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.”
GT – Jorg Bergmeister and Jaime Melo might have company when it comes to barnburner finishes in the GT class at Sebring. Joey Hand and Olivier Beretta raised the bar with their final lap theatrics in the final minutes of the 12-hour race.
Most of the other Ferraris had issues, but Beretta, the ex-Corvette driver in his first start in a GTE-spec 458 (he ran a Grand-Am spec one at the Rolex 24 at Daytona), kept the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari in contention throughout the night. Hand, meanwhile, produced several hours of brilliance in slowly but surely dragging his No. 56 BMW Team RLL M3 up the leaderboard to where it was in contention.
Then the final lap happened.
Beretta and Hand had exchanged the lead several times in the previous laps, but on the last one, Beretta's sister car got involved in the mix. The No. 51 AF Corse car, more than 100 laps down, appeared to make contact with Hand at turn 5, and Hand slid wide and off course. But despite the incident, Hand saved the car and Beretta spun in avoidance. Hand thought Beretta had been the guilty party in contact, while Beretta thought otherwise – he wound up falling to third by the flag behind the No. 03 Corvette.
“Coming down the last laps, we stinted 1 and a half or 1 and 3/4 and we just took fuel at the end,” Hand said. “I was a little surprised. Then Beretta got around me, then I got back around him again. We got sideways again, the next thing I was around him. In a car-to-car competition, you have no chance making the move Beretta tried, it worked out for me, mainly because I was expecting it. When I was spinning, I kept it straight, but I knew he had a right front flat, so I knew if I could get up to him and get him jammed, it would be easy to get around.”
Beretta countered: “I think he caused the problem himself. This is only racing, he lost it and he went in the sand. I got on the brake, I lost it too. He wants to win, and we want to win and that was just racing. No one took him out. He was on the outside line and it is dirt, not as much grip especially as the last lap of the race. I did not have a cut tire, we wanted to win, and he wanted to win. It was just the racing circumstance.”
Hand aside, the win for BMW Team RLL was a repeat of its 2011 triumph at Sebring and was with Dirk Mueller and Jonathan Summerton. Summerton secured a win on debut in the ALMS.
Regardless, those three were the top finishers. The second Corvette and BMW were fourth and fifth among GT runners.
Team Felbermayr-Proton took the GTE Am class win while Alex Job Racing scored the GTC class win with drivers Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Dion von Moltke. Von Moltke fought back after he was hit by another GTC car while the two were battling for the lead. It caps, for now, AJR running a No. 23 Porsche (No. 023 for this race per a WEC conflict) as Bell and Sweedler will debut the team's new Lotus Evora in Long Beach.
Von Moltke, the young South African entrusted with bringing the car to the finish, explained what happened from his perspective. He adds this win to one at Lime Rock last year.
“I had a scare with two hours to go when I got hit in Turn 17, and I had to push the last two hours and was able to get a gap, make the last stop and bring it home for the win.”
The ALMS resumes in Long Beach April 14, while the WEC next races at Spa-Francorchamps on May 5.
