WEC opens with familiar Audi victory at Sebring

Audi claimed their tenth Sebring 12 Hours success with Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello emerging victorious after an exciting season opener to the inaugural World Endurance Championship.

The trio claimed their third victory in the historic race with Krisensen extending his personal haul of victories to a record breaking six wins. The crew of the number 2 Audi R18 TDi once again showcased their legendary consistency that has also seen them notch up victories atLe Mansand numerous American Le Mans races.

At the chequered flag they held a comfortable four lap margin but for much of the race they were involved in a close fight with their sister cars. The number 3 car-driven by Timo Bernard, Romain Dumas and Loic Duval-was generally in close company until a late race clash with a backmarker necessitated a three lap stay in the pits to repair damage to the car.

This mishap gave the number 2 car sufficient breathing space for them to cruise to the line and claim Audi’s first win since 2009 at theFloridaafter two years of Peugeot dominance.

For the winning crew it was clear just how relieved they were to finally have the monkey taken off their back after setbacks at Sebring andLe Mansin recent years. The race marked the swansong of the R18 before Audi introduce a major upgrade and a new hybrid car for the remainder of the season.

For Dindo Capello it was clear just how much it meant for the Italian to sign off the R18 with another victory:

“Allan, Tom and I have been waiting for this victory for three years,” said the five times winner. “It was the right time to be back on the top of the podium. It’s a sweet success, also because we drove the Audi R18 TDI for the first time here at Sebring. Bringing the car home without any scratches in a field of 63 vehicles is no easy feat. We learned a lot last year. Today we showed that we can get through traffic without body contact in a closed car as well.”

While the number 2 and 3 cars could celebrate their battle at the front the possibility of another Audi clean sweep of the podium was dashed at half distance. The number 1 car, which started from pole position, developed a gear shift problem and lost 15 laps in the pits while the problem was solved.

This dropped the crew to finish the race in 16th position after a weekend that promised much. They were not the only leading runners to be afflicted by problems however with numerous privateer LMP1 teams also sidelined with reliability trouble or accidents.

These woes did however gave the opportunity for the Starworks squad to spring a surprise and claim a podium finish.

Racing in the second tier LMP2 class, with production engines and some other limitations, the Stephane Sarrazin led crew finished just over 30s clear of the number 16 Level 5 Motorsport in a thrilling fight that raged right until the chequered flag.

The winter has been a tough one for Sarrazin, a former star driver for Peugeot before the French manufacturer pulled out of sportscar racing, but the Frenchman was in superb form throughout the weekend. The crew’s speed and consistency allowed them to get into position to claim the podium spot but it took all of Sarrizan’s race craft to land the podium spot.

The battle in the final 90 minutes between the Starworks driver and Joao Barbosa was the most exciting of the race with the duo swapping places numerous times in the closing stages. Ultimately it was Sarrazin that held sway with the one-time Formula 1 racer holding on to claim a fabulous podium finish.

In the GT class Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Jonathan Sommerton came out on top after a battle that went right down to the wire. The RLL driver led into the final lap before being forced off course by Gimmi Bruni. The AF Corse driver’s teammate Olivier Beretta running second, and right behind Hand, it was clear that Bruni was doing all he could to assist his teammate.

The move failed however with Hand making a tremendous recovery and not losing any positions following his off track excursion. He would hold on to claim victory from Jan Magnussen’s Corvette with Beretta standing on the lowest spot of the GT rostrum.

As ever the most historic race in US sportscar racing did not fail to produce excitement and for the WEC the race marked a tremendous start to the championship. With the next race, at Spa-Francorchamps, seeing the arrival ofToyota’s hybrid it is clear that the competition for Audi could get much tougher.

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