Allan McNish thinks he can realistically challenge for victory on the world debut outing for the new Audi R15 TDI at Sebring, the Scot claiming the car is a 'big step forward' over its R10 predecessor.
After months of behind the scenes testing, Audi will finally give the new R15 TDI its first competitive run at the annual 12-hour Florida event, ahead of a limited programme that will also include this year's Le Mans 24 Hours.
Audi's record at Sebring is unparalleled, winning eight of the last ten races, although the introduction of a new car this season means they arguably head into this year's edition with taller odds than Peugeot, while Acura's new LMP1 contender is also expected to be competitive.
Nonetheless, McNish is confident the R15 TDI is a big improvement over the R10, which pioneered the use of diesel technology in sportscars, meaning they can target a repeated of their win at the event last year.
''My target is to claim the first victory for the Audi R15 TDI on its debut,” said McNish, who will team up with Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen this year. “This means that we cannot afford to make any mistakes as the competition is very, very tough this year. We'll have to run at a fast pace.
“The new Audi R15 TDI has a smaller, lighter engine, but there is an enormous amount of work going on in the background to compensate as best as possible for the restrictions enforced by the regulations. The new car has a better weight distribution and it more agile as a result. The aerodynamics have also been optimised.
“The R15 TDI is a huge step compared to the R10 TDI which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in succession. I'm looking forward to Sebring and its unique atmosphere with more than 160,000 spectators, the majority of which camp at the track throughout the entire week. Sebring is the world's second biggest sportscar race.''
Despite McNish's aspirations, for Audi motorsport director Wolfgang Ullrich, the team are merely treating this as a real-world test session for the blue riband Le Mans event in the summer.
''Sebring is an important test for the 24 Hours of Le Mans for us. Experience shows that the track is very hard and mercilessly reveals any problem a car has. Therefore it's particularly important to compete with a newly developed car here.
“It goes without saying that we hope to be able to gauge the performance of our new Audi R15 TDI from the race, you can only do this when you compete against your competition – and this is the case at Sebring.''