Sebring: Season opener race report

ADT CHAMPION RACING, ASTON MARTIN RACING MAKE HISTORY AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING Sebring, Fla. - In the closest finish in race history, the No. 1 ADT Champion Racing Team Audi R8 beat its No. 2 sister car to win the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours...

ADT CHAMPION RACING, ASTON MARTIN RACING MAKE HISTORY AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING

Sebring, Fla. - In the closest finish in race history, the No. 1 ADT Champion Racing Team Audi R8 beat its No. 2 sister car to win the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on Saturday, the season-opener for the American Le Mans Series.

The trio of JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and Tom Kristensen gave Champion Racing its first Sebring victory in the closest competitive finish in Sebring's 53-year history. The No. 1 Audi R8 posted a 6.365-second win over the No. 2 car driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Allan McNish.

Biela was trying for a record fourth overall victory in the Sebring race. And he might have gotten it were it not for a pair of stop-and-go penalties early in the race.

Instead, Kristensen won the race for the third time, and Werner and Lehto each won their second Sebring titles. Werner was part of the victorious Audi Sport Team Joest entry in 2003, while Lehto was a winning driver with BMW in 1999.

Ironically, Kristensen and Lehto were part of the previous race record for margin of victory. They teamed with Jorg Mueller in 1999 to win by 9.2 seconds in a BMW V12 LMR.

The victory extended Audi's winning streak at Sebring to six races. The last manufacturer other than Audi to win the historic Florida endurance race was BMW in 1999. Only Porsche has won more consecutive Sebring titles in a row (1976-88).

"This was a great win for the Champion Audi team," Lehto said. "It was tough all the way, we started with a harder compound tire than the No. 2 car which made it very difficult to work, but we were equal all the way. It was a good show for champion, we had tried before and always finished second."

The other big story was the No. 57 Aston Martin Racing DBR9, driven by David Brabham, Peter Kox and Darren Turner. The three gave Aston Martin its first class victory at Sebring since 1956, a span of 49 years. In its ALMS debut, the car outran a pair of Corvette Racing C6-Rs for a one-lap victory over the No. 3 car of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Max Papis.

Saturday's race was the first for Aston Martin since 1983, when Reggie Smith, Lynn St. James and Drake Olson placed fifth overall in an Aston Martin Nimrod. Saturday, the Aston Martin crowd got the loudest cheers in the post-race ceremony.

"It was a great race," Brabham said. "It feels so good to beat such strong competition. It's a credit to everybody. We've got a great team, and the Aston Martin is a great car. This was an astonishing finish at such a tough race."

The LMP2 battle was finished with more than two hours left in the race. The No. 10 Miracle Motorsports Courage C65 AER of Ian James, Chris McMurry and Jeff Bucknum took the lead on lap 238 when the No. 27 Kruse Motorsports Courage C65 Judd lost an engine and had to retire.

The remaining class cars were so far behind at that point that they could not catch James, McMurry and Bucknum in the time remaining. It was the fourth class victory for each member of the Miracle trio. James won his second Sebring class title in a row.

The No. 31 Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, driven by Lucas Luhr, Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister posted a seven-lap victory in GT2. The defending class winners at the 24 Hours of Le Mans placed second last year and became the first privateer GT2 team to win its class at Sebring since 1999 (Kelly Collins and Cort Wagner in a Porsche 911 RSR).

"The race wasn't really that hard physically," Luhr said. "It's usually much, much hotter. I have to mention our team. The guys did a perfect job with the pit stops. We were quicker than the other teams, which is great for a privateer."

The No. 79 J3 Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Justin Jackson, Tim Sugden and Nic Jonsson were second in class. It marked the team's highest ALMS finish.

A record crowd was at Sebring International Raceway, one so large that the track cut off access through the main gate at 10:30 a.m., the earliest time in the race's history. An alternate parking area was created off-site to accommodate the overflow crowd.

-alms-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Teams Audi Sport Team Joest , Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing