A one-two for Audi/Michelin at Sebring
Audi/Michelin dominated the opening round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) from flag to flag. Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish (N°2 Audi R18 TDI) were first across the line at Sebring, while the N°3 sister car of Bernhard/Dumas/Duval came home second. It was Michelin’s 14th straight win at Sebring.
The N°2 Audi took the lead 10 minutes after the start of the race and spent most of the 12 hours at the top of the leaderboard, although the lead did change hands numerous times as a function of the Audi team’s pit stop strategy. Capello, Kristensen and McNish went on to collect their third 12 hours of Sebring success together, while the eight-time Le Mans winner took his score in Florida to six victories – a new record.
“I did a double stint at the beginning of the afternoon, which equates to three hours in the car,” said the Dane. “Driving at the hottest time of day was very long, but my soft-compound Michelin tyres held up perfectly all the way. It was a fascinating race and it’s always a pleasure to compete here, despite the traffic and the challenge of the circuit. After winning the 60th edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring, my target now is to win the 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
The three Michelin-equipped Audis spent much of the first half of the race at the top of the order before a gear selection problem caused the N°1 Audi (Fassler/Lotterer/Tréluyer) to drop down the order. Even so, the German firm went on to collect a one-two finish at Sebring thanks to the N°3 Audi (Bernhard/Dumas/Duval), a fitting farewell to the Audi R18 TDI.
The N°16 Pescarolo-Judd (Collard/Boullion/Jousse) was the best-placed petrol prototype at the finish. With 2½ hours remaining, the N°22 HPD-ARX03a suffered a time-consuming rear suspension problem, while the N°12 Rebellion Lola-Toyota came to a halt on the track about an hour later. With some 30 minutes left to go, the N°6 HPD-ARX03a seemed to be heading for third place, but the best-placed ALMS car then lost a big chunk of time following a problem with its refuelling equipment.
The race was marked by 12 safety car interventions caused by a variety of collisions and incidents. One such tangle eliminated the N°59 Luxury Racing Ferrari/Michelin while it was leading the LMGTE Pro class. Once again, this category kept the thousands of spectators on their toes all the way to the chequered flag. With two hours remaining, the six best-placed cars in the class were covered by less than 10 seconds! With two minutes remaining, two cars were literally side by side. In the end, the N°56 BMW succeeded in passing the N°03 Corvette/Michelin (Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor) and the N°71 Ferrari/Michelin (Bertolini/Cioci/Beretta) through the last turn!
The LMGTE Am class was won by the N°88 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche/Michelin (Reid/Roda/Ruberti) ahead of the N°70 Larbre Compétition Corvette/Michelin (Bourret/Gibon/Belloc). Potolicchio/Dalziel/Sarrazin (HPD-ARX03b) topped the final LMP2 standings and clinched a place on the overall podium.
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