Naturally there were other stories to follow at Sebring besides Audi’s diesel-powered innovation. Getting back to the event itself, I was proud to see the Audi Club Florida out in full force with the Audi Corral. While many attendees had been there individually throughout the years to witness Audi’s dominance, it was only more recently that the club took over a spot that had traditionally been the Alfa Romeo Corral and began hosting a huge hospitality event. Positioned perfectly to see cars enter the start/finish straightaway, the Corral hosted well over 100 Audi vehicles, visits from Audi of America and Audi Club North America officials, a STaSIS Motorsport SPEED World Challenge Touring Car (from Friday’s race) and countless visitors.
From the Audi Corral, or any other spot around the track for that matter, it was fascinating to watch and listen for the Audi R10 approaching. Every car on the track over the weekend was literally ear-splitting loud – the Aston Martin DBR9s I think being the worst. Every car was loud, that was, except for the R10 which actually passed by with relative eerie quietness. I spoke to Marco Werner at length about how different it was driving the R10 versus the previous R8 based on the audio cues alone where he told me that, “none of us [Audi drivers] realized how much we had depended on the sound and feel of the engine to gauge speed on the track.” He went on to elaborate how easy it was to carry excessive speed into corners because of the car’s quietness – and the concentration required to utilize other feedback instead.
Speaking of drivers, Audi arranged a press conference on Friday for all six drivers together with Dr Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport) and Ralf Juttner (Technical Director, Team Audi Sport North America). It was in Audi’s Suite #7 then that I found myself rubbing elbows with entire lot of Audi’s accomplished works drivers, recalling Biela’s DTM win in an Audi V8 in the early 90’s, Pirro and McNish’s great stints with the R8 and of course Tom Kristensen’s legendary status in general. There were unfortunately quite a mob of journalists on hand meaning I did not get 1:1 opportunities with each driver. My very short conversation with Tom Kristensen (who had only had minimal practice time with the R10 leading up to Sebring) went something like this:
JET: Hi Tom, are you excited to finally get extended time driving the R10?
It nearly goes without saying that the most successful Le Mans driver in history is as cool as they come. Supremely confident in his abilities – yes – but Kristensen also came across at many times over the weekend as being a truly humble team player.
The following day I got a brief moment with Dr. Martin Winterkorn (Chairman of Audi AG) who was in the suite for the start of the race, as well as around the track throughout race day to personally witness the fruits of Audi’s technological and undoubtedly considerable monetary investment in the R10. Winterkorn was succinct in his excitement about the TDI racecars and appeared anxious to let them loose on the track. Later in day with R10 #2 appearing capable of going all the way he was much more relaxed as he conversed with other Audi board members and Audi dignitaries such as designer Walter de’Silva.
Ultimately the most satisfying part of the weekend came at the culmination of the race. When Tom Kristensen parked the R10 in the center of the track and was immediately joined by McNish and Capello a mob provided an emotional-laden outpouring of support for the drivers, their endurance, Kristensen’s record fourth win at Sebring and, ultimately, for the Audi brand itself. After spending ten years covering Audi around the world that moment will always epitomize my pride and pleasure to be associated with the four rings.
Audi will now take a few months to analyze what it learned at Sebring (and presumably what forced Audi #1 R10 out of the race – to date they have only said precautionary overheating issues) in preparation for Le Mans. Following what ought to be an exciting race there the R10’s are expected to run the remainder of the ALMS season in the states starting with Salt Lake City in July.
As for victory at Sebring I will always know that I was there the day that TDI Power first made its mark on the world of motorsports. Sebring is a track of fantastic stories and legends and Audi’s R10 together with driver Tom Kristensen certainly added to the lore in 2006.
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