Sebring: Series race report

ANOTHER DEBUT, ANOTHER AUDI VICTORY AT SEBRING One slip up, one extra minute in the pits and the story might be different. Yet it's a familiar story with a familiar ending - Audi debuts a new car with a victory at Sebring. The German marque...

ANOTHER DEBUT, ANOTHER AUDI VICTORY AT SEBRING

One slip up, one extra minute in the pits and the story might be different. Yet it's a familiar story with a familiar ending - Audi debuts a new car with a victory at Sebring. The German marque posted win No. 1 for the Audi R15 TDI on Saturday as Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen beat Peugeot at the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida.

McNish crossed the finish line 22.279 seconds ahead of Peugeot's Franck Montagny in an epic battle between sports car racing's two diesel powers. The two prototypes stayed on the same lap throughout the 12 hours in a carry-over from last year's clashes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, also razor-thin Audi victories.

"This one for me this one was better than Le Mans because we came here with a new car and at the end of every stint it was at the maximum for the entire 12 hours," Capello said. "To come here with a new car really says something for Audi."

McNish took the lead for good at the 42-minute mark when Montagny made his final fuel-only stop. McNish clicked off fast lap after fast lap to build up enough of a gap to make a late splash for fuel with 14 minutes remaining and maintain his lead. McNish re-entered the track while Montagny was just entering the backstretch.

"I knew I had 55 seconds to get in and out with a comfortable gap," McNish said. "But if a yellow came out after they pitted and prior to our stop, it was all out the window. We were lucky because I think everyone drove exceptionally well until the end. The poker aspect is played by the engineers not by the drivers; the pit strategy is by the guys behind the wall. We are just given instructions to do things and that was drive very, very quickly."

The winning trio made the R15 TDI Audi's third prototype to win in its race debut joining the R8 in 2000 and R10 TDI in 2006.

The two Audis and two Peugeot 908 HDis swapped the lead 23 times. The race also set records for fastest average speed (117.986 mph), distance covered (1,417 miles) and laps completed under the current 3.7-mile, 17-turn configuration (383).

"Coming with such a young car to such a tough race track and make the distance record with three yellows, it was really extraordinary and shows the know how from the last 3 cars - the R8, R10 and now R15," said Kristensen, who won his record fifth overall race at Sebring and also owns a record eight Le Mans victories. "I was really impressed with what the team did the last few days. This is such a huge team effort. I am humble and proud to be a part of teams like this. Victories like Le Mans and Sebring belong to a lot of people, and that's what I enjoy is sharing it."

Montagny drove with fellow Frenchmen Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin. They combined to lead eight times and suffered a late setback when it pitted near the nine-hour mark with what the team feared was a punctured rear tire. The car replaced its rear tires on the emergency stop, which altered the strategy for the rest of the race.

The second Audi of Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Werner finished third. It led four times in the race.

Lowe's Fernandez Racing captured its long-awaited first LMP2 victory for Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz. The pairing's Acura ARX-01b ran a strong and consistent race while Dyson Racing's two Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes struggled with mechanical issues.

"We just had to focus and keep a secure pace," Diaz said. "After that it was just a matter of not losing the concentration. Lap after lap it's hard to keep the concentration so it became a challenge of not making mistakes. The Dyson Mazdas did not score points and we got a lot, so it gives us a cushion. But our goal is to win every single race this year. That is the pressure for ourselves. We want to prove we are the best team."

Saturday's win was Acura's second P2 victory in three years at Sebring. Fernandez and Diaz placed second in class behind the winning Andretti Green Racing trio of Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan in its inaugural run in 2007. Last year the duo finished third overall and in P2 before the car was excluded after post-race technical inspections.

It was the start of a season that saw much more bad luck than good for the Lowe's Fernandez team.

"We should have won two or three races last year, and I feel really good about this win today," Fernandez said. "You can't relax too much so we tried to keep a good pace without being too conservative. After eight hours I kept trying to push it and learn what we could from the car. It's great to start the season like this and I'm happy for Lowe's to start out like this. This is good for us - a perfect race."

Corvette Racing's Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen scored their second straight GT1 victory as they teamed with Antonio Garcia in the final race for the GT1 version of the Corvette C6.R at Sebring. Magnussen crossed the finish line a lap ahead of Oliver Gavin, who teamed with Olivier Beretta and Marcel Fassler.

O'Connell took the lead for good at the 51-minute mark, and the crew of the No. 3 entry kept the car out front with quick and efficient pit stops.

