Contributor: Cindy Andreatos
Photos by Ted Rossino
With a joyous victory, Audi returned this year to the world famous Sebring International Raceway for the very first time since 2009 on Saturday, March 17th, 2012. This 60th Anniversary for Mobil 1's famous event, "Twelve Hours of Sebring" was sponsored in full by Fueled by Fresh from Florida. Dindo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish all completed the 301 laps, all driving their Audi R18's and winning by an overall four laps. This was all accomplished in the very first opening round of the American Le Mans Series. Once again, this race was presented by the world known Tequila Patrón and The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) World Endurance Championship.
To much surprise, Audi finished 1-2 at Sebring for the first time since 2005. Kristensen continued forward maintaining his Sebring record, being sixth in overall victory. Capello is a five time winner and McNish is a four time winner. Kristensen, Capello and McNish all controlled the second half of the race. They overcame major obstacles with their gearboxes. The audience was astonished with Audi's performance and ranking. The second place R18 suffered from contact with a slower car in the last hour of the race.
"We had some small things to worry about, but the 3 car never crossed our mind," Kristensen said. "We focused more on the keys like keeping the corners right. You have to keep doing this every lap. Lap after lap, you have to make sure that he knows you're there. The key is to look for the rhythm."
Dyson Racing took full advantage of the fueling issues for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and won the ALMS' P1 class. Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane led with approximately 30 minutes to finish. Last year's P1 team championship was Dyson Racing, while Dyson and Smith also claimed the driving championship.
Saturday's victory was within one week of testing the new Lola-Mazda. The Muscle Milk's crew was torn apart in their final hour regarding their fueling issues. Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud appeared to be in the running for much of the second half in their HPD ARX-03a prototype.
"I was really delighted with the performance the team put in the last couple days," Dyson said. "After just getting the car 12 days ago with a lot of hours put in since then, this was a reward for their efforts. I am excited about what the rest of the year holds. I'm really looking forward to defending the championship now."
The two P1 winners continued on through a race which started with 62 cars and had 51 cars running at the end. This race was more about patience and opportunity and certainly some luck.
"Every lap, every corner, you had to be focused to not make a mistake or make a stupid maneuver," Audi's Capello said. "We were careful, we finished with just little scratches on our car; nothing serious. It was one of the keys to our success today."
Joey Hand won GT for BMW Team RLL. The last two laps for Hand ended the team's second straight Sebring victory with this very exciting BMW M3 GT. There was no question about it, while there was it was hectic, as well as frantic, the race for almost all of the second half was extremely exciting. Only six cars were in position for the lead. Hand had to really struggle with the last three laps with AF Corse's Olivier Beretta. Beretta appeared to lose the lead on the final lap when he and his vehicle were forced off course by driver Gimmi Bruni who was driving a AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia.
Hand went off track by narrow margins, however he never stopped nor did he loose the lead and ended with a remarkable recovery.
"We talked about this - what we had to do for this race," Hand said. We knew we didn't have the ultimate lap. We knew we had the smartest guys - starting with Bobby Rahal - then BMW, Dunlop, a lot of great people. We had four or five issues that could have taken us laps down."
"This wasn't GT; this was touring car," said Mueller, who won the class championship with Hand last season. "We were flat out like a sprint the whole time. The win was really fantastic. Joey mentioned everybody; it's not a driver's job. It's a team sport. Where we are now with the team is really special."
Corvette Racing's trio of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor were able to get around Beretta at the very finish. They ended 6.3 seconds behind the BMW. Beretta, Andrea Bertolini and Marco Cioci placed third driving their Ferrari F458 Italia.
"(Hand) wants to win, we want to win and that was just racing," Beretta said. "He was on the outside line and there is not as much grip especially on the last lap of the race. It was just the racing circumstances."
Starworks Motorsports drivers Ryan Dalziel, Stephane Sarrazin and Vicente Potolicchio won in P2 driving their HPD ARX-03b. The last two hours were a struggle, while the vehicles went back and forth. Starworks car finished third overall. Sarrazin and Level 5 Motorsports' Joao Barbosa charges position in lead many times within the last 90 minutes of the race.
It was a very challenging as well as a successful opening round in Level 5's title defense of the
ALMS P2 championship. Barbosa, Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker were the top finishing ALMS team within the class and complete overall standings.
"It was a good battle with the WEC car even though it is not a championship we are in," said Tucker, who placed first in last year's P2 title with Bouchut. "Overall my teammates did great today and we are really pleased with them. That is something we worked really hard on in the offseason and we are really pleased with all the developments in the class. We think there can be four to six cars in P2 and make it a really competitive class in ALMS."
It was an unbelievable comeback for the Level 5 team. A crash in qualifying took place on Friday before the race which left Bouchut in the outside tire wall at Turn 1. The team started the race from the end position of the field even after having to change tires.
"We have a great team with really hard workers," Barbosa said. "I was 100 percent confident that we were going to have good car and we had no issues. We just had to get the car going, and it was perfect from that point."
Placing second among the ALMS runners in class was the Black Swan Racing Teem its first P2 race since they moved up from the GT Challenge. Tim Pappas, Bret Curtis and Jon Fogarty completed 298 laps driving their HPD powered Lola B11/80 coupe.
Black Swan Racing was ahead of Conquest Endurance, who finished third among the ALMS P2 finishers in the team's very first race with the Series. Martin Plowman, Jan Haylen and David Heinemeier Hansson were all racing their Morgan-Judd.
