16 March 2002
Audi wins Sebring again.
“I am delighted to be with this team and to have a win the first time out is just amazing,” Gavin smiled, “The car was very well prepared and ran perfectly. It was so hot today that I was wondering how we were going to cope with the heat. Ron and Johnny and myself all had tried to prepare for it. My first stint was between twelve and one in the afternoon and, when I got out of the car, the medical team told me that my temperature was 103.9 degrees. You know when you have the flu with that kind of fever you don't even get out of bed let alone drive a race car.''
This allowed the Konrad-entered Saleen into second in class, and tenth overall, in spite of the restrictions placed upon its performance after a dominant success in 2001. Only the Larbre Viper effort, led by Christophe Bouchut, provided any resistance, but the Frenchman and co-driver Vincent Vosse were hobbled by frequent pit-stops and did well to push the S7 so hard for a spot in the top ten.
Alex Job Racing took GT honours with Germany's Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr leading the way to another Sebring victory. The Porsche crew finished ahead of the second Corvette, in twelfth overall, and headed the rest of the 'junior' class by some eleven laps. The Seikel team, winners at Le Mans last year after an equally steady run, claimed second only when the second Job entry retired late on, such was the dominance of the US-based team.
''We had added some additional cooling vents and an auxiliary fan in anticipation of the hot weather,'' Maassen explained of the team's meticulous preparations, ''but the fan quit for the middle part of the race. However, the car was so well prepared that all we had to struggle with was the heat. Even though it was last year's car, it felt brand new.''
The Ferrari challenge fell short in both GT and GTS classes, with the Prodrive-entered trio of Alain Menu, Rickard Rydell and Tomas Enge performing best of all to take 30th position in the 550 Maranello. The similar car of Naspetti, Schiattarella and Cecotto posted the fist retirement after just eleven laps, with MSB's 360 Modena doing likewise in the GT class one lap further on.
''I'm very disappointed not being able to get into the race,'' debutant Marino Franchitti said shortly after hearing of team-mate Ralf Kelleners' demise, ''I expected the car to last longer than that, but that's motorsport - you've got to take the good with the bad. I'll just go home and watch the end of the race on television.''
In truth, however, the entire twelve hours were about Audi, which now marches on towards a possible third successive Le Mans triumph. After the upset in Florida, however, not everyone's money will be on the Pirro/Biela/Kristensen crew completing the hat-trick.
''This is Audi's third Sebring win in a row and now we focus on Le Mans win number three,'' commented race winner Herbert, ''I triumphed at Le Mans in 1991 and I want to win it again. Audi has shown in this 12-hour 'dress rehearsal' that it's capable of achieving a Le Mans hat-trick and I aim to be on that winner's rostrum.''
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