Allan McNish returns to sports car racing at Sebring

Allan McNish will seek Sebring glory with British Audi Team in return to sports car racing. BRASELTON, Ga. - Allan McNish put together one of the most dominant seasons of any driver in professional sports car racing history when he won the ...

Allan McNish will seek Sebring glory with British Audi Team in return to sports car racing.

BRASELTON, Ga. - Allan McNish put together one of the most dominant seasons of any driver in professional sports car racing history when he won the American Le Mans Series driving championship with the factory Audi team in 2000.

But there was one huge piece of unfinished business when the popular Scotsman departed the Audi team at the end of the season to pursue a Formula One career: he hadn't won at Sebring.

McNish is now going to have the opportunity to finish that business as he has completed a powerful and talented driving lineup for Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx's assault on the 52nd annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway Mar. 17-20.

McNish will be back in an Audi R8 Prototype, the same kind of race car that he drove in winning six races and the ALMS title in 2000. Though exact team combinations have not yet been determined, the six-driver lineup for the two-car Audi UK effort reads like a "who's who" of international endurance racing.

Johnny Herbert, winner of three Formula One World Championship events in his career, and a four-time winner on the American Le Mans Series last year, will be one of McNish's teammates as the English star seeks his second Sebring victory. Also on the Audi UK team is 2003 ALMS co-champion Frank Biela of Germany, a three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and twice a winner at Sebring. England's Guy Smith, who drove a Bentley to victory in last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, is also a team member, as are rising young German star Pierre Kaffer and England's Jamie Davies.

Both McNish and Herbert are also former winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"I had a very successful and happy time when I was with Audi previously," said McNish, whose last drive in the Audi R8 came when he won the 2000 season finale at Adelaide, Australia. "The Audi R8 has been further developed since I raced one and is an outstanding sports car."

Though he has only raced once in the Sebring 12-hour event, McNish is will aware of the worldwide significance of America's oldest and most prestigious sports car endurance race. Few who were there for the 2000 running of the event will ever forget his charge to a second-place finish with a wounded Audi R8.

"The 12 hours is one of the races you want on your cv," he said. "The race is a challenge in every sense of the word, mentally and physically for the team and drivers and reliability for the car.

"The circuit has everything," he said. "A variation of corners, surfaces and temperatures and with the race running into the night it poses particular problems for the tires and drivers. The most difficult part of the race is traffic with hardly any laps without overtaking. Seconds and races can easily be won and lost. Twelve hours at Sebring is similar to 24 anywhere else."

With every nook and cranny of the 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway jammed with spectators, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring attracts the largest sports car racing crowd in North America and its attendance is exceeded only by the 24 Hours of Le Mans among worldwide sports car endurance events. The "fun" atmosphere of the Sebring crowd doesn't go unnoticed by drivers, even as they are reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph on the backstretch portion of the circuit.

"In my opinion the best part of the race is going into dusk when the legendary Sebring crowd really comes alive and partying," said McNish. "Even the barbecue smells drift into your helmet. But unfortunately, you don't have time to stop."

During his time in the ALMS, McNish was a fan favorite, often going out of his way to sign autographs or accommodate requests. The high-pressure world of Formula One hasn't dimmed his enthusiasm for being part of an event with the relaxed but competitive atmosphere of Sebring.

"I finished second in my only previous visit," he said. "And after leading most of the race until 15 minutes to go, it proved that even in the Sebring 12 hour race, 'it ain't over till it's over.'"

The 52nd annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will get the green flag at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 20, and will be televised live from flag-to-flag by the Speed Channel. The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com.

Ticket information is available online at www.sebringraceway.com or by calling (863) 655-1442 (toll-free 800-626-RACE).

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Series ALMS
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Allan McNish , Guy Smith , Frank Biela , Jamie Davies , Pierre Kaffer