Audi wins Sebring on R15's debut

Audi's new R15 TDI took victory on its debut in the Sebring 12 Hours, as Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello came out on top of a spectacular race-long battle with Peugeot

Audi wins Sebring on R15's debut

The result makes Kristensen the first man to win Sebring five times.

Franck Montagny, Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin had to settle for second place in the best of the 908 HDi FAPs, failing to match McNish's pace in the final sprint.

To complete a near-perfect start to the R15's career, Mike Rockenfeller, Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner brought the #1 Audi home third.

Apart from a brief period when Bourdais managed to give Peugeot a half-minute lead, the top two cars ran just seconds apart until the Formula 1 driver picked up a puncture when running a close second to Kristensen with three hours to go.

That forced Bourdais to pit out of sequence, rejoining a minute behind. But some blistering lap times in the remainder of his stint turned the pressure back on to Audi, for as the race continued to run under green it became clear that the extra Peugeot stop meant it could make its final pit visit virtually on schedule, whereas the #2 Audi would have to make a late 'splash and dash'.

McNish took over from Kristensen for the Audi's final stint, and was able to lap much more consistently than Montagny as the leaders battled on the timing screens rather than wheel to wheel on the circuit as they had earlier. Montagny rejoined after his last stop 38 seconds behind McNish, who proceeded to out-pace the Peugeot by up to two seconds per lap, pulling out a lead of over a minute before diving into the pits with 13 minutes to go.

He rejoined 25s clear and was able to cruise to the flag and add another accolade to his and Audi's incredible sportscar record.

"It was a really, really tough charge," said McNish. "We knew we had a big uphill struggle in the last hour and a half, and we managed to do it a little bit easier than we thought it was going to be.

"It's a very sweet victory for Audi. We can definitely say the new R15 is ready to race."

Bourdais reckoned McNish had made the difference when it counted.

"The puncture didn't help but Allan McNish just killed us," said the Frenchman. "I was quite a bit quicker than the Audi when I was on the track, but as soon as Allan turned the heat up, we couldn't do anything.

"It looks like traffic doesn't have any impact on his performance. He seems to be on another planet and there's nothing we can do about it. Franck's been trying like a mad man, but we just didn't have enough."

The #1 Audi gradually drifted away from the leaders as the evening progressed, finishing a lap down in third.

The second Peugeot had been part of the battle for victory until spending nine laps in the pits having its air conditioning unit repaired. Christian Klien, Pedro Lamy and Nicolas Minassian managed to get back up to fourth, only for the car to come to a halt on the circuit with half an hour to go, leaving it fifth in the classification.

After its shock pole on Thursday, Acura was unable to take the fight to the diesels in the race. The De Ferran car was swiftly shuffled back to fifth in the early laps, and retired with suspension problems eight hours in. The Highcroft Acura was delayed by a couple of incidents in the first half of the race, before eventually being halted by a transmission glitch two hours from the end.

But Acura was still able to celebrate LMP2 victory, as Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz came home fourth overall. The Mexican duo were the only LMP2 finishers, as the rival Dyson Lola-Mazdas were both out within five hours.

Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia won the all-Corvette GT1 battle on the C6-R's final Sebring appearance. The two cars ran in close company for much of the race before the #3 managed to establish a 30s cushion.

The GT2 battle was decided earlier than expected, as a litany of mechanical problems and incidents saw the Porsche challenge wilt in the opening hours.

Ferrari therefore took a one-two, with Risi's Jaime Melo, Mika Salo and Pierre Kaffer leading home Gianmaria Bruni, Luis Companc and Mattias Russo's Advancing Engineering car by three laps.

The PTG Panoz team finished in a breakthrough third place, but only after a late tangle with Marc Lieb's recovering Flying Lizard Porsche that saw Lieb slewing into the wall as he tried to complete a pass on PTG's Ian James.

The repaired Flying Lizard cars still completed the top five, as both Rahal Letterman BMWs dropped out before half-distance on the new M3's debut.

Pos Cl Drivers Car Time 1. LMP1 Capello/Kristensen/McNish Audi R15 TDI 12h00m38.638s 2. LMP1 Montagny/Sarrazin/Bourdais Peugeot 908 HDi FAP + 22.279s 3. LMP1 Luhr/Rockenfeller/Werner Audi R15 TDI + 2 laps 4. LMP2 Fernandez/Diaz Acura ARX-01B + 23 laps 5. LMP1 Minassian/Lamy/Klien Peugeot 908 HDi FAP + 27 laps 6. GT1 O'Connell/Magnussen/Garcia Corvette C6.R + 34 laps 7. GT1 Gavin/Beretta/Fassler Corvette C6.R + 35 laps 8. GT2 Melo/Kaffer/Salo Ferrari 430 GT + 51 laps 9. GT2 Companc/Russo/Bruni Ferrari 430 GT + 53 laps 10. GT2 Farnbacher/James Panoz Esperante + 54 laps 11. GT2 Bergmeister/Long/Lieb Porsche 911 GT3 + 57 laps 12. GT2 Law/Neiman/van Overbeek Porsche 911 GT3 + 57 laps 13. GT2 Krohn/Jonsson/van de Poele Ferrari 430 GT + 58 laps 14. GT2 Robertson/Robertson/Murry Doran Ford GT MK 7 + 80 laps 15. LMP1 Brabham/Sharp/Franchitti Acura ARX-02a + 81 laps 16. GT2 Henzler/Werner/Lietz Porsche 911 GT3 + 109 laps 17. GT2 Feinberg/Hall/Holt Dodge Viper + 132 laps 18. LMP1 De Ferran/Pagenaud/Dixon Acura ARX-02a + 137 laps 19. GT2 Drayson/Cocker/Bell Aston Martin + 179 laps 20. LMP1 McMurry/Willman/Burgess Lola B06/10 AER + 232 laps 21. LMP2 Leitzinger/Franchitti/Devlin Lola B09 86 Mazda + 234 laps 22. GT2 Muller/Milner BMW E92 M3 + 243 laps 23. LMP2 Dyson/Smith/Lally Lola B09 86 Mazda + 256 laps 24. GT2 Gigliotti/Curran/Molo Chevrolet Riley + 294 laps 25. LMP1 Field/Field/Ducote Lola B06/10 AER + 306 laps 26. GT2 Hand/Auberlen BMW E92 M3 + 356 laps 
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