Sebring: Race report

AUDI MAKES HISTORY AS DIESEL-POWERED R10 TDI WINS MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING Sebring, Fla. - Audi Sport North America made history Saturday as the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello won the Mobil...

AUDI MAKES HISTORY AS DIESEL-POWERED R10 TDI WINS MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING

Sebring, Fla. - Audi Sport North America made history Saturday as the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The new prototype is the first diesel car in the world to win a major sports car race.

It was the type of debut Audi was hoping for in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The German manufacturer used Sebring as a test for the most prestigious sports car race in the world, set for June 17-18.

The No. 2 Audi won the opening race of the 2006 American Le Mans Series by three laps over Intersport Racing's No. 37 Lola B05/40-AER. After winning the pole position, the No. 2 car had to have its heat exchanger switched before the race and had to start the race from pit lane and in 34th position. But by the two-hour mark, the pole-sitting car had moved back into the lead when the No. 1 sister car had to pit.

"We had our share of trouble today, but that's natural in development," said McNish, who won for the second time in three years at Sebring. "This was the first real endurance test. We encountered trouble but nothing we couldn't overcome. The engineers did a great job preparing for things that could go wrong. The car's rhythm was really good. It was fun to really blast the car around the track."

Kristensen gave the No. 2 car the lead for good when Marco Werner, driving with defending Series champions Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro in the No. 1 Audi R10 TDI, pulled the car into the garage just shy of the four-hour mark. Shortly thereafter, the car was retired due to overheating.

That left Kristensen, Capello and McNish to comfortably run out front. Kristensen added yet another record to his already impressive résumé. He now has four overall wins at Sebring, the most in the race's 54-year history. He also has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a record seven times, including the last six in a row.

"Today you can say Audi brought out a car that isn't a test car, but close to it," Kristensen said. "This engine was only white paper a few months ago. I'm pleased to be part of the headlines today.

"This project has been a lot of motivation for Le Mans," he added. "There will be tests that will go on Monday. There's a lot to improve, mostly small details. But those will make us more confident. There are cars that will be at Le Mans that are not here today, but we'll be watching the tape very carefully."

Intersport Racing stole the thunder from Penske Racing in LMP2, outlasting the two Porsche RS Spyders for the team's second class win at Sebring. Defending class champion Clint Field teamed with his father Jon Field and Liz Halliday for the victory over the No. 6 Penske Porsche, which lost drive power after 323 laps while leading.

Like the No. 2 Audi, the Intersport Lola began from the back of the field. Jon Field drove a sterling first stint to bring the car back in the top three in P2. The Intersport Lola held the lead for most of the afternoon following a lengthy pit stop by the No. 6 Porsche, which had to replace its alternator.

"We really had to try and stay in it. It wasn't easy," Clint Field said. "The Penske Porsches were fast and we knew they were going to run qualifying laps all day long. I really have a lot of respect for them, and what they are going to do for the series. We're really going to have to step up our game."

The result was just the sort Intersport was looking for following a five-win season and a class championship. Halliday also became the fifth woman driver to win in class at Sebring (the first since Lyn St. James in 1990) and became the highest-finishing woman driver overall in the race's history.

Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen gave Corvette Racing a measure of revenge in GT1 by beating Aston Martin Racing in a rematch from last year. The trio from the No. 4 Corvette C6.R won at Sebring for the first time as a group. They topped Aston Martin Racing's No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 of Pedro Lamy, Jason Bright and Stephane Sarrazin by a lap.

"Everything was fantastic," Beretta said. "Oliver and Jan were super fast. We didn't have any problem at all. It was a good race and a good weekend."

That could be an understatement. The No. 4 car ran a near perfect race as the drivers and team focused on saving tires and brakes against the quicker Aston Martins. The plan worked to perfection. Gavin took the lead when Darren Turner in the No. 007 Aston Martin DBR9 pitted for fuel, tires and a driver change. The No. 4 car led the remaining 11 hours.

"It was a tough race. It always is at Sebring," Gavin said. "The Astons were very fast at the start, and they were pushing. We were able to get in front of them, and then benefited when they got caught behind the pace car. They seemed to be the fastest car. But we were managing stuff the entire way - brakes, tires. The team was giving us a lot of advice, telling us how we much we were on the brakes. It was a full team effort today."

The victory gives Beretta 25 career Series victories, the most in its eight-year history. Magnussen also now has won a race in each of the Series' eight seasons.

In GT2, David Brabham, Scott Maxwell and reigning Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais piloted their No. 50 Panoz Esperante of Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz to a 33-second victory. The trio beat the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of Johannes van Overbeek, Jon Fogarty and Marc Lieb for only the second Series win for the Panoz Esperante GTLM.

The win also came in the Esperante's debut with Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz, which took over the Esperante race program from Panoz Motor Sports last year.

"That contribution shouldn't be overlooked at all," Maxwell said. "There was progress last year and the program was going in the right direction. The attention to detail since the operation was moved to Multimatic is evident.

"Pirelli has stepped it up too," he added. "We're a key part of their marketing and development plan, and things are starting to come to fruition. Hats off to Pirelli. They did a great job today."

There was a little suspense late in the race. Shortly after Maxwell climbed in for his final stint, the car developed a vibration from the gearbox. However, both Maxwell and Bourdais were able to drive the final two-and-a-half hours without incident.

"It was a very intense race. The whole team did a great job," said Bourdais, a native of Le Mans. "What a way to start the season. I really enjoyed driving with David and Scott. We enjoyed ourselves all week. We were worried at the last stop that the gearbox would go because it was vibrating. But it held together."

The next round of the 2006 American Le Mans Series is the Lone Star Grand Prix, set for May 12 at Reliant Park in Houston. The race will be broadcast on CBS Sports on May 13.

-alms

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Series ALMS
Drivers David Brabham , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Frank Biela , Jon Fogarty , Darren Turner , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Jon Field , Scott Maxwell , Lyn St. James , Oliver Gavin , Sébastien Bourdais , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Clint Field , Jason Bright , Marc Lieb , Olivier Beretta , Liz Halliday , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Team Penske , Aston Martin Racing , Corvette Racing , Multimatic Motorsports , Flying Lizard Motorsports