The next year, 2001, saw a brief change in the regulations as the prototypes were split into two classes – LMP900 and LMP675, the latter class for lighter, smaller-displacement cars. In time, through various regulation changes mirroring the ones at Le Mans, these essentially became the current P1 and P2 classes. Not missing a beat, Audi had its most successful singular race at Sebring – a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the top positions, with the two factory Joest R8s heading privately run entries from Champion Racing and Johansson/Arena Motorsport.
Sadly, the weekend will be remembered for the tragic loss of sports car racing legend Bob Wollek, who died after being struck by a van while riding his bicycle from the track the day before the race. Adding more poignancy, Audi's victory was the last for Michele Alboreto, who co-drove with Rinaldo Capello and Laurent Aiello. Alboreto was killed just weeks later in a testing accident at the Lausitzring in Germany.
The 2002 12 Hours of Sebring served as the 50th anniversary, complete with the Sebring Hall of Fame opening. But the result didn't change, with Audi winning again, this time with Capello, Christian Pescatori and Johnny Herbert. Corvette avenged its losses the last two years with its first GTS class win, ahead of the winning Saleen from 2001 and the Vipers, which were now in the hands of privateers rather than the semi-works ORECA squad.
In 2003, a new contender arrived to challenge the R8s in the form of an Audi-owned brand with a historic name, Bentley. The sleek Bentley Speed 8 coupes (LEFT), loosely based on the unsuccessful Audi R8C coupe, were technically classified as a P900/GTP entry. They stormed into Sebring with their classic British Racing Green livery and a six-pack of drivers that included three ex-Formula 1 drivers. Audi drivers Kristensen and Capello joined Guy Smith in the No. 7 car, with Herbert, Mark Blundell and David Brabham in the sister No. 8.
In their one and only visit to Sebring, though, the Speed 8s couldn't conquer the almighty R8, which recorded its fourth straight Sebring win with the Joest team and drivers Biela, Marco Werner and Philipp Peter. Again, the Champion Audi came second, only 13.493sec in arrears, and the two Bentleys were third and fourth after starting from the rear of the grid. As some small consolation, Bentley did manage to end Audi's win streak at Le Mans that summer....
Audi's 2004 assault was carried out entirely by semi-works teams, not the factory Joest squad. But with no realistic challengers outside of the three R8s – two from the British Veloqx Motorsport and one from Champion – Audi captured its fifth straight Sebring win. The winning Veloqx trio included Allan McNish, Biela, and young Pierre Kaffer.
Behind them, Corvette had its most impressive overall showing, with a fourth-place finish in the overall standings behind the trio of Audis. Its GTS class win was by a full 22 laps over Ferrari's 575 GTC.
The action and focus was more on the GT classes come 2005, because it was a recurring story at the front the following March – another grueling 12 hours of car vs. track combat, another win by an Audi R8. The Lehto/Werner/Kristensen (his third) triumph not only concluded the incredible run of six successive victories in six Sebring starts for the R8, but also completed a string of 1-2 – or better – finishes for Audi!
The GT classes were renamed to GT1 and GT2, and Corvette had a fight on its hands from class newcomers Aston Martin, plus holdover privateers from Saleen and Dodge. The Prodrive-run Aston DB9s showed up on debut and promptly ended Corvette's three-year win streak, with drivers Brabham, Stephane Ortelli and Darren Turner. Corvette had to settle for second and third with its new C6.R.
In 2006, Audi again set a new record, and launched a revolution that has swept sports car racing to this day – diesel engines powering the top prototypes. Part of the reason the factory Joest squad left the running of R8s to privateers the previous two years was so the factory could develop this new standard-setter. The R10 TDI premiered at Sebring and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took the victory (RIGHT) with Kristensen, Capello and McNish. Kristensen's fourth Sebring win set a record at the time.
Of Audi's string of Sebring wins, this was one that could have slipped away had the fledgling R10 had any serious mechanical or reliability issues. A P2-class Lola AER fielded by Intersport Racing and driven by the father and son duo of Jon and Clint Field plus Liz Halliday, finished second overall trailing by only four laps. The Intersport Lola was up against another car that debuted in 2006 – a car that revolutionized the second-tier prototype category, the Porsche RS Spyder. Corvette, meanwhile, beat Aston Martin for the GT1 win and, in the GT2 class, Panoz's Esperante scored a class win with Brabham (again), Scott Maxwell and Sebastien Bourdais.
The 2007 race was the start of a boom time for P2. Audi still won overall, which wasn't a huge surprise, but its closest contenders were not from its sister P1 entries, but instead from the increased field of lighter P2 cars on their debuts. Acura entered two of its new ARX-01a chassis and had an engine in a third car, while the Porsche Spyders were out in full force with four cars, two apiece entered by Roger Penske and Rob Dyson. The Andretti Green Acura came second overall, driven by open-wheel stars Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta, ahead of the Fernandez Lola-Acura with just Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz at the wheel.
GT1 began to see a drop off in its car count, as Aston's factory squad had pulled out, leaving the privateer Modena squad to run the cars. Corvette finished 1-2. At the same time, the GT2 class really began to come into its own in terms of entrants and interest. Entries from Ferrari, Porsche, Panoz and Spyker comprised half the field, with 18 cars, and notoriety for the class came in a door-banging final lap. Jaime Melo, driving a Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 GT, edged past Jorg Bergmeister in a Flying Lizard Porsche 911 for the class triumph.