Given the marque’s immensely successful track record in endurance racing, Audi Sport were always going to be contenders for the inaugural World Endurance Championship. Peugeot’s sudden withdrawal from racing at the eleventh hour simply underlined this, and while newboys Toyota will surely make Audi work for series honours, insufficient preparation time with the hybrid TS030 mean Toyota will be absent from the first round. With both rivals falling by the wayside, Audi accordingly dominated pre-event testing for the 12 Hours of Sebring.
In all but one of the four practice sessions at Sebring – which also hosts the first round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series – Audi swept the top three. The #2 R18 – driven by long-time Audi pilot Rinaldo Capello, seven-times Le Mans 24 Hrs winner Tom Kristensen and former-Sebring winner Allan McNish – ended the day’s running in the pound seat, closely followed by Timho Berhnard, Romain Dumas and last year’s winner Loic Duval in the sister Audi Sport entry. Just seven-tenths of a second covered the top three, with Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer in the lead #1 car slotting in behind their team-mates. Dyson Racing’s Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane were almost 2s adrift in fourth in the first of the ALMS cars, a Mazda-powered Lola B12/60.
Proceedings for P2 class honours proved much closer, with Pecom Racing’s Luis Perez Companc, Soheil Ayari and Pierre Kaffer in the WEC Oreca-03 just squeaking ahead of ALMS runners Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Joao Barbosa in the Level Motorsports HPD ARX-03b. Vicente Potolicchio, Ryan Dalziel and Stephane Sarrazin in the Starworks Motorsport’s edition were, incredibly, just three-thousands of a second slower.
Less than one second covered the top eight in what promises to be a close-fought GT battle. Former-Formula One drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni, and Toni Vilander hit the top spot in the AF Corse Ferrari, while Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Marco Holzer did the business for the ALMS in the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR.
We’ve got our man on the ground at Sebring for the 60th running of the event, so be sure to check back with crankandpiston when the action gets underway >>>
Shots by Camden Thrasher