Audi bids Alvederzane as Dumbward Spiral of US Racing Continues

commentary by Tim Hailey with PR from Audi

The Audi R18 e-tron quattro’s victory marked the first ever of a hybrid race car at the Sebring (Florida) 12 Hours in the history of the U.S. endurance classic. On the – provisionally – last running of the LMP1 sports cars that feature sophisticated technology at Sebring, Audi Sport Team Joest achieved a commanding one-two victory. Right from the start, the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars set the pace, during the entire race an Audi was at the front of the field made up of 42 prototypes and GT sports cars. The third-placed Lola-Toyota was trailing the winner by five laps at the finish.

For twelve hours, the two Audi R18 e-tron quattro cars fought a fierce duel for victory and repeatedly overtook each other in close battle. In total, the lead between the two R18 cars changed 20 times. A damaged under-floor of car number “1” that was ultimately victorious caused some headaches for Audi Sport Team Joest. The necessary repairs could be performed without any major time loss during caution periods though.

In the thrilling duel between the team’s two cars the current Le Mans winners and World Endurance Champions Marcel Fässler (CH) and Benoît Tréluyer (F) plus Sebring newcomer Oliver Jarvis (GB) prevailed by a narrow margin. All three celebrated their first Sebring triumph. For Jarvis, after the GT success with the Audi R8 GRAND-AM at the Daytona 24 Hours, this marked the second victory at a classic U.S. endurance race.

With a gap of only 7.679s, Lucas di Grassi (BR), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) completed the Audi one-two result. A 60-second time penalty due to a collision with a slower sports prototype had been imposed against the 2013-specification Audi R18 e-tron quattro shortly before the end of the third hour.

In 14 races at Sebring with Le Mans prototypes, this marked Audi’s eleventh overall victory. Eight times the brand with the four rings celebrated one-two results. The premium manufacturer’s tally reflects 24 podium places. Ten times an Audi started from the pole position – more often than any other manufacturer in the history of the race that has been held since 1952. The Audi R8, the R10 TDI and the R15 TDI each celebrated victorious debuts at Sebring. With the first victory of a diesel sports car in 2006 and now the first triumph of a hybrid race car Audi achieved two historic victories. Audi took the first podium and the first win at a sports car race at Sebring as well. In addition, Audi regularly used the track in Florida to prepare for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

This time, Audi Sport Team Joest will again stay at Sebring after the race for tests with the Audi R18 e-tron quattro that has been subjected to further development. It still remains to be seen whether or not there will be a future for Audi at the U.S. endurance classic. After the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and the GRAND-AM Series merged to form the new “United SportsCar Racing” series no LMP1 sports cars will be permitted to run anymore as of 2014.

U.S. fans will be able to see the Audi R18 e-tron quattro soon again in the United States nonetheless. On September 22, the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) will visit the Circuit of the Americas in Austin (Texas).

Quotes after the race

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport): “That was a perfect finale! I’m very happy about this one-two victory in a race in which both of our cars battled against each other all the way to the finish and delivered a fantastic show to the many fans. The entire squad worked hard, so winning after a long twelve hours is the sweetest reward. After victories with TFSI and TDI technology, Audi on clinching the win today with a hybrid car has continued the success story at this race.”

Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest): “This is an outstanding result for what has at least provisionally been our last run here at Sebring. I’m happy about this one-two victory at which either of our two teams would have deserved first place. In the beginning, both cars were running on different strategies. At some point in time they were nearly in parallel and at the finish not even ten seconds apart. We’ve been enjoying the atmosphere here at Sebring with brilliant weather and unique fans. This victory is a nice reward for the whole squad some of whom worked through the whole night before the race and then delivered perfect pit stops for twelve hours straight.”

Marcel Fässler (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “Celebrating Audi’s last race here at Sebring with a victory is simply fantastic. It was an incredibly close race in which both cars would have deserved to win. In the end, we were the slightly more fortunate ones. The pole position yesterday, victory today, great team-mates – things couldn’t be any better today.”

Oliver Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “What a start into the 2013 season! This isn’t a dream; it’s a lot more than that. Winning with Audi at Daytona already was an incredible experience. But now an overall victory on my first run at Sebring on top of that is more than I’d ever dared to hope for. A huge thank you to Audi and to Marcel (Fässler) and Ben (Tréluyer) – they’ve been the best team-mates I could imagine.”

