Another Audi Winning Act at Sebring?
|The Audi R8 on its debut at Sebring in 2000.|
Audi and Sebring are synonymous with success.
Inextricably linked since the debut of the Audi R8 in 2000 (the R8R in 1999 notwithstanding), it’s been almost a guarantee that every year the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón season opens with an Audi win at the legendary 3.7-mile road course in Florida.
Since 2000, only Penske Racing’s LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder (2008) and Peugeot (2011) managed to beat Audi. In 2010, Audi didn’t race at Sebring as it was in-between car cycles of its new-for-2009 R15 TDI and the updated R15 TDI Plus that swept the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans later that year.
Audi enters the 2013 edition of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, the 61st running of the endurance classic, with two main agendas. The first is to resume its role atop the P1 leaderboard; the second is to reminisce.
|Audis Past: The R8 (2005), R10 TDI (2005), R15 TDI (2009) and R18 Ultra (2012).|
Other than saluting its fans for their years of support at Sebring, Audi has no reason to race as the Sebring doesn’t count for points for their main campaign – a two-car effort in the FIA World Endurance Championship. But as it has since their full-time ALMS participation ended at the end of 2008, the Four Rings are back at Sebring to gain laps, experience and preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The road to victory is no less challenging this year. Sure, its main WEC rival (Toyota) isn’t making the trip over, but there were enough signs in 2012 that one of the independents could potentially pull off the upset.
For one, Audi enters with an unproven driver lineup by its own illustrious standards. The traditional Allan McNish/Tom Kristensen/Rinaldo Capello juggernaut has run its last race as a trio. “Dindo” rides off into retirement with the option to enjoy a fine glass of Italian wine while watching, rather than driving, this year.
Lucas di Grassi, whose Formula 1 racing career stalled before it ever really got going, will attempt to fill those illustrious shoes in the No. 2 Audi. The Brazilian has some experience with Audi, but this will be his first Sebring start. The pressure to deliver is immense, when you’re co-driving with the “Scottish terrier” and “Mr. Le Mans.”
In the sister car, the No. 1 entry and twice-defending 24 Hours of Le Mans winners Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer don’t have Andre Lotterer, their usual star co-driver, available. Thus the task of delivering now falls to Englishman Oliver Jarvis.
Jarvis, though, is a more proven commodity than is di Grassi. Jarvis made a handful of starts in the R18 last year, and has already delivered one huge endurance race win this year. He was among the co-drivers in Alex Job’s winning GT-class Audi R8 entry in this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.
|Will Rebellion Racing, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, Dyson Racing or the DeltaWing steal Audi's Sebring thunder?|
Those are Audi’s bullets. However, the ALMS contingent of P1 cars was mightily impressive here a year ago.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing nearly finished second overall after a near flawless debut run for its HPD ARX-03a, only to be sabotaged by a faulty fuel connection on its final pit stop. The result was heartbreak for Greg Pickett’s team and drivers Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud.
Pickett’s boys are back this year as defending ALMS P1 champions, with Romain Dumas in the third driver role instead of Pagenaud, and now a heavily updated HPD (now the ARX-03c) that features significant aero updates. They were plenty quick last year and could hassle the Audis.
The benefactor of Pickett’s late-race demise last year, as in 2011, was Dyson Racing. Chris Dyson and Guy Smith seek their third straight Sebring class victory, and have one of Rob Dyson’s legends back on hand as third driver this time around in Butch Leitzinger. If the Dyson Lola-Mazda doesn’t quite have the outright pace, certainly it has the consistency and proven track record to be in contention.
Rebellion Racing, too, has assembled a solid effort. Like Pickett, Rebellion also was cruelly denied an overall podium in the final hours last year. A two-car effort of Lola-Toyotas with one committed to the full ALMS season bodes well for the Bart Hayden-led squad. The youngster to watch here is Swiss rising star Mathias Beche, who co-drove the second-place LMP2 entry at last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and makes his P1 debut at Sebring.
The radical DeltaWing completes the class entry, and makes its P1 debut with a plethora of new moving parts. Winning seems a stretch, but the car proved its technological merits with a great race at last year’s Petit Le Mans when it finished fifth overall. The car’s design and livery, if nothing else, will stand out more than any other on the grid.
In theory, the recipe for success for Audi is simple: do what you’ve done pretty much every year, run as flat out as possible to keep the car in one piece, avoid the potential reliability or contact pitfalls, and futher your history at Sebring with yet another win.
In reality, if Audi has any sort of stumble, the privateers are ready to pounce.
Tony DiZinno is a motorsports journalist who has worked with RACER, Michelin Alley, Motorsport.com and other publications. He is a recent graduate of Marquette University and a regular contributor to ALMS.com. His blog will appear every other Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter - @tonydizinno.