The 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida marked the start of the fourth season of Michelin's Green X Challenge.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing won the first round of the prototype Michelin Green X Challenge driving in their new HPD / ARX-03a beating last year's champion Dyson Racing.
Defending 2011 MGXC champions BMW Team RLL was awarded the first win of the season in the GT class.
The years event featured a 62 car start from the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón and the FeWorld Endurance Championship. All vehicles competed on one of four alternative fuels - clean diesel, E85, E10 and isobutanol.
CORE Autosport began the defense of its Prototype Challenge championship with the team's first win at Sebring. E.J. Viso, Alex Popow and Burt Frisselle drove their ORECA FLM09 to a
one-lap triumphant victory over PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.
Butch Leitzinger, Rudy Junco and Ken Dobson finished second in another class fight that went right down to the very final hour. CORE's sister car took third on the class podium with the trio of Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and Eric Lux.
"Sebring is a place that is very special to have the opportunity to come here and drive," Frisselle said. "Thirty-five years ago my father won this race and it is very special for me. The traffic was
intense and without the brilliant driving and hard work from my teammates and CORE autosport, I would not be sitting here. I am proud I got to take part in Sebring history."
Viso was driving the final 2:15 and rarely did he have a lead of over a minute. It was an amazing result for this teams two drivers, who were Viso and Popow. They never had driven the car before this week. Frisselle who ha only driven the ORECA one time, which was a victory at Petit Le
Mans in 2010 with Level 5.
"We were told when we got here Sunday that we think we have a chance for the championship," Popow said. "And it is here; we did it. We got first place. The team did a professional job and we just drove hard all day."
Alex Job Racing won in GT Challenge at Sebring for the second amazing time in a total of three years. Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Dion vonMoltke maintained in the field for a one-lap win over the team car of Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen and J.P. Dumoulin.
The winning Alex Job car had an amazing come back from a couple of earlier racing issues that ended in damaged tires and a spin after von Moltke was smashed at the final turn in the 10th hour. Then von Moltke drove a firm, yet steady race as other challengers fell behind in the second half of the race.
"I had to push the last two hours and was able to get a gap, make the last stop and bring it home for the win," said von Moltke. "The car ran flawless all day. The crew put a great car under us, and we delivered."
AJR placed first at Sebring which was the eighth time. The next round in Long Beach is the beginning of a totally new chapter in the team's history as Sweedler and Bell will debut a Lotus Evora GTE in the Series' GT class.
"What a way to go out. It is just unbelievable," Sweedler said. "Dion is spectacular and Townsend did a great job. The team put together an awesome car and what a day! It couldn't have gone better."
Green Hornet Racing's trio, comprised of Damien Faulkner, Sebastiaan Bleekemolen and Peter LeSaffre placed in third.
In GTE Am, Team Felbermayr-Proton's Christian Ried, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti won by a lap in their Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The Felbermayr team placed second in the class last year at Sebring. This time they finished well ahead of Larbre Competition's Corvette of Christophe Bourret, Pascal Gibon and Jean-Phillippe Belloc.
"We had a bit of trouble in the last hour," Ruberti said. "I did the last stint without the power steering but kept the car on good pace with good results. The Ferrari is a little faster than us, but we were in fact in the best position. In this place we need to now finish all the races for a good championship result."
With six classes of racing running concurrently, the Sebring International Raceway had a series of leader changes throughout the day with the checker flag concluding the racing at 10:31 EST.
The results are show below with the top three in each class:
Top three in class:
(1) #2-P1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18) 325 laps
(2) #3-P1 Bernhard/Dumas/ Duval (Audi R18) 321 laps (-4 Laps)
(6) #16-P1 Collard/Boullion/ Jousse (Pescarolo Judd) 318 laps (-7 Laps)
(3) #44-P2 Potolicchio/Dalziel/ Sarrazin (HPD ARX-03b Honda) 319 laps
(4) #055-P2 Tucker/C.Bouchut/Barbosa (HPD ARX-03b) 319 laps (32.274-)
(5) #24-P2 Nicolet/Lahaye/ Pla (Morgan/Judd) 318 laps (-1 Laps)
(12) #06-PC Popow/Viso/Friselle (Oreca FLM09) 312 laps
(13) #52-PC Leitzinger/Dobson/ Junco (Oreca FLM09) 311 laps (-1 Laps)
(15) #05-PC Bennett/Braun/ Lux (Oreca FLM09) 310 laps (-2 Laps)
(18) #56-GT Hand/Summerton/Mueller (BMW E92 M3) 307 laps
(19) #03-GT Magnussen/Garcia/ Taylor (Corvette C6-ZR1) 307 laps (6.370-)
(20) #71-GT Bertolini/Cioci/ Beretta (Ferrari F458 Italia) 307 laps (8.110-)
(29) #88-GTE-AM Ried/Roda/ Ruberti (Porsche 911 RSR 997) 298 laps
(31) #70-GTE-AM Bourret/Gibon/ Belloc (Corvette C6-ZR1) 297 laps (-1 Laps)
(39) #50-GTE-AM Bornhauser/Canal/ Lamy (Corvette C6-ZR1) 288 laps (-10 Laps)
(33) #023-GTC Sweedler/Bell/ von Moltke (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) 292 laps
(35) #022-GTC MacNeil/Keen/ Dumoulin (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) 291 laps (-1 Laps)
(37) #34-GTC LeSaffre/Faulkner/ Bleekemolen (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) 290 laps (-2 Laps)
Ace Photographer, Ted Rossino captures the sweet taste of victory as Team Audi earns the checker flag at Sebring International Raceway.