After a one year absence Audi return to the 12 Hours of Sebring this weekend with two R15+ LMP1 cars. When the four rings was last in Florida in March in 2009 it was Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen who took the win, the triumph the fourth overall Sebring win for the Scot, who takes us round a single lap of the 3.7mil/5.95k, 17 turn track around Sebring Regional Airport ahead of the 59th running of the 12 Hour race.
“Come up into Turn One, already in top gear. You've got to be very careful on the turn in because it's a fast and bumpy turn in and you have to have your line exactly precise because if you miss the apex at the wall by two feet then there is no way of finding the grip and you run very wide on the narrow exit point. If you get right close to the wall you get a lot of grip and everything's fine, if you're too close to wall then it spits you off the track to the outside so it's like threading the needle through there.
“Big bump on exit, careful of that especially if you've got a lot of load on the right-rear tyre – that can give you a big fish tail all the way down to Turn Three. Difficult braking into there because you break hard it's easy to lock up one of the front wheels and then as soon as you start to turn in the tarmac changes and it goes to concrete and you lose all of the front grip. This change through the course of the race because when the rubber goes down that helps a lot there.
“Then it's a quick flick to the right and then into Turn Five, the left. Now this is a hard one again because it's a very delicate balance between going in too fast and going in too slow and you've just got to let the car run through that point but you've got to get on the power early using the kerb on the exit, but not too much because there's a big hole at the exit of the kerb afterwards.
“The you run the long curve through Turn Six, which is easily flat out down into Turn Seven. So the exit of five's important for the straight line speed into seven. Seven, again very, very hard braking area, a lot of force going into the pedal, trying to stop the car from such a high speed down into first or second gear. You throw the car in, bounces around a little bit then try to get onto the power as cleanly as possible as you come out because then you've got a long acceleration through the quick flick right and left before coming into Turn Ten.
“Now in the race this a fantastic one because of the support from the Turn Ten Club on your right hand side but hard braking again trying to get down into second gear, a little bit like turn three because when you turn in you lose the front grip because immediately you go off tarmac and back onto concrete.
“The car slips and slides around.
“Then you get off the concrete and then, bang, you're onto tarmac and you've grip again through the two lefts. This is a tricky part in the night and especially in traffic coming through here, trying to decide which way to go round the traffic before going into Turn Thirteen.
“Now thirteen you brake at an angle so the car's unstable, you turn in, you try to run the speed in but then the camber of the road floats away from you a little bit and the grip level goes away because of another concrete patch on the track and it is probably one the hardest corners for me in qualifying to get absolutely perfect because too much aggression loses you a lot of time here.
“So you flick through thirteen and then wide open up towards Turn Fifteen. Now the kinks are easily flat out but it's important to position the car for turn fifteen and sixteen. Fifteen you break and trail break into the corner, the car is very light, the rear's unstable coming in and if you go in with not enough brake pressure on then the front of the car understeers too much, and it's again another on of those tricky balances that can lose a tenth or two quite easily. Quick flick to the left, little bit off the circuit, using a little of the run-off the old, I presume, runway and then to Turn Sixteen.
“And again Turn Sixteen the car's unstablised, it's trying to settle itself down off the bumps. You case the kerb but then the front washes out and you get the big bit of push which mean that you have to run all of that exit kerb on the outside. The car jumps up and down on the exit kerb and then you've got your run down to Turn Seventeen.
“Seventeen – what a way to end a lap – you think you've done a good lap up until that point and then you've got this monster of a corner to negotiate. You flick it into the right hander and about 290kmph, somewhere about there and then you break hard, down the gears – probably third gear – trying to make your apex underneath the bridge in the dark but there's a bump in there and if you're a foot to the right or a foot to the left you hit one or other bump. If you're absolutely you miss everything, but your chances of doing that are line 1 in 100. I think it's easier to win the lottery sometimes than get the line right through there.
“Then you're hard on the throttle, then there's another bump just on exit which when the tyres are good doesn't bother you but when the tyres are old, or alternatively not up to pressure you've got to be careful because it can easily spit you off to the barrier on the left.
“Then you just cruise it up, fourth gear, fifth gear, sixth gear and across the line and that's another lap of Sebring done.
That's a first lap of a 12 hour race.”