Both Audi and Peugeot have confirmed that they will field a brace of entries in the opening round of the American Le Mans Series at Sebring, despite neither planning to run an entire campaign in the USA.
Hours after Peugeot revealed its plans for the 2009 season, LMP1 rival Audi confirmed that it would debut its all-new R15 TDI prototype in the twelve-hour marathon at the Florida airfield, with Audi Sport Team Joest running 'proven driver teams' in the two diesel-powered machines as the marque maintained its practice of debut each new model at Sebring.
Sebring will again provide a stern test for the cars ahead of the main focus of Audi's season, the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, and Joest will concentrate on evaluating the numerous technical innovations and changes that differentiate the R15 from the successful R10 predecessor which remained undefeated at Le Mans.
The first tests with the new prototype have been completed successfully, but Audi knows that there is no substitute for running the car in competition, especially at a venue as notoriously punishing as the bumpy Sebring layout.
"So far, the R15 TDI has performed as we expected," head of Audi Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, confirmed, "but now it must also prove itself in race conditions. Sebring is a particularly hard race, and is therefore perfectly suited to reveal even the smallest of weaknesses."
The proven line-ups will see defending Le Mans winners 'Dindo' Capello, Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish share one car, with 'young guns' Lucas Luhr and Mike Rockenfeller partnering Marco Werner in the other, reprising last year's Sebring 'pairings'.
39-year old McNish will be bidding for a third Sebring triumph next month, and admits that he can't wait to get his hands on the R15, which is equipped with a smaller, lighter and more efficient turbo diesel engine.
"The new R15 TDI is spectacular and I can't wait to race it at Sebring,” the Scot confirmed, “I drove it for the first time before Christmas in Spain and everything went well. Since then, Audi Sport has been busy with extensive testing and everything is progressing very well and on schedule. It's a tremendous car.”
Peugeot, meanwhile, confirmed on Monday that it too would be returning to Sebring, with a two-car effort set to take on not only the Audis, but also Acura's new ARX-02a prototype, which will be run by de Ferran Motorsport and Highcroft Racing.