Benoît Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #1): “We won the last race of the LMP1 sports cars at Sebring – we’re very proud of this. I think that the fans witnessed a thrilling race in which we had to give one hundred percent to beat our sister car. For us the American dream has come true today. Thank you to Marcel (Fässler) and Oliver (Jarvis) fora great week here at Sebring. Normally, André (Lotterer) is part of our team as well – I’m sure that he’d have been on top of the podium here too.”

Lucas di Grassi (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “This was my first 12-hour race, my first race in the dark and my first run at Sebring – the podium position is a brilliant conclusion of the weekend. It was a very close race with a few incidents and a controversial penalty. More would have been possible for us but as far as I’m concerned the joy about the second place with Audi outweighs anything else.”

Tom Kristensen (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “It was a memorable, tough and fast race. We had the chance ourselves to win today – but we didn’t make it. So, ‘well done’ to the guys from the ‘sister car’ and all other winners here at Sebring. Aside from our second place I’m taking a lot of memories home with me from all the years and the fastest race lap on today’s farewell. It’s for a man who has given me the passion for motorsport.”

Allan McNish (Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2): “What a fantastic race! We arrived here with Audi in order to say goodbye to our fans at Sebring with a thrilling performance – and I believe we managed to do that. It was a fierce battle from the first to the last lap. I’d like to congratulate the team of our ‘sister car.’ On a very personal note, I’m absolutely pleased with the race. Some of my stints were the best I can remember in the past few years.”

David Ostella and the #52 Molecule/ Global Precast/ iSkin Oreca FLM09 won Prototype Challenge

Before this year, driver David Ostella had never raced anything other than karts or formula cars. The Toronto-native graduated through the ranks of karting, Formula BMW, Star Mazda, and two years in Firestone Indy Lights. But just a few short months ago Ostella decided to try his hand at sports car racing and take on historic Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Back in January, Ostella participated in a one-day test with Bobby Oergel’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, and he enjoyed the chemistry he was able to quickly develop with the team. It was a quick ‘yes’ from Ostella when Oergel offered an opportunity to compete in the Prototype Challenge class for one of the most globally significant sports car races in history.

Though Ostella only had a few days of testing in the Oreca FLM09, and no experience at pit stops, driver changes, or multi-class racing, the 22-year-old driver had no problem getting up to speed. Teamed with co-drivers Michael Guasch and David Cheng, Ostella helped lead the #52 Molecule/ Global Precast/ iSkin prototype to a victory in his first-ever sports car event, through a field heavily loaded with seasoned, skilled sports car veterans.

“It was definitely a tough field,” said Ostella. “Coming into this and facing off against Bruno Junquiera, Pierre Kaffer, Colin Braun, Mark Wilkins–another Canadian–and Kyle Marcelli was intimidating.”

“Off the start I had my hair on fire and I was just way too agressive and I ended up spinning off the first lap,” he continued. “But I stayed out for a triple stint and was able to get the car back to pole by the time I gave it over to David Cheng. Through the race we were just up and down and I just kept my head down and did my part to try and keep the car out front.”

Team Owner Oergel drew inspiration from the team’s numerous championships and experience to craft a winning pit stop strategy.

“It was an awesome strategy by Bobby, bringing us in to get tires and fuel early,” said Ostella. “So in the end, we just had to bring it back in for a quick splash and go and were able to stay ahead of Kyle (Marcelli) coming out of the pits. We just tried to maintain the gap and lay down perfect laps.”

“I am so excited I just can’t believe it right now. I came into this knowing that I was the one with the least experience and then I got pulled for a triple stint, and then a double stint and it was just awesome. Such an amazing experience and I was just so excited to participate. Coming out with a win was just a giant bonus.”


2013 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

While I’ll be covering the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainseville, the world’s greatest sports cars will be racing in Kenny Edwards’ backyard in Sebring….for what looks like the last time. With the merger of the two US sports car series—the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and GRAND-AM—no Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) of the top category will be allowed in 2014, in favor of Grand-Am’s boxy, 1950s tube frame technology chassis. The dumbward spiral of racing in the US continues unabated.

