SONOMA, CA, JULY 27 — Thetford / Norcold Dyson Racing scored its first overall victory of the 2003 season in Sunday`s Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma. Drivers Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver drove a stunning race in their #16 MG-Lola EX257 to beat the vaunted Joest Audi contingent in a straight fight.
A heated battle from the start, the two-hour, forty-five race was marked by Leitzinger`s opening stint and Weaver`s late-race pass of Joest`s Marco Werner and the Englishman`s spirited sprint to the finish. The race was the first ever overall victory for Dyson Racing in the American Le Mans Series, and it was also the maiden win for Lola`s lightweight LMP675 prototype contender.
Butch Leitzinger was thrilled with the result. “I am sure it was exciting,” said Leitzinger, from State College, Penn. “I think this win is a very good thing for sports car racing. The LMP675 class was formed to give the privateer teams like Dyson a way to take on the big factory teams. We’ve just proven the vision for the sport. For a team like Dyson to be able to put up a fight is good for the sport overall.”
After Leitzinger`s stellar first stint, in which the Pennsylvanian polesitter was never headed, Weaver took over the controls and fought to the end, catching and brilliantly re-passing the Joest machine which overtaken the Dyson team only when the Lola pitted.
“That was unbelievable,” said a delighted Weaver afterwards. “It was a good, hard punch-up out there today. I managed to out-brake (Werner) at the final hairpin, and we ran the last few laps as hard as we possibly could. I felt I couldn`t have done a better job, and I am really happy that we won this race. So much hard work has gone into this effort and it is great to see us coming out on top.”
The sister #20 machine of Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson had the pace of the leading machines, but a staggered pit strategy with the sister car backfired due to a series of ill-timed caution periods. Wallace ran a strong third during a brief forty minute run, pitted for fuel under green, only to find the course brought under a full-course yellow moments later. So rather than gaining back the time lost during the stop as others were pitting, the Englishman would remain a lap down as the leaders pitted without losing any significant time. Fighting hard to gain back time, Wallace then became a victim of a wayward GTS Ferrari which hit him from behind and lodged him into a spin. The car was unhurt, thankfully, and Wallace soldiered on in seventh place, handing off to Chris Dyson for the race`s final hour. Dyson ran competitively, lapping within a second of the leaders, but the team could make no inroads on time lost and would finish seventh overall, but second in LMP675.
“We were really unlucky with the yellows today,” Wallace said. “Every time we pitted, it was under green and it was a caution period when we returned to the track. It was unfortunate, because I think we had a good car today.”
Dyson agreed. “Andy and I certainly had the pace today to finish up on the podium,” he said. “But ultimately our strategy worked against us, because we were never able to claw our time back because of the yellows. Somtimes that is how it goes. I am really happy for the boys today. We have made a lot of sacrifices and worked very hard to get these cars right, and we could not have achieved this result without all the hard work from Goodyear, AER and Lola. I am also extremely proud of our team members, all of whom have worked relentlessly to achieve this goal. Now we are just going to keep building on this and there is more to come.”
Team principal Rob Dyson was overjoyed with the win, which he enjoyed from his home in New York as he recovered from shoulder surgery. “I am proud of everyone, it is really staggering what we were able to accomplish today,” Dyson said.
The team`s next ALMS event, at Trois-Rivieres, takes place on August 1-3.