That Audi would take victory in the Sebring 12 Hours was never in doubt. Only thrice have they lost the event since 2000, and the absence of main rivals Peugeot (following their eleventh-hour withdrawal from the series) and Toyota (whose new TS030 Hybrid challenger was not ready) left Audi Sport with an open goal.
The only question mark surrounded their winning margin, and given the team’s cleansweep average of 1.5s during pre-event shakedown, six laps seemed about right. Despite a hiccup during night practice – in which #1 driver Marcel Fassler connected with Loic Duval in the sister #3 entry as both attempted to avoid a pirouetting Porsche – Audi Sport had carried their advantage into qualifying, Andre Lotterer putting the #1 on pole ahead of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello in the #2 car.
It was Audi 1-2-3 business as usual during the first hour too, with Duval, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard in the #3 R18 slotting in behind their team-mates and opening the gap to ALMS leaders Muscle Milk Pickett Racing in fourth. Come the second hour, McNish, Kristensen and Capello had already pulled out a 45s lead, the #2 being the only LMP1 entry to pit during the opening full course caution. Only a succession of safety car periods prevented the #2 team-mates extending their advantage, and aside from Kristensen’s inter-team squabble with Lotterer into turn one, the trio enjoyed an uninterrupted run to victory lane.
Strangely though, the same could not be said for the remaining two-thirds of Audi’s arsenal. Having hustled the lead #2 car throughout the event, handling problems eventually struck Bernhard, Dumas and Duval (the only member of the Audi line-up not to have won at Le Mans) with just two hours to run. With several laps in hand back to third, the trio at least retained second place as the issues were remedied, but any chance of victory for the one-off #3 car was gone.
Having closed the gap once again during full course cautions, consistent speeds and well-managed tyres meant the polesitting #1 Audi R18 stayed within snapping distance of the lead, give or take a near-miss on pit road or two. As the fifth hour ticked by however, the #1 slowed dramatically on the back straight before diving onto pit road at the last minute. It’s electrical system shot, Lotterer, Truleyer and Fassler lost 10 laps while their ECU was changed. 16th at the chequered flag gave them little to celebrate
Surely then, nothing could stop long-time fourth-placed runners Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf and Simon Pagenaud taking the final podium spot for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Race-long rivals Nick Heidfeld, Nicolas Prost and Neel Jani had kept the trio honest in the #12 Rebellion Racing Toyota-powered Lola B12/60 before coasting to a halt as darkness fell. Fate however decided otherwise, and an irreparable fuel issue was all she wrote for Luhr, Graf and Pagenaud in the #6 HPD ARX-03a.
So close yet so far in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Starworks Motorsports celebrated LMP2 class victory by also snatching the final step on the podium. Twelve hours of intense competition with highest-placed ALMS finishers Level 5 Motorsports had allowed Vicente Potolicchio, Ryan Dlaziel and Stephane Sarrazin to open up only a 30s advantage to #055 runners Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Joao Barbosa in fourth. One lap further behind, fellow LMP2 runners OAK Racing only just held off the LMP1 Pescarolo outfit for overall fifth, Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye and Olivier Pla in the #24 Morgan-Judd getting the drop on Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Bouillon and Julien Jousse in the #16 entry.
Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing’s Joey Hand and AF Corse’s Olivier Beretta meanwhile took GT honours down to the line. With their polesitting team-mates having fallen by the wayside, Beretta, Andrea Bertolini and Marco Cioci held team honours up front for much of the event in the #71 Ferrari 458 before a late-charge from Hand, Dirk Muller and Jonathan Summerton brought the BMW E92 back onto the tails. With just minutes of the race to run, Hand made a late lunge down the inside of Beretta, sending both across the grass. Though the American scampered through to take victory, Beretta trailed home in third, having also lost position to Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen in the #03 Chevy.
While eighth place overall for Dyson Racing’s Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane give them the ALMS LMP1 Championship lead, it’s an all Audi affair in the World Endurance Championship. Toyota’s new TS030 challenger may be an unknown quantity at present, but Audi’s R18 has shown its true colours. For those playing catch-up, they’re all too clear.
Shots by Camden Thrasher
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