In 1999, Audi’s first LMP sports car celebrated its premiere at Sebring. Even those 14 year old cars are too sophisticated for Grand Am’s rules. Now two cutting edge Audi LMP1 sports cars will contest a race here for the final time. It is a debut and a farewell at the same time: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro contests the 12-hour race at Sebring (Florida) in the USA for the first time on March 16 and, at the same time, it is provisionally the LMP1 sports car’s final appearance in the North American endurance classic.

“We travel to Sebring a little downhearted,” said Ralf Jüttner (Technical Director Audi Sport Team Joest). “It’s a real shame that LMP1 sports cars will not be allowed to start anymore in this legendary race. The race this year means some additional technical effort for us as we send two cars of different generations to the grid. It’s good, however, that we can test the further developed Audi R18 e-tron quattro in race conditions here. It’s always proved particularly beneficial in terms of preparing for the 24-hour race at Le Mans. We are happy to accept the extra effort for this.”

In the 13 outings to date in the sports car classic at Sebring, Audi has claimed 22 podium finishes, including ten overall victories. Three Audi drivers, Michele Alboreto/Dindo Capello/Stefan Johansson, mounted the podium at the premiere on March 20, 1999. The Dane Tom Kristensen is the race’s most successful driver with six wins. Marco Werner holds the lap record at Sebring, the trio Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish the distance record.

Audi Sport Team Joest fields two Audi R18 e-tron quattro prototypes this time. The current World Endurance Champions and Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler (CH) and Benoît Tréluyer (F), who are supported by Oliver Jarvis (GB) at Sebring, drive an R18 from 2012. Lucas di Grassi (BR), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) start in the new R18 e-tron quattro from 2013, which celebrates its race premiere at Sebring. “Sebring is a very special race thanks to its tradition, atmosphere and the track’s unique character,” said Fässler. “I’ve raced here twice before, but haven’t been able to win so far. I want to change that this time around, especially as it’s probably the last chance we’ll get for a long time to fight for overall victory here with Audi.”

For the first time since 1989, when drivers like Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Röhrl raced from victory to victory with the Audi 90 quattro in the IMSA-GTO series, Audi Sport contests a factory event in the USA with a racecar equipped with four-wheel drive. The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the first hybrid sports car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its front wheels are powered electrically and thus make the R18 a special type of quattro.

2013 Audi R18 e-tron quattro

Audi traditionally uses its involvement in sport prototypes to test new technologies for future applications in production cars. The fans at Sebring can discover this for themselves by embarking on a journey in time through the brand’s previous sports car eras. The exhibition shows an Audi R8 (ALMS winner 2002), an Audi R10 TDI (Sebring winner 2007), an Audi R15 TDI (Sebring winner 2009) and an Audi R18 TDI (Sebring winner 2012).

In addition to the active factory drivers, the former Audi drivers and Sebring winners Frank Biela, Dindo Capello, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner are also present and will be signing autographs, posing for photos and giving interviews for the fans. In this way, Audi thanks the passionate sports car fans in the USA for their long-standing loyalty to the brand. “Without a shadow of a doubt it’ll be an emotional race weekend for us because Sebring and its fantastic fans enjoy a very special status in both our motorsport and LMP history,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.”

In contrast to last year, the American Le Mans Series season opener is not a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 2013 WEC season starts a month later on April 14 with the 6-hour race at Silverstone, Great Britain.

The Sebring racetrack is located on a former military airfield—a bumpy course indeed. “Compared to a modern European racetrack, Sebring is a relic from the 1960s,” said Fässler. “But the track gains enormously in character as a result: the concrete slabs of the old airfield are aligned in rows one after the next and have very noticeable gaps between them and even big steps. You have to be brave at the first and last corners. The first turn has a blind entry – the track width narrows down from about 20 to only eight meters here. You have to be careful of the big bump on the corner exit. It can be very tricky at night. In general the circuit is not very well illuminated, but luckily we have the full LED headlights on the Audi. This helps us a lot and I wouldn’t like to be without them.”

“Nothing has changed at Sebring since the days of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss,” said Kristensen. “So, the challenge is the same as every year: to get through the traffic well, to hustle the car safely and quickly around the very bumpy track – and to win. The whole thing is obviously even more special as this could possibly be the final race in an Audi prototype at Sebring.”

