Audi continued its domination of the Sebring 12 Hours, adding a seventh win of the 21st Century as Marco Werner took the #2 R10 TDi to a comfortable victory in the opening round of the 2007 American Le Mans Series.

Crossing the line six laps ahead of its closest opposition, the victory ensured a fourth success for Werner's team-mate Frank Biela - tying him with Audi colleague Tom Kristensen - and a second for Emanuele Pirro. Remarkably, however, it was the first Sebring win together for the trio, even though Werner added his own third success as the diesel-powered R10 racked up a second straight Sebring win and its ninth victory in as many races, and all three had to work hard to bring the #1 car back from a two-lap deficit brought on by a puncture and pit-lane penalties.

"I would have never put money on our car," Pirro admitted, "When you are two laps behind, it's very tough. I just had to put my foot down and race. We had to believe we were still tough competitors. Today's race was very demanding, and every other car had problems with mechanicals. We never had a mechanical issue and that is another reason why I am so proud."

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Werner started on the pole, but trailed the sister car of Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello , who led most of the opening five hours as the #1 car had its problems. At the five-hour mark, however, McNish pitted to hand over to Capello, only for the Italian to struggle to get the car rolling. The team replaced a battery, starter motor and dashboard before the #2 eventually rejoined the race, half and hour down.

"It was a tough race, the TDI was running good, but you never know what will happen," Werner said, reflecting on his team-mates' woe, "You have to push all day long and you never feel safe."

The #2 eventually came in fourth overall, while Audi's success was also helped by the other LMP1 runners, notably the new Intersport Creation, never being 'at the races' The Intersport car completed the class podium, but from back in 14th overall.

LMP2 provided greater competition, and allowed the Acura programme to claim a debut victory over the growing band of Porsche prototypes. The top two positions in class were claimed by the Andretti Green and Lowe's Fernandez teams, with the best of the Penske Porsches had to settle for third in the hands of Romain Dumas, Helio Castroneves and Timo Bernhard. The Highcroft Courage-Acura claimed fourth in class as the leading LMP2 runners filled out the remaining top six places overall.

The class win for AGR's trio of Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta came less than a year after Acura publicly announced its entry into the American Le Mans Series. The #26 car led overall on three different occasions and eventually finished two laps ahead of the Lowe's Fernandez Racing Lola of Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz and David Martinez.

"I can't put it in words - I would rate it as one of the highest emotional experiences I've had," said Honda Performance Development president Robert Clarke, "I couldn't have been so bold as to dream of this result, but so much work went into this programme. It has been a long road, not just for HPD but for Acura, our teams, sponsors, drivers, everyone who is involved in the programme."

The three Acura entries ran steadily throughout the day and, aside from electrical issues with the Highcroft car, were immune from major problems up until the final hour. Then, the Andretti Green entry made two unscheduled stops in the last 35 minutes to add gear oil as Herta had trouble shifting in the closing moments, but that and a battery fault was about the extent of their problems.

"I really couldn't catalogue all the problems from the last hour," Herta said, "Right from the beginning, we were having battery voltage problems, so we couldn't use a lot of the electronics. Then we had problems with the gearbox and gave us troubles. I think, in the last ten laps, the car shut off half a dozen times and re-fired.

"But I have to take my hat off to the group. I have never seen a group that has worked so hard and put in so much effort. You wouldn't believe how many problems we had in testing and it's a testament to bring it here and get us this result."

With four RS Spyders in the field and a successful 2006 campaign behind it, Porsche would have been most people's favourite for class success, but every car found significantly more trouble than their Acura rivals. Electrical problems and other maladies set the entries from Penske Motorsports and Dyson Racing back in the first six hours, although Penske's combination of Dumas, Bernhard and Castroneves weathered the storm to take advantage of Highcroft's problems and secure third in class.

The GT1 class may have been a bit thin, but still provided a head-to-head between the two leading cars, albeit both from the Corvette racing stable. In the end, it was the form team from 2006 - Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and guest driver Max Papis - that came out on top, although the 'Ron Fellows Special Edition' sister car - crewed by the Canadian and regular season pairing Johnny O'Connell and Jan Magnussen - finished on the same lap. The Team Modena Aston duly finished third, but was fully ten laps adrift at the flag.

Corvette's success was its fifth in six years as Gavin, Beretta and Papis took a 17-second victory over the sister car after both machines ran on the same lap for the entire twelve-hour distance.

"As everyone knows, Sebring is a tough track and is a great test for Le Mans," said Beretta, now the ALMS' all-time leader with 29 wins and a three-time winner at Sebring, "but the car at the end of the race was like the car on lap one. This team knows exactly what to do - we worked very well and had fantastic pit-stops as usual. We pushed the car because we had strong competition from the #3, but everything went perfectly."

Saturday's event marked the first outing for a new production-based air conditioning unit in the C6.Rs, which the team will use at Le Mans in June and for the full ALMS season.

"This was a fantastic test for us," Gavin, now a four-time Sebring winner, added, "The AC performed so well that we sometimes wanted to turn it off, and that's unusual for a closed car. Nearly every driver who got out of the car was looking fresh and really good. If we can stay focused and sharp and fresh, that will be a really big, big help at Le Mans."

If GT1 was close, however, there was literally nothing between the leading two cars in GT2, with Jorg Bergmeister and Jaime Melo going doorhandle-to-doorhandle as they crossed the line in the closest finish in the race's 55-year history.

Melo, who drove with Mika Salo and Johnny Mowlem, led by five seconds with eleven minutes left, but Bergmeister had been tracking his Brazilian rival down throughout the final stint and took advantage of a lock-up from the Risi Ferrari to get a run on Melo two corners from home. The pair had crossed the start-finish line just before Werner's Audi took the chequered flag so, instead of a one-second victory, Melo had to hold off Porsche factory driver Bergmeister for another full circuit.

The German pulled alongside and inched into a lead as they headed into the final turn but, having led for most of the race, Melo was not about to be denied and got physical with the Flying Lizard Porsche through the final turn, doing just enough to retake the lead as they flashed past the flagstand. Bergmeister called for a protest, but the officials quickly dismissed the action as 'good close racing'.

"It was a fantastic last lap - I've never had a finish like that," Melo said, "I had brake problems late on and tried to keep it steady. He overtook me on the backstraight and I braked a little early. Out of turn 17, I just put in a little more and opened the throttle as soon as possible."

The battle between the Ferrari and Porsche had lasted throughout the day, despite the Risi car starting from the rear of the grid, enduring a late drama in pit-lane with a 20-second penalty and surviving a turn 17 spin at sunset. In the end, Melo crossed the line by just 0.202secs to confirm the team's fifth win in the last seven events.

"It was really tight with the #45 car," co-driver Salo said, "We were absolutely flat out the entire way. GT2 is the best racing in this series, and it's going to be like this all year, so we have to improve so we don't have any more finishes like this."

"It was just awesome," third driver Mowlem echoed, "Every time we were out there, we were driving as hard as we could. To finally get to the end and have Jaime drive for two hours like he did and have that kind of final lap, he's my hero. To win is just fantastic."

Overshadowed by the antics up front - as GT2 again provided the closest finish of the race - Patrick Long brought the #71 Tafel Racing Porsche he shared with Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell to the podium, albeit eight laps behind the leaders.