Searching for their 10th victory, the Audi prototype program has placed every major iteration of their race purpose-built sports cars in the Sebring International Raceway winner’s circle since 2000. The Audi R8 prototype race car, as well as the R10 TDI and R15 TDI are celebrated race vehicles that began their piece of a motorsport dynasty with an inaugural victory at Sebring. Bringing 2011-spec Audi R15 TDI Plus race cars to the Mobil 1 Twelve of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida event last year, the Audi R18 TDI closed cockpit prototype car would break an 11-year trend by winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans first. For the 2012 American Le Mans Series first race and the debut event for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Audi Sport Team Joest’s three-car R18 team needed to claim the car’s elusive Sebring race.
Without the challenge from the Peugeot 908 sports car that won the previous two Sebring events, the Audi Sport Team Joest team came to the race track carrying a war chest of experience and equipment trumping other prototype class contenders. In Friday qualifying for the half-day Saturday race, the Audi R18 TDI race cars stormed around the 3.7-mile, 17-turn road course claiming the top three starting positions with little opposition. Taking the pole among the three-care Audi R15 group was the #1 vehicle that flew around the Sebring International Raceway with a 1-minute, 45.820-second lap time.
The Audi R18 TDI was almost perfect in its debut at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring event on Saturday. The #1 Audi R18 TDI, handled by the driving team of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, parlayed their Friday speed into Saturday race pace. When the #1 car was not leading the race early, one of the three team cars for Audi Sport Team Joest held the top race track position during the first four hours.
In the fourth hour, the harmonious rhythm of the three-car Audi R18 TDI squad would be impacted by an issue with the lead vehicle. Losing the lead first when a pit stop netted a stop-and-go penalty from the race stewards, the #1 Audi R18 TDI race car would crawl back to pit lane more than an hour later. A faulty electrical shifting unit on the gearbox would wind up taking the #1 car to the service area behind the pit wall. Costing the #1 Audi R18 17 laps, the car containing the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning driving trio returned to competition to finish fifth in the LMP1 category among the WEC registered vehicles.
Taking over from where the #1 car left off in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the #2 car piloted by the proven driving combination of Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello went on the mission of with the R18 TDI prototype sports car. As day turned to night and the clock for the endurance race ticked down to zero, the #2 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 TDI won the 2012 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring by four laps over their #3 team car. “It was consistently fast and made it possible for us to be in contention from the beginning to the end.” said Allan McNish who celebrated his fourth overall win in the Sebring 12-hour race. Winning their first Sebring event since 2009, the #2 drive consisted of the same trio of drivers that brought an Audi R10 across the line on that occasion.
Despite the fact victory seemed easy for the #2 car squad, the winning drivers all combated challenges during the 12 hours of racing. “The car was running well but traffic was a real challenge and the temperatures around noon, when I was sitting in the cockpit for a long time, were pretty high.” said Tom Kristensen adding, “It was tough clinching victory here.” Technical Director for Audi Sport Team Joest added to Kristensen’s acknowledgment saying, “That was a pretty strenuous race. And our rivals were really close on our heels. They were a tiny bit slower than we but in the caution period they wouldn’t ease up on us. They only started having problems in the end. Those were eleven hours of hard work for us. Well done to Dindo (Capello), Tom (Kristensen) and Allan (McNish). It was a superb drive.” The triumph of the Audi squad against the 64-car field at the 2012 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring comes as another moment the German-based team conquered with superior technology, engineering, mechanics and drivers.
Attending the first race for the World Endurance Championship, FIA President Jean Todt was witness to the Audi Sport Team Joest operations at Sebring as they flew to sports car victory in 2012. With many dignitaries present, Audi captured the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring taking the overall victory as well as the first win for a prototype under the WEC body. Proud of the work of the whole racing operation, Head of Audi Motorsports Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich commented, “Obviously, it’s nice that after the tenth pole position for Audi at Sebring we managed to achieve the tenth victory as well. For us, it was a great start into the season and into the new FIA World Endurance Championship.”
The next FIA World Championship race for the Audi Sport Team Joest organization is the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on May 6th. This Belgium round of the 2012 series will feature the competitive debut of the diesel/electric Audi R18 e-tron quattro ahead of the 24 Hour of Le Mans event.