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.
This weekend at Sebring International Raceway, the Audi Sport Team Joest prototype organization prepares for the start of the 2012 sports car racing season. Since entering the sports car prototype arena in 1999, Audi’s motorsport efforts have pushed the four-ring badge to the top of track competition while their street cars captured accolades with customers.
With worldwide sales recorded at a 625,807 total in 1999, Audi AG scored 1,303,650 in vehicle unit sales across the planet in 2011 as the German luxury car brand has risen to a serious force in automotive production. While some debate the impact of motorsports on the street vehicles, Audi’s loyal attention to the high-priced sports car competition has provided a better-than-average case proving the benefits of factory support for auto racing. For 2012, the sports car racing efforts in prototype racing Audi Sport Team Joest will present several changes as they will attempt victory on the race track as well as win customers to new, production car-related technology.
As the Audi R18 TDI will take the green flag for the 2012 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Team Joest-fielded vehicles will be part of the newly formed FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich committed “It’ll be a grand and no doubt thrilling inaugural event of the new WEC. The entire fields of the WEC and the American Le Mans Series will be competing together. “ The 2012 WEC represents collection of great, modern sports car races assembling on the globe’s most prestigious race circuits. Included in the high profile first season for WEC will debut at Sebring International Raceway before moving onto the Spa Francorchamps road course and famous Circuit de la Sarthe for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Audi Sport is committed to run every round with their R18 TDI prototypes throughout the inaugural eight-round competition.
Much of the pre-season excitement centered on the Audi prototype sports car program has been centered on the gasoline/electric hybrid version of the R18. Scheduled to run for the first time at the Belgium event in May, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro combines the mid-engine 3.7 liter V-6 TDI engine with an electric motor that will drive the front wheels. With rear wheels still being spun conventionally through TDI powerplant, the new prototype will bring a unique take on Audi’s much-touted quattro all-wheel drive. When Audi Sport Team Joest runs the 24 hours of Le Mans in mid-June, the plan is to run two hybrid cars within a four-car effort. For the Sebring race, Audi has prepared three non-hybrid R18 TDI prototype sports cars.
For the 12-hour event at Sebring, car #1 for Audi Sport Team Joest will feature the teaming of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the team last year. In the #2 Audi R18 TDI, the accomplished group of Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish will attempt to rekindle the magic they used to collectively win the 2009 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Sharing the #3 car, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Loïc Duval will round out the highly talented 2012 driver line-up for Audi Sport Team Joest.
Audi Sport Team Joest will be seeking their 10th victory in the 12-hour race. From 2000 to 2007, Audi had affirmative possession of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring overall honours with the Audi R8 and R10 prototype race cars. Interrupted for claiming victory by a pair of Porsche RS Spyders in 2008, Audi did succeed in maintaining its streak of LMP1 class victory at the Sebring International Raceway for a total of nine consecutive races. Stretching the automaker’s records with a ninth overall Sebring race win in 2009, the Peugeot 908 has presided as the top prototype runner for the famous sports car event. With Peugeot opting out of the 2012 edition of the Mobil1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Audi R18 is heavily favoured for victory late Saturday night.
With preparations for the 60th running of the Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida ongoing this week, the clock for the half-day endurance race starts March 17th at 10:15 AM Eastern time.
Information source: American Le Mans Series, Audi AG
Photo and video Source: Audi AG