Sunday, March 17, 2013

Audi wins the final LMP1 Sebring 12 Hours

By Johan Laubscher

Audi Sport Team Joest has won the 2013 Sebring 12 Hours. A 1-2 finish after a very long race. Victory went to the #1 driving crew of Marcel Fässler, Benoît Tréluyer and Oliver Jarvis in the 2012 Audi R18 e-tron quattro. The #2 squad of Lucas di Grassi, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish finished second in the 2013 Audi R18 e-tron quattro.

The 2013 Sebring 12 Hours marked the end of an era. The American Le Mans Series was born at Sebring in 1999 and every year since the Le Mans category cars have competed in North America. 2014 heralds a new era as the ALMS and Grand-Am are merging to form the new United SportsCar Racing series. The new series will combine the existing categories, but LMP1 will be omitted. Thus 2013 was a very special Sebring 12 Hours as it would be the last appearance of the LMP1 category in this classic endurance race. This added significance to the race meant that Audi dearly wanted to win their LMP1 swansong at Sebring.

Race week itself got underway with testing sessions from Monday until Wednesday. Audi Sport Team Joest completed the test sessions steadily, working on race setup. The official practice sessions began on Thursday and the Audis established themselves at the top of the time sheets. Their pace continued into qualifying with Audi taking a 1-2. A mere 0,009 seconds separated the two cars with Marcel Fässler taking the pole ahead of Allan McNish.

A sunny day greeted Sebring on raceday. The 61st Sebring 12 Hours got the green flag at 10h45 local time and the two Audis headed into the distance. The #1 maintained the lead during the first hour. The second hour saw the lead change under braking as #2 passed #1 at the old hairpin. The race began settling into a rhythm with both Audis seesawing between themselves, each loosing and gaining time due to various incidents. A few brief off track moments combined with a 60 second stop-and-go highlighted the opening sequence of the race.

Various safety car sessions ensured that the two Audis remained on the lead lap and in close proximity to eachother. The battle between the two Audis carried on into the afternoon as both cars circulated closely and even traded paint on occasion. The strategies of the two cars eventually became separated, as both crews were determined to go for the win. 

The inter Audi fight continued unabated through the afternoon and into the night, with both cars racing each other on the lead lap. The intensity of the racing suggested that there were no team orders. A loose floorboard had developed on the #1 car, causing sparks on the ground, but it did not effect the performance and the battle with their teammates continued. They traded places during the pit stop sequences, and as the final hour approached the pattern had settled with #1 leading #2, by approximately ten seconds. 

As the race entered the final hour the cars were in sight of each other, and it was a straight fight between Benoît Tréluyer in #1 and Tom Kristensen in #2. The racing became intense in traffic as both cars had near misses. It was certainly a race, as both drivers were going for that special final ALMS Sebring victory. 

The battle continued into the final minutes of the race. Ultimately the final pit stop allowed Benoît Tréluyer to gain a cushion and he held off Tom Kristensen, leading home an Audi 1-2 finish. This was Audi's eleventh overall victory at Sebring, and a perfect swansong for Audi's LMP1 Sebring legacy. 

Photo credit: Audi Sport Media