Audi controlled the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring from start-to-finish, as could be expected given the pace of its three R18 TDIs compared to the rest of the field. The longtime trio of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello took the overall and LMP1 (WEC) win in the No. 2 car, for Audi's first win since 2009 when the same trio won in the R15's debut. The win also marks Kristensen's sixth at Sebring, which extends his record at this track.
The bigger story, though, that emerged at the end of the race, was a last lap triumph for BMW Team RLL over AF Corse in GT. Joey Hand fought past Olivier Beretta, the new Ferrari pilot and ex-Corvette driver. The dogfight ended with Hand saving car after contact, then Beretta cutting a tire and falling to third behind the No. 03 Corvette. It was a rather crazy final lap that ended where Hand had his moment but managed to win anyway.
Other class winners included Starworks Motorsport (WEC LMP2), Level 5 Motorsports (ALMS P2), Dyson Racing (ALMS P1), CORE autosport (ALMS PC), Team Felbermayr-Proton (WEC GTE Am) and Alex Job Racing (ALMS GTC).
LMP – The Audis essentially had the lead to themselves throughout, with the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 cars rotating around the top three positions overall until half distance. The No. 1 Audi went behind the wall with electrical problems for shifting, and returned roughly 30 minutes later down 17 laps. That left it to the Kristensen/McNish/Capello trio and the sister car driven by Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and ex-Peugeot pilot Loic Duval to run in tandem.
Although the final margin of victory was some four laps, it wasn't a blowout. The gap only resulted after the No. 3 had contact with another car and needed a rear end change (BELOW). Capello admitted it wasn't just a typical Saturday cruise after the race.
“It looks easy if you watch the gap in the last 30 minutes,” he said. “But until they got the problem, it was not easy. It was one of the hardest victories. For sure traffic was a big, big problem. Every lap, every corner, you have to be focused to not make a mistake or make a stupid maneuver. We were careful, we finished with just little scratches on our car, nothing serious. It was one of the keys to our success today.”
Kristensen, who offered a sense of dry wit in the post-race press conference when asked whether winning at Sebring “got old,” also noted the importance of giving the original R18 a win on its last outing with this trio. They shift to the team's new R18 Hybrid, dubbed the e-tron Quattro, starting at Spa-Francorchamps in May.
“I think Sebring being old is part of the heritage,” he noted. “To come here every year, you can think we are a little crazy. The speeds we have between the cars, early on there were more cars driving, but the speed differences now make the challenge. It was amazing to come here and celebrate the team effort. We are celebrating 60 years here, but we are also celebrating sports car heritage. The next step is that we'll bring the hybrid car.”
Capello also got a kick out of matching Kristensen's number of Sebring wins, five, before realizing the Dane completed his six-pack Saturday evening.
“After the race I was so happy to have matched Tom's win record but then I remembered he was sharing the car with me!” he joked.
The P1 recap would not be complete without a mention of the utter heartbreak incurred by Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. Greg Pickett's team, in its first race with the new HPD ARX-03a, ran flawlessly until the final hour, when a loose part (a buckeye) on the fueling rig was made unavailable and sidelined the car as it could not refuel. A five-lap lead established by Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud went for naught, and for a second straight year, the team's Sebring ended in bitter disappointment. The team ran third overall for most of the race.
Two teams benefited as a result. The first was Starworks Motorsport, the LMP2 squad which moved up to third overall, and Dyson Racing, which seized the opportunity in ALMS P1.
Dyson went from getting their new Lola B12/60 Mazda to class winners in 12 days. Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane finished eighth overall – with Kane pulling off the triple feat of winning his first Sebring start, as an Irishman, on St. Patrick's Day.
Starworks scored the WEC LMP2 class win with drivers Stephane Sarrazin, Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio in its HPD ARX-03b. A sister HPD in the hands of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Joao Barbosa for Level 5 Motorsports finished fourth, one spot behind. It's the third straight Sebring class win for Tucker's squad.
Both teams have had international aspirations, though their goals vary the rest of the year. Starworks' ambitious 2012 plans see the team running its HPD in the WEC, at least two Daytona Prototypes in Grand-Am's Rolex Series, and some races with Ford Mustangs in Grand-Am's Continental Tire Challenge. Level 5, which ran a mixed season of both the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and ALMS in P2 last year, will focus solely on P2 this season.
“We were racing with the Level 5 car, it was a great race all the way through,” said Sarrazin, another ex-Peugeot driver. “But the last 2 hours we started getting quicker and quicker so we drove away. We didn't test here, the engineers did a great job, putting the car on the track and starting to get fast. My teammates did a great job making the car fast.”
Tucker looked forward to racing with other ALMS P2 competitors, which this race included Black Swan Racing and Conquest Endurance, and will grow by at least one and possibly two more cars later this year.
The PC class saw CORE autosport notch a win it failed to capture in its debut season. An excellent drive from IndyCar's E.J. Viso in his ALMS debut, along with Burt Frisselle and Alex Popow, secured the victory for the team ahead of the PR1/Mathiasen entry and the sister CORE car. Viso showed impressive consistency and at one point, reeled off a stint of three hours and 12 minutes on a single set of Michelin tires.
“For me it has been a very exciting week, and (Popow) has been my best friend for so many years,” Viso said. “He called me and said do you want to do this race. I know this track because of the IndyCar testing at the south circuit. But to learn a new track is always fun. But the program CORE autosport has is a fantastic crew. It was a fantastic race.”