Audi at Sebring: History, Endurance and Serious Fun
AudiWorlds Sebring race weekend coverage reads something like the endurance race itself. For both the thousands of fans in attendance and for yours truly the weekend was about pacing and survival in order to be right there for the finish.
Following a red eye Thursday flight complete with about two and a half hours of sleep, I spent the next two days commuting back and forth in TDI powered Audi Q7s from an Orlando-area hotel to the Sebring track ninety miles south, catching up with Audi executives, hanging out at the always lively Audi Corral, interviewing Audi drivers, prowling around pit lane, struggling to find an open wi-fi connection, eating and drinking to excess, catching a few more hours of sleep each night, baking in the 93-degree race day heat and humidity and, oh yes, watching just a bit of racing before the late final night ended with an emotionally rousing ovation for the Audi team, a trip to the winners podium and finally a champagne shower.
Just like Audis #2 R10 I survived and I loved every second of it.
At this point I must confess that unlike Audi which has been literally showing up and owning ALMS for the past six years, this was actually my very first live ALMS event. Like many Audi junkies Ive burned a weekend or late night watching SPEED, but until last weekend I had never actually been at the track. Turns out that the 12 Hours of Sebring, being the first ALMS event of the season, the inaugural race for Audis new R10 racecar and a historically prestigious race in its own right, was a good place to start.
Another confession. No matter how well I convey the events of the weekend, readers will still be unable to fully appreciate the experience. This is one of those things like a great concert where massive fan enthusiasm and the sense of the moment makes it all that much better in person. First suggestion: if youve never been then make this the year you get out to an ALMS event. Second suggestion: repeat as often as possible.
Dramatic introduction aside, lets talk about what made things special this year in Florida. First and foremost it was all about Audis willingness to move past the ultra successful R8 racecar era perhaps the most dominating period by any team and car in racing history and launch its ambitious R10 program. The R10 may look similar to the R8 on the outside, but instead incorporates an unprecedented diesel-powered engine. Whereas TDI power took Audi to the finish line at the 12 Hours of Sebring, no diesel-powered racecar before it had ever won (or much less finished) a major race.
Based on the tracks legendary difficulty and the twelve hour race duration Audi officially came to Sebring knowing it was the best opportunity for extended R10 testing and practice leading up to the crown jewel Le Mans race in June. The drivers, of course, came to win. Meanwhile Audis ulterior motive definitely boosted by the win but never ultimately dependent upon it was to showcase its TDI technology. From the exuberant Radio Le Mans announcers touting TDI to the TDI Power emblazoned on the east walkover bridge (as well as the R10 itself) to Audis own officials, drivers and press conference, diesel received a tremendous amount of visibility.
And why not, really?
More than half of all cars sold in Europe are diesel powered. What they know there and what many North Americans have yet to discover is that that diesel can provide both greater power and greater fuel economy together in the same powerplant. This of course makes perfect sense in a racing application and, as with many motorsport-inspired technical innovations from Audi, has a bona fide trickle down spot waiting for it in Audi passenger vehicles of the future.
Audi already does very well thank you with its TDI offerings in Europe, but seeks to expand TDI in other markets and the US in particular via a simple recipe. It will use one part marketing / media coverage driven by the R10 as the thin edge of the wedge, one part ongoing geopolitical shift caused by Middle East oil worries and new oil-consuming giants such as China and India, one part social activism surrounding pollution and global warming concerns and combine these with the US Governments own mandate for cleaner diesel fuel standards. The results will be much more tangible to the average consumer than the R10 racecar since they will mean the start of general Audi TDI availability in North America (we hear) by calendar 2008.
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