Pos Cl Drivers Team/Car Laps
1. P1 McNish/Kristensen/Capello Audi 325
2. P1 Bernhard/Dumas/Duval Audi 321
3. P2 Potolicchio/Dalziel/Sarrazin Starworks HPD 319
4. P2 Tucker/Bouchut/Barbosa Level 5 HPD 319
5. P2 Nicolet/Lahaye/Pla OAK Morgan-Judd 318
6. P1 Collard/Boullion/Jousse Pescarolo-Judd 318
7. P2 Companc/Kaffer/Ayari Pecom ORECA-Nissan 317
8. P1 Dyson/Smith/Kane Dyson Lola-Mazda 317
9. P2 Zugel/Gonzalez/Julian Greaves Zytek-Nissan 316
10. P1 Leventis/Watts/Kane Strakka HPD 316
11. P2 Martin/Kerr/Graves ADR-Delta ORECA-Nissan 315
12. PC Popow/Viso/Friselle CORE FLM 312
13. PC Leitzinger/Dobson/Junco PR1 FLM 311
14. P2 Holzer/Shultis/Moro Lotus Lola 310
15. PC Bennett/Braun/Lux CORE FLM 310
16. P1 Lotterer/Treluyer/Fassler Audi 310
17. P1 Brabham/Chandhok/Dumbreck JRM HPD 309
18. GT Hand/Müller/Summerton RLL BMW 307
19. GT Magnussen/Garcia/Taylor Corvette 307
20. GT Bertolini/Beretta/Cioci AF Corse Ferrari 307
21. GT Gavin/Milner/Westbrook Corvette 307
22. GT Müller/Auberlen/Alzen RLL BMW 307
23. GT Lietz/Lieb/Pilet Felbermayr Porsche 306
24. GT Miller/Maassen/Bell Miller Porsche 303
25. PC Ducote/Echeverria/Sanchez Merchant FLM 303
26. GT Law/Neiman/Lally Flying Lizard Porsche 303
27. GT Brown/Segal/Lazzaro Extreme Speed Ferrari 303
28. P1 Luhr/Graf/Pagenaud Pickett HPD 302
29. GTE-AM Ried/Roda/Ruberti Felbermayr Porsche 298
30. P2 Pappas/Curtis/Fogarty Black Swan Lola-HPD 298
31. GTE-AM Bourret/Gibon/Belloc Larbre Corvette 297
32. P1 Prost/Jani/Heidfeld Rebellion Lola-Toyota 296
33. GTC Sweedler/Bell/von Moltke Alex Job Porsche 292
34. GT Mucke/Fernandez/Turner Aston Martin 292
35. GTC MacNeil/Keen/Dumoulin Alex Job Porsche 291
36. P1 Belicchi/Primat/Bleekemolen Rebellion Lola-Toyota 291
37. GTC LeSaffre/Faulkner/Bleekemolen Green Hornet Porsche 290
38. GT Henzler/Sellers/Ragginger Falken Porsche 290
39. GTE-AM Bornhauser/Canal/Lamy Larbre Corvette 288
40. GTC Pumpelly/di Guida/Bunting TRG Porsche 287
41. GTE-AM Kauffman/Waltrip/Aguas AF Corse Ferrari 283
42. PC Guasch/Gidley/Wills Pickett FLM 282
43. GTC Cumming/Bullitt/Estre JDX Porsche 282
44. P2 Plowman/Hansson/Dracone Conquest Morgan-Judd 281
45. GTC Faieta/Avenatti/Wagner Competition Porsche 279
46. GT Sharp/van Overbeek/Cosmo Extreme Speed Ferrari 278
47. P2 Giroix/Jousse/Johansson Gulf Lola-Nissan 277
48. GTC Sofronas/Welch/Villeneuve GMC Porsche 276
49. PC Nicolosi/Vera/Matos Performance Tech FLM 274
50. GTE-AM Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo Krohn Ferrari 265
51. PC Junqueira/Drissi/Gonzalez RSR FLM 255
52. GTE-AM Binnie/Palttala/Camathias JWA-Avila Porsche 252
53. GT Bergmeister/Long/Holzer Flying Lizard Porsche 251
54. GTC Benitez/Benitez/Thiim NGT Porsche 236
55. P1 Moreau/Baguette/Kraihamer OAK Pescarolo-Judd 233
56. GT Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander AF Corse Ferrari 215
57. GTC Cisneros/Edwards/Kauffmann NGT Porsche 205
58. PC Richard/Ende/Cameron Dempsey FLM 173
59. P2 Tucker/Diaz/Hunter-Reay Level 5 HPD 85
60. P2 Tresson/Mailleux/Lombard Signatech ORECA-Nissan 85
61. GT Makowiecki/Melo/Vernay Luxury Ferrari 83
62. PC Marcelli/Downs/Stirling Merchant FLM 38
63. GTE-AM Ehret/Farnbacher/Jakubowski Luxury Ferrari 0
DNS. P2 Fatien/Ihara/Deletraz Gulf Lola-Nissan