Sebring – The Audi R10 TDI and the Porsche RS Spyder entered the 54th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring as favored but unproven entries. Through the first half of the demanding half-day event, both auto manufacturers were just that in their Sebring debuts. Especially the Audi R10 TDI, which was making its first-ever showing in a race.
Two days after one of the two new Audi R10 TDI entries garnered the pole by breaking the Sebring International Raceway track record by more than two seconds, the No.2 car –the first diesel-powered pole sitter in an international race – developed problems with its heat exchanger during the morning warm up session. As a result, the No.2 car was forced to start the race from pit lane in the 34th position. Despite the handicap start, the No.2 Audi R10, piloted by the trio of Rinaldo Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, needed just 61 laps (just under two hours) around the 3.7-mile circuit to move into the front-running slot.
As good as the No.2 car’s recovery from its mechanical problems was, the sister Audi R10 TDI was forced to retire from the race due to an overheating problem after 117 laps. Before withdrawing, the No.1 car driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner posted a best lap of 1:48.687.
“Sebring is a very, very tough race track,” Ralf Juttner, Technical Director for Team Audi Sport North America, said as he spoke of his concerns regarding the untested R10. “We have done some miles on the car, but we didn’t run it for 12 hours in a row without a break.”
Just past the eight-hour mark, the No. 2 car led the No. 37 Intersport Racing Lola B05/40-AER of Jon Field, Clint Field and Liz Halliday by just over two laps. The Intersport trio led in LMP2 by two laps over the No. 6 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder.
Through the first hour of competition, both Spyders dominated the LMP2 class and were among the top five running cars; however, mechanical problems forced the retirement of the No. 7 car of Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Patrick Long near the seven-hour mark. Thus, car No.6 (piloted by Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr and Emmanuel Collard) was the lone Porsche RS Spyder that was left to do battle with the top-leading cars.
In GT1, the battle between the Corvettes and the Aston Martins has materialized as a fight between last year’s American Le Mans Series champions – Olivier Beretta and Oliver Gavin with Jan Magnusson in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R – with the 009 Aston Martin pole-sitting car of Pedro Lamy, Jason Bright and Stephane Serrazin. With two-and-a-half hours left, Magnussen led Lamy by less than two minutes.
The closest battle on the track, however, is in GT2 where the traditional front-running Porsches have been upstaged thus far by the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430GT with Ralf Kelleners, Jaime Melo and Anthony Lazarro and the Multimatic Motorsports Team Panoz Panoz Esperante GTLM of David Brabham, Scott Maxwell and Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais is leading Lazzaro by 12 seconds.