As the green flag fell on the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, all eyes were on “Hendrick's Field.” Lending an air of import to the race and oddly absent from the F1 season opener in Melbourne, Jean Todt, President of the FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), was present as the FIA World Endurance Championship opened its season in North America.
Audi Sport Team Joest brought its gameface to Sebring in the form if a trio of 2011 Audi R18 TDI and a skilled compliment of pilots to ensure a win. The 2012 R18 e-tron quattro and the new R18 ultra will make their debut at the second installment of the 2012 WEC at Spa.
On a course packed with 63 cars and a race that included 11 full course cautions, Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, and Dindo Capello finessed their No. 2 Audi R18 TDI through the field to lead for 259 of 325 laps, with an average speed of 101.263MPH and picture-perfect four-lap-leading dominance. McNish has now won North America's oldest surviving sportscar race four times with Audi, while Audi Sport Team Joest has been victorious in 10 of 13 starts.
McNish collected the maximum available points in the opening round of the 8 race World Endurance Championship series and was jubilant in saying, “It's a superb way to begin my world driver's championship assault. The race was superb from start to finish. We did a good job setting the car up for the race and not focusing particularly on qualifying. We knew it would be difficult with so many cars on track and so concentrated on making the Audi agile and consistent in terms of handling which we achieved.”
Lightning fast and bumpy is never the recipe for a race course, but that doesn't keep the world's finest pilots from pushing the 3.7-mile, 17 turn limits at Sebring. The Audi R18 TDI had never been to Sebring, but you would never have known by watching the race unfold.
McNish completed three stints in the R18 for a total of nearly 5 hours of flat-out sprint racing. Allan went on to say, “Our R18 TDI was the best I've ever had in a race and so it's a fitting way for it to go into retirement. I’m now looking forward to the future and driving the R18 e-tron quattro hybrid sportscar.”
Audi brought three of their 2011 spec cars to the field to send them off in championship fashion. The No. 3 Audi R18 TDI, piloted by Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard, and Loic Duval lost four laps and finished second to the sister No. 2 car, even though it suffered an 11th hour repair stop for contact with a slower car.
The third Audi had also been in contention for a top result. AndrÃ© Lotterer, who had clinched the first pole position in qualifying of the new FIA World Endurance Championship for Audi, together with his team-mates BenoÃ®t TrÃ©luyer and Marcel FÃ¤ssler, was the fiercest rival of the subsequent winners. Seven hours in, the No. 1 car lost 17 laps due to a defective electrical shifting unit on the transmission, forcing the team to make an unscheduled repair. Ultimately, the three Le Mans winners from last year finished in 16th overall and fifth in the LMP1 category of the WEC classification.