"It was a really good battle," said O'Connell, who extended his record for Sebring victories to eight. "The No. 4 car had a better setup for qualifying, but we improved our car some and both cars were within 20-30 seconds throughout. We closed up during some cautions but our crew did a great job. The No. 4 car is full of fighters and they kept pushing every bit."

The last race for Corvette Racing in GT1 will be the Long Beach round in mid-April. Then it's off to the 24 Hours of Le Mans where the team will hope to close the C6.R's GT1 career with a sixth victory in France. The team is scheduled to debut its GT2 car at Mid-Ohio in August.

"Sebring is a great place to prepare for Le Mans, even just the 12 hours with the bumps," Magnussen said. "It's a great way to start the year and find out where you are and how prepared you are. I think we are really ready to go to Le Mans with a shot at winning."

Risi Competizione won in GT2 for the second time in three years, this time much easier than the team's epic 2007 victory which it won in class by a race-record 0.202 seconds. Mika Salo took the checkered flag in Risi's Ferrari F430 GT that he drove with Pierre Kaffer and Jaime Melo by two laps.

The trio had to start the back of the field after Melo could not arrive at the circuit until Friday morning. But the Ferrari took the lead in the second hour and never trailed again.

"I have to thank these two guys working on the setup this week, making a good setup for the race and making the sacrifice for me starting at the back," Melo said. "It's good to start with a win like this. And we get to see against the Porsches and the BMW to see how quick they can go. We still have a long way to go for the championship but this is a good start."

The Ferrari's main contenders fell by the wayside early on due to contact (Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Marc Lieb) and mechanical difficulties (Farnbacher Loles Racing's pole-sitting Porsche of Dirk Werner, Wolf Henzler and Richard Lietz).

"We started from the back, but it was OK because we won last time from the back," Salo said. "The GT cars could get spread out so you could do two or three laps by yourself. Winning is good. You always want it close but a win is great. Some laps the new Porsches could not keep it consistent, but we saw in the week they can do really quick laps but in the long run we can beat them."

The Ferrari also caught a break when it was included in an early wave-by under caution to pick up the leading prototype. As a result the Ferrari gained nearly a full lap on nearly the rest of the field.

"I am really glad to be in the Ferrari family with good teammates that I can truest all the time," said Kaffer, an overall winner with Audi in 2004. "It's really nice and I have to say the guys did a really brilliant job. The mechanics did a great job getting the car prepared."

The Advanced Engineering Pecom Racing Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni, Mathias Russo and Luis Companc placed second for Ferrari's first 1-2 GT2 finish at Sebring. Panoz Team PTG's Panoz Esperante GTLM of Dominik Farnbacher and Ian James was third in class following a hard-fought battle with one of Flying Lizard Motorsports' Porsches late in the race.

In the first race of the MICHELIN® Green X® Challenge, the Corvette C6.R of Magnussen, O'Connell and Garcia was the top scoring car using a combination of overall performance, fuel efficiency and environmental impact. The sister Corvette was second among GT entries followed by the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Johannes van Overbeek.

The race-winning Audi was the top scoring prototype in the MICHELIN® Green X® Challenge while also setting records for distance covered, average speed and laps completed - a picture of performance and efficiency. The sister Audi placed second in the prototype standings with the Peugeot 908 HDi of Pedro Lamy, Nic Minassian and Christian Klien.

The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg from the St. Petersburg street circuit. The green flag is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 4. ABC Sports will televise the race live beginning at 1:30 p.m. Live Timing & Scoring and American Le Mans Radio can be found at the new americanlemans.com.

The race also will mark the first street race for the MICHELIN Green X Challenge. For tickets americanlemans.com or gpstpete.com.

-credit: alms

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Gianmaria Bruni , Antonio Garcia , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Adrian Fernandez , Mika Salo , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Johnny O'Connell , Pedro Lamy , Lucas Luhr , Marcel Fassler , Luis Diaz , Ian James , Oliver Gavin , Darren Law , Jörg Bergmeister , Sébastien Bourdais , Jaime Melo , Marco Werner , Marc Lieb , Seth Neiman , Olivier Beretta , Christian Klien , Mike Rockenfeller , Pierre Kaffer , Wolf Henzler , Dominik Farnbacher , Dirk Werner , Richard Lietz , Dindo Capello , Luis Companc
Teams Corvette Racing , Pecom Racing , Risi Competizione , Dyson Racing , Flying Lizard Motorsports