“Sebring was always a fixed date in our motorsport calendar since the beginning of our sports car program in 1999,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “And justifiably so, as Sebring is a particularly hard racetrack. Hard and demanding for driver and machine – whoever survives this 12-hour race without problems is usually well equipped for every other challenge. The race will once again be the perfect dress rehearsal for the forthcoming WEC season and the 24-hour race at Le Mans.”

“Sebring is a special race – for several reasons: firstly, the many extremely enthusiastic fans make the atmosphere something very special,” said Tréluyer. “Secondly, it is difficult to find a perfect set-up for the car because the track is very bumpy and the surface changes constantly between concrete and different types of tarmac. The race is a big challenge for everybody. I’m looking forward to mastering it.”

“I was really happy when I got the call from Audi saying that I could race at Sebring,” said Jarvis. “The race is one of the world’s greatest endurance classics. I’m particularly proud of being in a car with the two-time Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. I’m certain that I can learn a lot from them and hope that we will be successful together. I’m already convinced that this race will be a highlight in my career.”

“I’ve never been to Sebring, but I’ve heard from my teammates that it is a fabulous race and the track is extremely demanding,” said di Grassi. “This is why I’m excited, but also happy about having the same team-mates for my second outing as an Audi factory driver as I did for my debut in 2012 at Interlagos. Tom (Kristensen) and Allan (McNish) helped me a lot at that time and they’ll also support me this time with many valuable tips.”

“It was really great news when I heard that Audi would also race at Sebring in 2013,” finished McNish. “After all, this race is an important part of Audi’s sports car history. That there is also a hint of goodbye hanging over the event gives the whole thing a special touch. Even more fans than usual will certainly come to the track to personally experience the end of an era. Just like the entire Audi team, I will also do my utmost to bid Sebring farewell with a win. This would make me very proud.”

All winners of the 12 hours of Sebring (since 2000)

2000 Frank Biela/Tom Kristensen/Emanuele Pirro (Audi)
2001 Laurent Aiello/Michele Alboreto/Dindo Capello (Audi)
2002 Dindo Capello/Johnny Herbert/Christian Pescatori (Audi)
2003 Frank Biela/Philipp Peter/Marco Werner (Audi)
2004 Frank Biela/Pierre Kaffer/Allan McNish (Audi)
2005 Tom Kristensen/JJ Lehto/Marco Werner (Audi)
2006 Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish (Audi)
2007 Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro/Marco Werner (Audi)
2008 Timo Bernhard/Romain Dumas/Emmanuel Collard (Porsche)
2009 Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish (Audi)
2010 Anthony Davidson/Marc Gené/Alexander Wurz (Peugeot)
2011 Loïc Duval/Nicolas Lapierre/Olivier Panis (Peugeot)
2012 Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish (Audi)

Circuit information

Circuit length: 6.019 km
Race duration: 12 hours
Pole position 2012: André Lotterer, Audi R18 TDI, 1m 45.820s = 202.5 km/h (16/03/2012)
Fastest lap 2012: André Lotterer, Audi R18 TDI, 1m 46.567s = 203.3 km/h (17/03/2012)
Lap record qualifying: Marco Werner, Audi R10 TDI, 1m 44.974s = 204.2 km/h (15/03/2007)
Distance record: Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish, Audi R15 TDI, 383 laps = 189.9 km/h (21/03/2009)

Schedule (US Eastern time)

Monday, March 11
08:00–12:00 Test session 1
13:00–17:00 Test session 2

Tuesday, March 12
11:50–12:50 Test session 3
16:50–17:50 Test session 4

Wednesday, March 13
17:00–18:00 Test session 5

Thursday, March 14
10:15–11:15 Free practice
15:15–16:15 Free practice
20:00–21:45 Night practice

Friday, March 15
09:20–10:20 Free practice
13:15–13:30 Qualifying (GTC)
13:35–13:50 Qualifying (GT)
14:00–14:15 Qualifying (LMPC)
14:20–14:35 Qualifying (LMP1/LMP2)

Saturday, March 16
08:00–08:25 Warm-up
10:30–22:30 12-hour race