PORTLAND, OR, JULY 25, 2004 — A sharp drop in ambient temperatures erased the tire-performance advantage that Dyson Racing’s pair of Thetford / Norcold Lolas enjoyed during qualifying for the Portland Grand Prix, but Chris Dyson’s blazing-hot performance during the first half of the two-hour, 45-minute race was the highlight of the American Le Mans Series season so far. In the end, the Dyson entries finished second (Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver) and third (Dyson and Andy Wallace) behind the Champion Audi R8 of JJ Lehto and Marco Werner.
But the high point of the race was a thrilling first-half duel between Dyson in the #20 car and Lehto, who started the Audi.
“I’m going to remember this race for a long, long time,” Lehto said after the event’s conclusion. For the spectators he said “this is the best race they’ve seen for a long time.”
And it probably was. Dyson took the lead following the first round of pit stops, thanks to the decision to fuel the car but not put on a new set of Goodyear tires. Dyson and Lehto then went at it hammer and tongs for more than half of the race. Lehto was quick enough to close the gap on the pole-winning Thetford / Norcold car, but not fast enough to pass. For nearly an hour, the veteran Lehto put incredible pressure on the 26-year-old junior member of the Dyson team, but Dyson refused to make a mistake. At least twice Lehto got the white Audi alongside the Lola, but he couldn’t get past. Finally, it was Lehto, tapped by a Corvette the two leaders had just passed, who spun.
Still, Lehto fought back to the rear deck of Dyson’s car. A couple of laps before the second round of pit stops, Dyson finally was balked in traffic and Lehto made a pass stick.
After he’d turned the car over to Wallace, Dyson admitted that in the cooler temperatures on race day (down 15 degrees from Friday and Saturday’s 100-degree heat), “we were probably a little conservative on our tire choice, and maybe that was what gave them a slightly faster car. It was such great fun. This was a good clean fight. JJ had the edge, but catching up and passing are two different things. We came here today to win, and we weren’t going down without a fight.”
Unfortunately, during the next pit stop to refuel, change tires and put Wallace in for the last stint, the engine refused to re-fire, costing the team ten seconds. And then the car was further slowed by an electrical problem.
Leitzinger and Weaver had a less dramatic run, but were not without their problems. In the opening laps, Leitzinger had his own hard battle with Lehto, which finally ended when Lehto, according to ALMS officials, forced Leitzinger off the road. The time necessary to restart cost the #16 its chance at victory.