18 March 2007
Sebring 2007: Audi, Acura win, but GT2 stars.
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."
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."
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