Records Fall at Sebring

Records Fall at Sebring
Champion Racing created history with their sixth 1-2 finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring, which was also the closest finish ever for the famous race, while Aston Martin claimed their first win at the track in 49 years.

JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and Tom Kristensen gave Champion Racing its first Sebring victory, and the margin of victory (6.365 seconds) was the tightest win ever - the previous closest win was also the most recent non-Audi win, in 1999, when Lehto, Kristensen and Jorg Mueller took victory in the Schnitzer BMW by just 9.2 seconds.

Audi now have a streak of six consecutive overall wins at the track - only Porsche has a better track record, having won every race from 1976 to 1988. Audi have also taken a 1-2 in each of those races, which no other manufacturer has ever achieved.

"This was a great win for the Champion Audi team," Lehto said afterwards. "It was tough all the way - we started with a harder compound tire than the No. 2 car, which made it very difficult to work, but we were equal all the way. It was a good show for Champion; we had tried before and always finished second."

Frank Biela in the second Audi had been looking to claim his record fourth win at Sebring - instead Kristensen joins the German, Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Hans Stuck and Olivier Gendebein on a record-tying three overall wins.

No one was close to Audi in the race - their nearest competitor was the Dyson Racing Lola of James Weaver, Andy Wallace and Butch Leitzinger, which finished twenty laps off the lead.

Aston Martin claimed GT1 honours with solid drives by David Brabham, Darren Turner and Stephane Ortelli to bring home the category win at their first attempt since 1983.

The British marque was somewhat fortunate - the Corvettes looked to have the race well in hand until just before the eight hour mark when an accident stopped Oliver Gavin and a brake explosion threw Johnny O'Connell violently into the wall.

The team lost a lot of laps working on the cars in the pits, with the first Corvette unable to circulate at race pace again. Max Papis, however, did an amazing job in the second Corvette - his incredible night time drive brought the team back up to within one lap of the Aston Martin, living up to his 'Mad Max' sobriquet.

However, to the victor goes the spoils, and the British team was rightfully jubilant after crossing the finish line for the final time. Prodrive boss and team director David Richards was all smiles, noting: "This marks the beginning of a new era for Aston Martin."

"It was a great race!" Brabham laughed afterwards. "It feels so good to beat such strong competition - it's a credit to everybody. We've got a great team, and the Aston Martin is a great car. This was an astonishing finish at such a tough race."

The much discussed Maserati team were well off the pace - all the pre-race talk and protests amounted to nothing as the Italians came home ninth overall, fifth in class and 22 laps behind class winner Aston Martin after a number of car problems plagued their race.

The P2 field was devastated by mechanical gremlins, with all bar the lead car suffering debilitating problems. The Kruse Motorsports Courage had looked to have the category sewn up until it lost an engine around the nine hour mark and was forced into retirement - the Miracle Motorsports Courage of Ian James, Chris McMurry and Jeff Bucknum rolled through the laps until they had the lead, and then kept on at a modest pace to the flag.

The GT2 category was owned by the White Lightning Porsche of Lucas Luhr, Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister, who controlled the race from the front - they were the category polesitters and outside of the early stops were never headed. They won the category by seven laps, despite a small incident with one of the Audis.
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