JJ was going flat out, and so was I,” Dyson said. “Under braking, the rear tires just locked for an instant, but that was enough for the back end to start moving around, and the left rear tire got up onto the curb, and away we went. The car spun and we lost a lap getting going again. It’s a shame, but in a situation like that, you’ve got to keep pressing the leader. I just didn’t have anything left in hand. I’m glad we didn’t damage the car and we just pushed hard until the end.”
The next round of the American Le Mans Series takes place this next weekend at Dyson Racing’s home track, picturesque Lime Rock Park, in Northwestern Connecticut. The 1.5-mile road circuit is renowned both for the beauty of the facility and the surrounding Berkshire mountains, and for the driving challenge that it provides.
“Lime Rock is another track that suits our cars well,” said team-owner Rob Dyson. “We had the speed to match the Audi here at Mid-Ohio, and I expect that we’ll have it at Lime Rock, too.”