Ingolstadt - It is a debut and a farewell at the same time: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro contests the 12-hour race at Sebring (Florida) in the USA for the first time on March 16 and, in doing so, makes the legendary racetrack home of quattro.
At the same time, it is provisionally the LMP1 sports cars final appearance in the North American endurance classic.
The race at Sebring is staged under special circumstances for Audi: the merger of the two U.S. championships, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and GRAND-AM, sees new regulations coming into force from 2014.
After Audi customer racings winning start to the season with the one-two finish for the Audi R8 GRAND-AM in the 24-hour race at Daytona, Audi now targets another victory in the USA despite difficult conditions as the race cars from the American Le Mans Series enjoy several advantages with regard to weight and engine power.
In the 13 outings to date in the sports car classic at Sebring, Audi has claimed 22 podium finishes, including ten overall victories. Three Audi drivers, Michele Alboreto/Dindo Capello/Stefan Johansson, mounted the podium at the premiere on March 20, 1999.
The Dane Tom Kristensen is the races most successful driver with six wins. Marco Werner holds the lap record at Sebring, the trio Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish the distance record.
Audi Sport Team Joest fields two Audi R18 e-tron quattro prototypes. The current World Endurance Champions and Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler (CH) and Benoît Tréluyer (F), who are supported by Oliver Jarvis (GB) at Sebring, drive an R18 from 2012. Lucas di Grassi (BR), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) start in the new R18 e-tron quattro from 2013, which celebrates its race premiere at Sebring.
The Sebring raceverytrack is located on a former military airfield, which Audi transforms into the home of quattro this year and therefore picks up the threads of a successful chapter of motorsport history: for the first time since 1989, when drivers like Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Röhrl raced from victory to victory with the Audi 90 quattro in the IMSA-GTO series, Audi Sport contests a factory event in the USA with a racecar equipped with four-wheel drive.
The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the first hybrid sports car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its front wheels are powered electrically and thus make the R18 a special type of quattro.
Exhibition with winning cars highlighting Audis motorsport history
Audi traditionally uses its involvement in sport prototypes to test new technologies for future applications in production cars. The fans at Sebring can discover this for themselves by embarking on a journey in time through the brands previous sports car eras.
The exhibition shows an Audi R8 (ALMS winner 2002), an Audi R10 TDI (Sebring winner 2007), an Audi R15 TDI (Sebring winner 2009) and an Audi R18 TDI (Sebring winner 2012).
In addition to the active factory drivers, the former Audi drivers and Sebring winners Frank Biela, Dindo Capello, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner are also present and will be signing autographs, posing for photos and giving interviews for the fans. In this way, Audi thanks the passionate sports car fans in the USA for their long-standing loyalty to the brand.
Without a shadow of a doubt itll be an emotional race weekend for us because Sebring and its fantastic fans enjoy a very special status in both our motorsport and LMP history, says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
In contrast to last year, the American Le Mans Series season opener is not a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 2013 WEC season starts a month later on April 14 with the 6-hour race at Silverstone, Great Britain.
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport: Sebring was always a fixed date in our motorsport calendar since the beginning of our sports car program in 1999. And justifiably so, as Sebring is a particularly hard racetrack.
Hard and demanding for driver and machine whoever survives this 12-hour race without problems is usually well equipped for every other challenge. The race will once again be the perfect dress rehearsal for the forthcoming WEC season and the 24-hour race at Le Mans.
Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): We travel to Sebring a little downhearted. Its a real shame that LMP1 sports cars will not be allowed to start anymore in this legendary race.
The race this year means some additional technical effort for us as we send two cars of different generations to the grid. Its good, however, that we can test the further developed Audi R18 e-tron quattro in race conditions here.
Its always proved particularly beneficial in terms of preparing for the 24-hour race at Le Mans. We are happy to accept the extra effort for this.
Marcel Fässler (36/CH), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1 (Audi Sport Team Joest): "Sebring is a very special race thanks to its tradition, atmosphere and the tracks unique character. Ive raced here twice before, but havent been able to win so far. I want to change that this time around, especially as its probably the last chance well get for a long time to fight for overall victory here with Audi."
Oliver Jarvis (29/GB), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1 (Audi Sport Team Joest): "I was really happy when I got the call from Audi saying that I could race at Sebring. The race is one of the worlds greatest endurance classics.
Im particularly proud of being in a car with the two-time Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. Im certain that I can learn a lot from them and hope that we will be successful together. Im already convinced that this race will be a highlight in my career."
Benoît Tréluyer (36/F), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1 (Audi Sport Team Joest): "Sebring is a special race for several reasons: firstly, the many extremely enthusiastic fans make the atmosphere something very special.
Secondly, it is difficult to find a perfect set-up for the car because the track is very bumpy and the surface changes constantly between concrete and different types of tarmac. The race is a big challenge for everybody. Im looking forward to mastering it."
Lucas di Grassi (28/BR), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2 (Audi Sport Team Joest): Ive never been to Sebring, but Ive heard from my team-mates that it is a fabulous race and the track is extremely demanding.
This is why Im excited, but also happy about having the same team-mates for my second outing as an Audi factory driver as I did for my debut in 2012 at Interlagos.
Tom (Kristensen) and Allan (McNish) helped me a lot at that time and theyll also support me this time with many valuable tips."
Tom Kristensen (45/DK), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2 (Audi Sport Team Joest): "Nothing has changed at Sebring since the days of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss.
So, the challenge is the same as every year: to get through the traffic well, to hustle the car safely and quickly around the very bumpy track and to win. The whole thing is obviously even more special as this could possibly be the final race in an Audi prototype at Sebring."
Allan McNish (43/GB), Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2 (Audi Sport Team Joest): "It was really great news when I heard that Audi would also race at Sebring in 2013. After all, this race is an important part of Audis sports car history.
That there is also a hint of goodbye hanging over the event gives the whole thing a special touch. Even more fans than usual will certainly come to the track to personally experience the end of an era.
Just like the entire Audi team, I will also do my utmost to bid Sebring farewell with a win. This would make me very proud."