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12 Hours of Sebring: Audi Perspective

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12 Hours of Sebring: Audi Perspective

Post by LhYnxz on Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:25 am

The plight of Audiís potential participation in this yearís American Le
Mans Series has been as tumultuous as Sebring Raceways undulating
pavement and as unclear as beer goggles worn proudly by all in the
trackís notorious Green Park. With rules less than optimum for Audiís
R10 LMP1 racecar and serious class competition promised by Peugeot in
Europe, the only thing Audi motorsports enthusiasts could count on this
year was a knock-down, drag-out race of momentous potential.
Factory-backed and ALMS rule emboldened LMP2 teams from Porsche and
Acura were set to square off in Florida against the Audi R10 and its
European diesel-driven competitor from Peugeot. Shell brought the
diesel, Patron brought the Tequila and a party ensued.

Even without the heavy-hitter competition, Sebring is always a fan
favorite. ďItís the season opener and Super Bowl all rolled into one,Ē
says Radio Le Mans. Itís also a 12-hour party in sunny, warm Florida
smack dab in the middle of Spring Break on most college calendars.
Whether youíre a coed from Ole Miss or backwater Everglade native
making your annual pilgrimage out of the swamp, Sebring draws fans of
racing and inebriation alike. The blonde sorority girl saying ďheyyyĒ
at you in that warm southern drawl from the back window of a Ford
pickup cruising the infield is as intoxicating as the sound of
prototypes throttling up the front straight. Itís a potent mix and
makes for perhaps the best event on the American Le Mans schedule.

With the French in town and running fast, it is perhaps natural that
proud Audi stepped up its presence at the track. The usual two-car Audi
Sport Team Joest squad was there, but so too was a large two-story Audi
hospitality structure in the paddock area and a newer and larger brand
display just adjacent to the ever-growing Audi corral for owners. That
brand display featured not only an R10 display car and the usual
smattering of Audiís hottest models, it also included the
as-of-yet-unavailable B8-generation A4, the upcoming TTS and the same
R8 V12 TDI Le Mans design study thatíd been displayed in Geneva
Switzerland just one week prior.

Leading up to the race, a bad wreck during qualifying left grid
placement determined by practice lap times and that helped Audiís Alan
McNish score pole position for his R10. Peugeot though looked strong,
turning faster qualifying laps than Audi.

When the green flag dropped and racing began, the Peugeot quickly
grabbed the lead and began putting distance between itself and the
Audis. Sebring though is not about turning an hour or two of fast laps.
Endurance is key and an advantage Audi can typically bank on.

About twenty minutes into the race, as Dindo Capello set up for turn
three while dodging some slower traffic, the Italianís #1 R10 came into
contact with one of the three Flying Lizard Porsche 911s. The clip
wasnít bad, but enough to cause some slight damage to the rear right of
the R10 and to send the 911 off into the grass and into the tire
barriers. It was an accident, but an avoidable one ruled IMSA and Dindo
was issued a stop and go penalty.

That wouldnít be the only difficulty for Audi. A combination of
pavement conditions and the rear suspension sutup on both R10s saw
several Audi teammates getting loose in Sebringís turn 10. Notorious
more for some of the hardest partying fans watching from scaffolding
nearby, 10 isnít the most technical bend on the track. However,
conditions were enough to cause the Audi team some issues, Marco Werner
sliding off-track twice in the #2 car and others having similar issues.

In the meantime, the brutally fast Peugeots were finding out that
Sebring can also be brutal Ė a rough course to be sure. The 908 HDi was
having its own issues and dropped off pace. Audi Sport got down to
business as is their nature and, by midpoint in the race, the two R10s
were leading by a good margin. The #2 Audi even enjoyed a forty second
lead over its sister car.

Thatís when things got difficult. The lead car suffered some
significant failures, including a bad turbocharger on the right bank of
its burly V12 and faulty brake rotors. Both needed changed, costing the
Werner-Luhr-Rockenfeller team sixteen laps and the lead. Some
stop-and-go penalties and a light accident by Rockenfeller didnít help

Brake rotor issues plagued the other Audi as well, necessitating a
swap. A push-rod in the front right suspension would also need changed
and, by the time all had been repaired, the Capello-Kristensen-McNish
car was also three laps down behind the now-leading Porsche RS Spyder
from Penske. Like the veteran he is, Kristensen fought back hard and
got himself back on the lead lap. Unfortunately, the 12 hours ran out
and Audi finished only 67 second behind the leading LMP2 Porsche.

During race weekend Audi confirmed it will contest a full season of the
American Le Mans Series this year, which is truly good news for
American fans. Still, Sebring was the race of races weíd say Ė
technical difficulties aside. This will likely be the only event in
America this year where youíd have caught 7-time Le Mans winner Tom
Kristensen or ALMS LMP1 champs Alan McNish and Dindo Capello at the
wheel. It is also likely the only race where Peugeot would compete
against the Audis and a field of ALMS-bolstered LMP2s from Porsche and
Acura. The ALMS season should be stronger than ever, though its opening
event at Sebring didnít let us down as likely being the biggest
slugfest of the season.
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