Biela, O'Connell Make Sebring History, McNish Makes Triumphant Return As Audi UK Team Veloqx Wins SEBRING, FL. - Frank Biela joined an elite club and Allan McNish made a triumphant return to sports car racing Saturday as Audi Sport UK...
Biela, O'Connell Make Sebring History, McNish Makes Triumphant Return As Audi UK Team Veloqx Wins
SEBRING, FL. - Frank Biela joined an elite club and Allan McNish made a triumphant return to sports car racing Saturday as Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx won the 52nd annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the opening race of the 2004 American Le Mans Series season.
Meanwhile, Johnny O'Connell became the first driver to score six class wins in the legendary Sebring event as he drove a Corvette to his third straight GTS class win.
Biela, McNish and Pierre Kaffer drove a flawless race, winning overall in America's oldest and most prestigious sports car race in front of more than 100,000 fans. Biela became only the fifth driver to score three overall Sebring wins, joining Motorsports legends Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Hans Stuck and Olivier Gendebien. In addition, Biela became the most winning Prototype driver in ALMS history with his 15th career win.
"I am very proud to join such a group of great drivers," said Biela, who also won in 2000 and 2003. "This is my third Sebring victory in the last five years while an Audi R8 has now won five times in a row - a fantastic achievement for this sports prototype. This is a perfect way to start off my 2004 season."
The Audi R8 became the first car to win five straight times at Sebring, and Audi joined Porsche as the only manufacturer to win five straight.
McNish, the 2000 American Le Mans Series champion, returned to sports car racing with a victory after spending the past three seasons in Formula One.
"Coming back to Audi and scoring this victory is amazing," said McNish. "It's like a great homecoming; they are truly fantastic people. I really enjoyed this win, made especially sweet after narrowly missing out here four years ago."
The ADT Champion Racing Audi R8 finished second, driven by JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and Emanuele Pirro. The Champion car had battled the two Audi UK entries until tangling with a lapped car, causing damage that led to a short stay behind the wall. The car roared back to finish second.
The other Audi UK entry driven by Johnny Herbert, Jamie Davies and Guy Smith finished 12 laps down in third place after having to go behind the wall for repairs to a malfunctioning rear end. The car had led some of the race and was solidly in contention prior to the mechanical problem.
O'Connell teamed with Ron Fellows and Max Papis to take the GTS class win in a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, finishing fourth overall and winning the class by 22 laps. "It's amazing," he said. "I've been fortunate to have excellent cars. The C5-R is one of the most important cars in history, and our new Michelin tires made a huge difference."
"Fourth overall is pretty impressive," said Fellows. "Pit stops in the are were flawless. Sebring is a tough race, but we've learned how to win. We were more careful getting out of the pits after the clutch problem on the #4 car. We have to say thanks to Michelin, we couldn't have done this without them. We need them to win Le Mans, it is part of the evolution of the program."
Finishing second in the GTS class was the Barron Connor Racing Ferrari 575 GTC of Danny Sullivan, John Bosch and Thomas Biagi, followed by the ACEMCO Saleen S7R of Terry Borcheller, Johnny Mowlem and David Brabham.
With his victory in the GT class, Sascha Maassen won for the fourth straight year at Sebring and joined former teammate Lucas Luhr and legendary driver Bob Holbert as the only drivers ever to take four straight class wins. Maassen, who is the most winning driver in the history of the American Le Mans Series, won for the 21st time in ALMS competition. He co-drove with Timo Bernhard in a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR from Alex Job Racing. The Job team also recorded its fourth straight Sebring win.
"Yes it was four straight, but I would like to mention our teammate Jorg Bergmeister who is not with us," said Maassen of the driver who had been slated to co-drive with Maassen and Bernhard. "We hope he stays well and recovers. During the last practice on Thursday he had a high fever and the decision not to race him was made late. Sebring is the toughest race. I've done it with Lucas (Luhr) before and we said next time we'd do it with three (drivers)."
The other Job entry finished second in the GT class, driven by Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Luhr, while finishing third was the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche of David Murry and Craig Stanton.
The LMP2 class produced new winners in both the driver and entrant category as Mike Borkowski, John Macaluso and Ian James drove a Lola B2K/40-Nissan to victory for American Spirit Racing. The win was the first in the ALMS for team owner Jon Lewis.
"As you come up through the ranks and see all the big races like Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans, it's a thrill to be now a Sebring winner," said James. "This team was born just three weeks ago. Jon deserves this win. We got the car so late we put a fresh engine in at the first of the week. We were crossing our fingers it would last."
Mike Fitzgerald, James Gue and Bill Rand finished second in class in the Rand Racing Lola-Nissan, followed by the Intersport Racing Lola-Judd of Clint Field, William Binnie and Rick Sutherland.