September 25, 2004 — The Thetford/Norcold #16 Lola of Chris Dyson and Jan Lammers had the sheer speed to win the 1000-mile Petit Le Mans round of the American Le Mans Series at Road Atlanta, but not quite the reliability of the vaunted Audi R-8s. Several laps lost to a broken starter motor put paid to the pair`s hopes for victory. After setting the races`s second fastest lap, they finished third behind the pair of Champion Audi R8s.
“It was pretty disappointing to have such a minor problem cost us a shot at winning,” said Dyson folowing the race. “Jan did a terrific job and the car was certaintly fast enough when we were out on the track. Toward the end, we had a little problem with our paddle-shifter, so we backed off our pace a little to save the transmission. There was no way we were going to win at that point anyway. I have to hand it to the Champion team; their Audis ran like trains all day. Congratulations to them on taking the manufacturers championship for Audi. They deserve it.”
The teams`s other entry, driven by James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace was also fast enough to win, but lost 34 laps when it suffered a minor mechanical problem – and than a major error in judgement on the part of a lapped competitor. The trio finished 9th overall and 4th in the LMP1 class.
“Well, I guess this is a better result than we had last year,” said team owner Rob Dyson, referring to the 2003 running of this classic American endurance race. The race saw the #16 car drop out after leading the first six laps, and the #20 entry lose several laps to mechanical problems and then a spin and subsequent stall. “But I can tell you that it is pretty disappointing to come this close and then lose. Our team and our partners at Goodyear and Advanced Engine Research have done so much to develop the Lola over the past year. That both cars should run for ten hours with only very minor mechanical problems is quite encouraging.”
Pole-winner Weaver led the first hour of the race handidly, but than pitted when the steering wheel mounted paddle-shift system malfunctioned. Hooking up the conventional shifter cost six laps and – with the Audis running without any mechanical problems – any realistic chance of winning the race. But the coup de grace was administered shortly thereafter, with Leitzinger behind the wheel, when an amateur driver in a Lamborghini drove into the side of the #16 car, smashing a radiator. The stop to repair that damage took 28 laps and the #16`s climb from the back of the 34-car field to a top-ten finish provided a great deal of interest to the reported 66,000 fans who lined the Road Atlanta circuit.
“The car really was excellent all day,” Weaver noted. “If it was not for all the laps lost in the pits, we would have been right there.”