SEBRING, Fla. -- The veteran trio of Rinaldo Capello, Johnny Herbert, and Christian Pescatori survived an on-track encounter with another car and an unseasonably intense Florida heat wave to hand Audi its third consecutive victory this evening in...
SEBRING, Fla. -- The veteran trio of Rinaldo Capello, Johnny Herbert, and Christian Pescatori survived an on-track encounter with another car and an unseasonably intense Florida heat wave to hand Audi its third consecutive victory this evening in the 50th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. The win was the first for Herbert and Pescatori, and the second for Capello.
"I knew it was going to be a good race for us when Christian and I were stopped by the police on the way from Daytona to Sebring," Capello said. "We were going 85 in 55 zone and we didn't have to pay. The policeman said 'Next time go slower.' And I said 'Okay.'
"It was a great race and as hard as always. It was incredibly hot. We did three stints in a row right from the beginning which was really difficult in these conditions. Of course we were luckier today compared to the number one car."
"We put a lot of hard work for this win. Having achieved it, it's fantastic. The Audi R8 is still the car to beat," stated Herbert."
Pescatori added: "I am so proud that we were able to win this race. Last year, Michele [Alboreto] celebrated his last victory here. Dindo and I wanted to win this race for him."
Capello's No. 2 Audi R8 took the lead for the first time just 20 minutes into the race when he wrestled the top spot from the pole sitting No. 1 Audi of Tom Kristensen. Less than half and hour later, however, the No. 50 Panoz of David Brabham assumed the lead when both Audis pitted during the race's first yellow that was brought out after Didier Theys backed his Dallara/Judd into the turn 17 tire barriers. On the subsequent restart, Kristensen reclaimed the lead when Brabham swung wind going into turn one. Brabham's bobble also allowed Capello to slip back into second.
Although Kristensen ran relatively trouble free for the next several hours, Capello, Herbert, and Pescatori were not quite as lucky.
"I made contact with a GT car, buy it was not the GT driver's fault," Capello explained. "It was the mistake of an LMP 675 driver who was driving in the middle of the line very, very slow. And I was side by side with the GT car and he had to change his line because the LMP 675 was so slow in the middle of the track.
"The suspension was off, but the car was still drivable and they made me drive two more stints. But when we made the driver change we decided to change the suspension because it was too dangerous and the steering wheel was off to the left. It was difficult to drive, but the car was still very quick. It was the right decision to change the suspension at that time."
Once the Joest team replaced the suspension on the No. 2 Audi, Pescatori rejoined the race behind '01 ALMS champion Emanuele Pirro, who had taken over for Kristensen in the No. 1 Audi, and Stefan Johansson in the Champion Audi.
A little over two hours later, a hard charging Herbert blew by Frank Biela, who had taken over for Pirro during the second yellow of the race, in the No. 1 Audi. But a stop-and-go penalty for passing under the preceding yellow allowed Biela to retake the lead.
Biela's lead was short lived though because the No. 1 Audi pitted with broken steering rack and a large oil leak several minutes later. For all intents and purposes, the No. 1 Audi's misfortune made it race between the No. 2 Audi and the Champion Audi.
"In the end, I was basically trying to conserve fuel and the brakes," Herbert explained. "I set a comfortable pace which was enjoyable as well."
In the end, the Champion Audi was not a match for the faster Joest Audi.
The No. 36 Riley & Scott of Jim Mathews, Guy Smith, and Marc Goossens claimed the final spot on the podium after the No. 51 Panoz of Brian Herta, David Donohue, and Bill Auberlin had brake problems with less than an hour left in the race.
The No. 16 Dyson Riley & Scott finished fourth and the No. 1 Audi came home in fifth.
Although the No. 11 NightHawk MG Lola of Johnny Kane captured all of the pre-race headlines by qualifying third overall and first in LMP 675, the No. 37 MG Lola of John Field, Duncan Dayton, and Mike Durand was the most reliable in the race. "We had a little difficulty with the engine mapping and we were really discouraged," Field said. "We had a miss in the engine and we made two green flag stops to sort it all out. Once we found the right mapping, we were fine with it the rest of the day.
"We had no tests at all before the race. It was delivered here on to Sebring on Sunday and we didn't even make it out on the track on Monday or Tuesday. And we lost an engine on our out lap on Wednesday. We were thinking we were doomed. The car is a great car and it was good out of the box. We had to kind of learn how to drive the car during the race."
As bad as the oppressive heat was for the prototypes, it was exponentially worse for the closed-cockpit GT drivers.
The No. 3 Corvette dominated the GTS class. "The heat was really awful, but the car was great. We thought our main problem would be the No. 4 [Corvette]," stated an exhausted Johnny O'Connell. "We did our homework over the winter and it really paid off today."
"This was great to finally get the Sebring monkey off our backs after three years of frustration," added Ron Fellows.
The No. 26 Saleen S7 of Franz Konrad, Terry Borcheller, and Toni Seiler finished third, while the No. 86 Dodge Viper of Jean-Luc Chereau, Christophe Bouchut, and Vincent Vosse finished third.
In the GT class, the Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3 RS of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen led every lap to capture Porsche's 40th class victory at Sebring. The win was Job's third win in four years, Luhr's third consecutive win, and Maassen's second consecutive win.