Audi Sport Team Joest has won the final American Le Mans Series 12 Hours of Sebring. Benoit Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler and Oliver Jarvis managed to beat their Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi after what could best be described as two-car battle for the overall victory. It was the first ever win for a hybrid diesel at Sebring and the 11th overall victory for the German manufacturer since 2000.
As the green flag was shown on Saturday morning Benoit Tréluyer and Tom Kristensen pulled away from the rest of the LMP1 cars and the other classes. The two Audi R18 e-tron quattros were considerably quicker than their ‘rivals’ and lapped the Sebring International Raceway some 3-4 seconds a lap quicker. The Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota’s initially held the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c behind, but on lap 6 Klaus Graf passed Nick Heidfeld and moved up into third place. That top three would still be the same after one hour of racing, the #1 Audi leading the #2 Audi by 15 seconds and the Muscle Milk Picket Racing car almost a lap down. The rest of the field was at least one lap down. ??
Hour two saw the Dyson Racing Lola hitting trouble with Chris Dyson and returning to the pit. Technical problems resulted in them losing 20 laps before returning to the track. An hour and a half into the race the two Audi’s still dominated, the rest of the field lightyears away. There was drama out on the track for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing though as Lucas Luhr lost his left front wheel having just left the pits. The German returned to the pit but lost two laps and dropped back behind the Rebellion Racing cars. At the front McNish took advantage of the traffic and passed his Fässler to take the lead. The DeltaWing was the first retirement of the race. After completing just five laps the Elan engine expired at the end of the pit straight.
After McNish had made a pit stop Fässler moved back into the lead, but the Scot kept pushing and when the Swiss driver made a mistake he passed him and took the lead again. Fässler soon came in for his stop. It seemed to go all well for Audi, but then McNish hit the #81 LMPC car and sent it off the track exiting turn 11. The result was penalty for the Audi, which McNish served towards the end of the hour. The 60-seconds penalty handed the lead back to the #1 Audi. During the fourth hour there wasn’t much of a change – only when the leaders pitted and after the restarted early in the fifth hour it was Oliver Jarvis leading the race, some 8 seconds ahead of Lucas di Grassi. Neel Jani was third, one lap ahead of his teammate Mathias Beche.??
Problems seemed to develop for the #1 Audi with aero issues reported, but checks by the Audi crew resulted in the car being sent out again. The #2 Audi moved back into the lead and at the halfway point it had an 8 seconds lead of its sister-car. Tréluyer fought back though and closed the gap to Kristensen. As Kristensten pitted the #1 took the lead again. Just after 5 o’clock Tréluyer came into the pit and again the car was checked, this time for a loose front floor. Fortunately for Tréluyer he could continue and after seven hours of racing the #1 was 10 seconds clear of the #2. Behind the Audi’s the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD had regained some ground, but a collision with one of the LMPC cars resulted in damage to the #6 HPD and a penalty.
That would not be the only penalty as the #6 then tried to pass an Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD but instead of passing it there was a coming together, which resulted in more damage to Klaus Graf’s car and another stop-and-hold penalty. The #12 Rebellion Racing Lola increased its lead over the #6 to two laps. Audi used the fourth full course caution of the race to assess the damage on the floor of the #1 Audi, which allowed McNish to move into the lead again with four hours left in the race. At the end of the eighth hour the gap between the two R18s was still only seven seconds.??
Despite the loose bottom Fässler in the #1 car started to reel in McNish. The Scot was the first to pit, followed by the Swiss driver a lap later. Both Audi’s made a fuel-only stop and returned to the track separated by only a couple of seconds. The #2 retained the lead until some 2,5 hours before the end of the race, when Di Grassi took over from McNish and Fässler was able to pass the #2 car. Two laps later Fässler came in to hand over to Jarvis and the lead changed once more. After 10 hours of racing at Sebring Di Grassi was 11 seconds clear of Jarvis. Rebellion Racing’s Jani was third, a lap ahead of Romain Dumas in the #6 HPD.
In the following pit stop sequence the #1 Audi moved back into the lead, but the #2 car was still only eight seconds behind in second place and it was all down to the final pit stop sequence. With 30 minutes remaining the #2 car with Kristensen behind the wheel pitted and it returned just over a minute behind Tréluyer’s #1 Audi. The Frenchman made his final stop 21 minutes before the end and rejoined almost 12 seconds ahead of Kristensen.
No changes in the final minutes and after 364 laps Tréluyer crossed the line in first place, taking yet another major win for himself and Fässler. Jarvis recored his second win in Florida this year, after winning his class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with the Audi R8 LMS in January. Kristensen, McNish and Di Grassi finished second once again, almost eight seconds behind the winners. Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani finished in third place.