The no.2 Audi team of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval lead the 60th 12 Hours of Sebring, and the opening round of the first FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) at half way, having passed the team car of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello in the sixth hour.
The illustrious trio of Kristensen, McNish and Capello took the lead in the opening hour after McNish made an early stop during the first full course caution, taking the lead when rivals made their own first stops later in the hour under green flag conditions.
Predictably the three Audis have been the class of the field, but the Joest run team have already lost one of their three cars out of the lead battle. After running slowly at the start of the fifth hour, gear selection problems put the no.1 R18 behind the wall for more serious repairs as the race approached half way.
Their misfortune promoted the no.12 Rebellion Racing car – with F1-refugee Nick Heidfeld driving at the time – to third place, though a driver change and a problem on pitroad, reportedly including a small fire – gave third place to the Muscle Milk Racing HPD team, also the best of the American Le Mans Series teams as the WEC and ALMS combine to make up the 60+ car field at Sebring.
JRM – in another of the popular HPD chassis in the WEC this year ran fourth, third in the WEC standings.
The LMP2 category was led overall by one of the ALMS teams in the no.055 Level 5 Motorsports, the latest leader in a class where the lead has changed regularly – Starworks Motorsports, OAK Racing, Greaves Motorsport and the second Level 5 entry – no.95 – among those who have also taken their turns at the head of the class.
The class has also had its share of high profile retirements, both the no.95 and no.23 Signatech Nissan car both falling victims of on track contact with in minutes of each other in separate incidents.
Frenchman Olivier Lombard was at the wheel of the Signatech ORECA 03 when he spun on fluid only for Jaime Melo to find the same slippery patch just behind. With Lombard facing backwards in the midst of his own spin Melo piled into the front of the black ORECA, destroying the front-left, while Melo – who was leading the GT class at the time – was able to get away with less damage after a push from marshals.
The no.95, meanwhile, was a victim of two GT cars making it three abreast into a corner, the no.022 GTC class Porsche clattering into Ryan Hunter-Reay in the prototype.
The delay for Melo was just one in a race that has been unkind to the Ferrari teams that dominated qualifying in the GT classes.
Dominic Farnbacher failed to even make the start in the GTE Am pole sitting Luxury Racing machine, part of a bizarre accident as the field formed up to take the green flag also involving the no.45 Flying Lizard Porsche.
The race for the GTE Pro pole setting AF Corse Ferrari lasted only slightly longer, the race barely ten minutes old before the car was brought into the pits and put behind the wall. The car – crewed by Giancarlo Fisichella, Gimmi Bruni and Toni Vilander – reappeared later in the race, but ended the first half of the race 90 laps down on the GTE Pro leader, the no.4 Corvette Racing team.
With the fastest WEC GTE entries finding problems the two ALMS entered Corvettes came to the fore. New recruit Jordan Taylor continued to make a name for himself on his Corvette debut, passing Patrick Pilet for the lead during the fourth hour, though the no.003 car he shares with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen had fallen to third in class by half way, behind the sister Corvette and the Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche of Pilet, Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz.
With Farnbacher and the Luxury Racing team out before the race began it was left to Krohn Racing to set the pace in GTE Am for much of the race, though the American team had lost the class lead to the no.50 Larbre Competition Corvette by half way and will start the second half of the race trailing the class leader by two laps.