Audi debuts R15 TDI for ninth Sebring victory

One of Audi's brand new twin turbo, diesel-powered R15s won the 57th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, giving Audi its ninth overall win at Sebring in the 100th race in the history of the American Le Mans Series. The winning car,...

One of Audi's brand new twin turbo, diesel-powered R15s won the 57th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, giving Audi its ninth overall win at Sebring in the 100th race in the history of the American Le Mans Series.

The winning car, piloted by Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish, and Rinaldo Capello, swapped the lead throughout the event with the sleek, closed cockpit Peugeot 908 turbo-diesel coupe driven by Sebastien Bourdais, Stephane Sarrazin, and Franck Montagny.

The low-slung Peugeot was much quicker than the Audi down Sebring's long straight-aways, where its low profile enabled it to open up sizable gaps on the Audis. But during the race's final hour, the diminutive McNish consistently lapped the bone-jarring, 3.7-mile, 17-turn Sebring road course more than three seconds a lap faster than Montagny, who had taken over for Bourdais about an hour earlier.

This enabled McNish to open up a fifty-second gap on the Frenchman, who was not quite able to match Bourdais' pace. That gap meant that McNish could stop for a needed splash of fuel at the end of the race and still maintain the lead. There was some debate within the team about when to stop given the risk that a caution would hand the win to Peugeot, but in the end McNish ducked into the pits with fourteen minutes to go. He emerged with a 24-second lead over Montagny and then cruised to the checkered flag, crossing the finishing line 22.279 seconds ahead of the Peugeot.

"Our strategy was pretty simple (at the end)," explained McNish, who had noticed earlier in the race that the Peugeots started to slow down near the end of their fuel loads. "Fundamentally, when I got into the car at the end I knew that I had to have 55 seconds of gap to be able to get into the pits and back out after the splash and dash if everything had gone clean without a yellow. And once I made that gap, we were in a comfortable position. But if a yellow had come out after they had pitted and prior to our splash and dash then everything was lost. It was a very risky situation but thankfully there were very few yellows in this race."

Indeed, there were only three yellows for a total of 10 laps.

The win was the fifth for Kristensen, the fourth for Capello, and the third for McNish. Kristensen now has more overall wins than any other driver in Sebring history, breaking Frank Biela's record of four. The winning Audi completed a record-setting 383 laps.

"It's really good," said Kristensen. "But today the victory belongs to all of the guys. Peugeot pushed us to the extreme limits."

The Audi of Lucas Luhr, Mike Rockenfeller, and Marco Werner crossed the finish line in third, two laps behind the winners.

Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz claimed the LMP2 class victory in the Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01B, finishing fourth overall and handing Acura its third class win at Sebring. The only other LMP2 cars in the race -- the two new Dyson Racing Mazda Lolas -- failed to finish, retiring just shy of the sixth hour with unrelated mechanical issues.

"It's fantastic," exclaimed Fernandez after the race. "It was just a perfectly executed race for us. We were happy that at the end we got the victory. We had absolutely no problems all day."

The second Peugeot, shared by Pedro Lamy, Nicolas Minassian, and Christian Klien, ended up fifth, 27 laps behind the leaders. The car lost a number of laps in the fifth hour, when it had to stop to have its air conditioning system fixed, and coasted to a stop with thirty minutes remaining with a broken gearbox.

The factory Corvettes finished one-two in the GT1 class (sixth and seventh overall), with Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen, and Antonio Garcia edging out the car driven by Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, and Marcel Fassler. The Corvettes were the only cars in the class, which is one of the reasons the team will campaign a new GT2 car in the ALMS after Le Mans in June. Corvette now has 13 class wins at Sebring, including the last four.

"Both cars were so well prepared and it was a great battle all day long," said O'Connell after his eighth win at Sebring. "They pushed us all day long."

Both new Acura ARX-02a LMP1 cars failed to finish the race. The Highcroft Racing entry of Scott Sharp, David Brabham, and Dario Franchitti suffered a broken drive line, while the pole sitting de Ferran Motorsports car shared by Gil de Ferran, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon encountered front suspension problems and a fuel leak.

Pierre Kaffer, Mika Salo, and Jaime Melo won the GT2 class in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 430GT despite starting last in the 26-car field. The Advanced Engineering Ferrari 430GT shared by Luis Companc, Mathias Russo, and Gianmaria Bruni finished second in class, followed by the Panoz driven by Dominik Farnbacher and Ian James. It was Ferrari's 18th class win at Sebring and its second win in three years.

"The most difficult win is always when you're leading by miles because it's easy to screw up," said Salo, who won by two laps. "But a win is always a win. So we will take it."

Neither of the new Rahal Letterman BMW M3s finished the race. One retired with mechanical issues after experiencing starter problems that prevented it from taking the green flag with the rest of the 26-car field. The other retired during the fifth hour with what appeared to be engine problems.

The winning Audi and Corvette finished atop the Green X Challenge in the LMP and GT classes, respectively. Created jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, SAE International, and the ALMS, the Green Challenge uses a system to rank all ALMS cars based on average speed, distance covered, amount of energy used, greenhouse gases emitted, and petroleum displaced.

The next ALMS race will be April 4 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Gianmaria Bruni , David Brabham , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Frank Biela , Franck Montagny , Scott Sharp , Gil de Ferran , Nicolas Minassian , Adrian Fernandez , Mika Salo , Scott Dixon , Johnny O'Connell , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Lucas Luhr , Marcel Fassler , Luis Diaz , Ian James , Oliver Gavin , Sébastien Bourdais , Jaime Melo , Marco Werner , Olivier Beretta , Christian Klien , Mike Rockenfeller , Pierre Kaffer , Dominik Farnbacher , Simon Pagenaud , Luis Perez-Companc
Teams Dyson Racing