16 March 2002
Audi wins Sebring again.
It was never going to be enough for the white R8, however, as, no matter how much pressure the veteran crew put on the works car, there was always the suspicion that the factory had more under its belt. In qualifying trim, both silver cars had full seconds in hand over the best that Champion could manage, and the same appeared to be true of the race set-up. If the Champion car gained a couple of seconds in traffic, it was easy for the leader to re-extend its advantage, and the fact that Champion managed to stay on the lead lap for so long was probably due to conservatism in the #2 car as much as anyone else's new-found pace.
''All three of us drove really hard,'' Wallace insisted, ''We gave everything - but it wasn't quite good enough.''
''The Audi just improved with every lap,” team-mate Johansson added, “I was really hooked up in my second stint and the car allowed me to be pretty aggressive. A caution period when we managed to get back on the lead lap in the closing stages would have made the finish interesting but it didn't materialise. It's both pleasing and frustrating to finish second.''
The high temperatures and humidity did not affect the winning R8, although its drivers would admit that things were far from easy.
''We put in a lot of hard work for this win,” Herbert said, “Having achieved it, however, it's fantastic. The Audi R8 is still the car to beat. In the end I was basically trying to conserve the fuel and the brakes. I set a comfortable pace which was enjoyable as well.''
“It was incredibly hot,'' reported Capello, ''We did three stints in a row right from the beginning - which was really difficult in these conditions.''
The Audi crew, however, were thinking of more than just winning the race, remembering as well fallen comrade Michele Alboreto, who helped Capello to victory twelve months earlier.
''I am so proud that we were able to win this race,” Pescatori admitted, “Last year Michele celebrated his last victory here, and Dindo and I wanted to win this race for him. I am really happy that we achieved this.''
Panoz had gone into the race aiming to be Audi's closest challenger, especially after promising pre-event tests. However, reality came sharply into focus in qualifying, where the lead car trailed the works R8s by the same margin as Champion, and was underlined in the race when reliability issues again reared their ugly heads.
The David Brabham/Jan Magnussen/Eric van de Poele car lasted but 56 laps due to engine failure, but appeared briefly at the head of the pack when the safety car caught the Audis unawares.
''I really am disappointed,'' Brabham said, ''Our luck never seems to be on our side at this race. We now have to put our heads down and concrete on the Le Mans test day.''
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