Audi makes its swansong LMP1 appearance at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Marcel Fassler, Benoît Tréluyer and Oliver Jarvis topping the weekend with victory.
Andre Lotterer probably couldn’t help but wonder what he’d missed out on. Not only had the 12 Hours of Sebring been won by the car he was meant to drive (before a last minute call-up to test his World Endurance Championship Audi R18 e-tron at the Fuji International Circuit in Japan), he’d also missed out on two moments of motorsport history: a hybrid car had won at Sebring for the very first time, and an Audi LMP1 car took the chequered flag at Sebring for the very last.
Come 2014, LMP1 racing machinery will not be eligible to compete at the Sebring, the first round of the newly amalgamated Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series, United SportsCar Racing. Since the marque’s debut in 1999, Audi has failed to field a team only once (in 2010, the race falling awkwardly between the R15 and R15 Plus updates), has taken 11 victories in 15 attempts, taken eight one-two finishes, and suffered only one retirement from 34 entries. In short, a bullet-proof record, and one they are unlikely to be improving on this year.
Indeed, only a deep sense of Audi’s motorsport heritage brought the four-ringed machines to the dance in the first place, since the Sebring endurance provides no championship points for the WEC entrants. Accordingly, only one 2013-spec Audi LMP1 car – driven by six-time event winner Tom Kristensen, four-time event winner Allan McNish, and former-Virgin Formula 1 driver Lucas di Grassi – was entered, the other a 2012 entrant. Ironic that on this day of days for Audi motorsport, the aged machine – driven by reigning WEC Champions Marcel Fassler and Benoît Tréluyer, and Lotterer’s replacement Oliver Jarvis, former DTM and A1GP runner – would take the plaudits.
A far cry it was too from their start to last year’s WEC campaign, which yielded 11th and half a point after a myriad of problems kept them off the podium: it would not be until the fourth round at Silverstone that the Fassler, Tréluyer and Lotterer took back the championship lead. In 2013 though, the fight for victory between the #1 and #2 Audi cars remained neck and neck throughout the half a day of competition: both cars would finish on the lead lap, with the lead swapping a staggering 21 times. A splash and dash for fuel just 20 minutes before the end of the race suggested the #1 car had blown it, but a storming final two stints for Tréluyer kept the reigning champs in front, relegating their teammates to second as they did.
Rebellion Racing meanwhile, a regular podium botherer last year in the WEC and firmly established best of the rest behind the manufacturer-run Audi and Toyota entries, couldn’t quite believe their luck. Solid running from four-time Formula 1 Champion Alain Prost’s son Nicolas, Neel Jani and former Formula 1 driver Nick Heidfeld had kept the #12 Lotus-Toyota B12/60 well in contention for solid points, though the team acknowledged they had no answer to the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a of Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas. Two 60-second penalty pit stops and a rogue wheel making a dash for freedom meant the Muscle Milk boys would eventually finish fourth, ahead of the #13 Rebellion Lotus of Mathias Beche, Congfu Cheng and Andrea Belicchi but one lap down on third-placed Heidfeld, Jani and Prost.
While Marino Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Turner were celebrating victory for Level 5 Motorsports in the P2 class, and PR1 Mathiesen Motorsports’ David Ostella, David Chang and Mike Guasch were doing likewise in the PC class, Corvette Racing was enjoying its own moment of history, with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook securing the first win at Sebring for a Corvette in four years. Early niggling electrical problems looked like they had the Chevy cooked in the early going, but remarkable running from Gavin brought the team right back into contention. Lady Luck would sing a different tune as the race entered its final stages though, with Matteo Mulucelli in the Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia taking to the grass twice in the space of one lap, mistakes that brought the Corvette right onto the Ferrari’s tail and close enough for a dramatic pass for victory in the race’s closing 15 minutes.
Firsts and record holders aplenty then at Sebring come the chequered flag: alongside Audi and Corvette’s achievements, Tucker’s result secured him a record-equalling fourth consecutive victory at Sebring, while Jarvis made it two-for-two, thanks to his victory at Daytona earlier in the year. Even Jeroen Bleekemolen followed up his Dubai 24 Hours victory with a win in the Alex Job Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in the GTC Class.
Lotterer may well have wondered what he would be missing when he bordered the plane for Fuji. Quite a lot it turns out.