Audi at the 60th 12 Hours of Sebring

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Glorious sunshine and scorching temperatures greeted all who came to Sebring Florida for the 60th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Audi put their R18 TDI on the grid in first, second and third for the R18’s farewell race, one which would add numerous entries to the record books.

Steeped in tradition and lore, The 12 Hours of Sebring is widely considered to be one of the most important endurance races of the year. As the first race of the season, Sebring is a great venue to give the cars and teams a hard spring workout. This was also the very first race in the all new FIA/ACO World Endurance Championship. So important was this event that FIA president Jean Todt came to Sebring for the 12 Hours, skipping the Formula One opener in Australia.

As if racing flat out for 12 hours wasn’t difficult enough, Sebring’s 62 year old racing circuit is only changed slightly from the layout used at the very first 12 Hours held in 1952. A converted World War 2 era US Army Air Force training base, Sebring International Raceway is made up of some of the old base’s concrete runways, connected by asphalt sections where needed. To call the track’s surface rough would be an understatement. The seams between the concrete slabs are wide, and with turns 1 and 17 cutting arcs across the seams, Sebring is a very bumpy ride for the drivers, and a massive pounding for the cars.

It has been said that 12 Hours of racing at Sebring is harder on the cars than any of the 24 hour races, and because of that, Sebring is key for endurance testing. Audi has a very long history at Sebring, having won 9 times already, and going into this season, we were hopeful that Audi’s R18 TDI would fair well here for this 60th running.

The endurance racing world was tipped on its side this winter when Audi’s arch rival Peugeot announced that they would be withdrawing from competition for the 2012 season (and possibly beyond). As Audi fans we were partially pleased, since that meant that Audi would most likely walk away with the championships, which is good. But, lack of fierce competition is bad for the series, and bad for development. We were left wondering what would happen with no real direct competition for Audi, knowing in the back of our heads that the track itself is competition, as well as the slower cars. Obviously there were no fierce battles for the Audi drivers to contend with, but the action on the track was very good!

Audi had a few run-ins with slower cars (causing a collision between 2 Audis) during the practice sessions leading up to the race, and everyone in the Audi camp knew that really the only thing they had to worry about was the potential for one of the slower GT cars getting in their way.

Raceday morning, as the usual pomp and circumstance of a major event like this took place, more than 100,000 spectators lined the 3.7 mile Sebring circuit. Even though there was to be no massive battle between Audi and Peugeot, there was to be racing, and racing is good!

As the green flag flew, the 3 Audis leapt out and immediately began racing each other. Not one full lap into the race, Allan McNish put the #2 Audi R18 TDI of McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello into the lead, which would only be relinquished during the normal ebb and flow of positions during pit stops. The #3 Audi of Loïc Duval, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas ran a mostly uneventful race as well, following the #2 car most of the way through the race.  The pole sitting #1 car had much worse luck as it developed some electrical problems midway through the race, and spent considerable time behind the wall having various bits replaced.

The Audi drivers were able to knife their land bound fighter jets through the slower traffic mostly without incident, an impressive feat given the 63 car field packed into Sebring’s tight confines. We heard more than a few grumblings from Audi drivers about some of the amateur drivers in the GT ranks not staying out of the way, but by the time the checkers flew and the champagne and Florida orange juice flowed, Audi was triumphant over the brutally rough Sebring circuit, and they stayed out of trouble with backmarkers to seal up this history making 60th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Not only was this Audi’s 10th victory here, this was Tom Kristensen’s 6th, Dindo Capello’s 5th, and Allan McNish’s 4th. Even though the victory might seem hollow to some, in order to win an endurance race, you must finish, and at Sebring, that is no easy task. Their competitors ran a solid race as well; any Audi misstep could have resulted in a loss. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and now Audi will move on and continue the WEC schedule, hoping someone picks up the pace to fill in where Peugeot left off, for the sake of competition. For us Audi fans though, we’re happy seeing Audis draped in checkered flags and soaked in Champagne.

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