Audi has secured a debut victory for its new R15 TDi after coming out on top of a race-long battle with arch rivals Peugeot in the opening round of the American Le Mans Series at Sebring.

Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen took top honours at the wheel of the #2 car after a race which saw the leading cars running more or less together for long periods, with the second placed Peugeot of Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Sebastien Bourdais ultimately coming home little more than 22 seconds behind.

After Audi led through the early stages, Peugeot then moved to the front as the 908 HDi chased its first win in the event but the #9 car dropped out of contention for victory when it ran into a problem with its air-conditioning unit, forcing the team to pit and putting the car nine laps down on the lead battle.

It left the #8 car to take the fight to the Audi's, despite having started the race from the pitlane, but a suspected puncture near the nine hour mark led to an unscheduled stop for Montagny while running in second place that put the leading cars out of sync on pit-stops.

When Montagny made his final stop, it allowed McNish to take the lead and a series of quick laps by the Scot allowed him to build enough of a lead to complete a late 'splash and dash' stop for fuel with less than 15 minutes remaining and rejoin the track ahead of the Frenchman before taking the chequered flag 22.279 seconds ahead of the Peugeot after a race where the leading pair remained on the same lap throughout.

"I knew I had 55 seconds to get in and out with a comfortable gap," McNish said. "But if a yellow came out after they pitted and prior to our stop, it was all out the window. We were lucky because I think everyone drove exceptionally well until the end. The poker aspect is played by the engineers not by the drivers; the pit strategy is by the guys behind the wall. We are just given instructions to do things and that was drive very, very quickly."

The victory was a record fifth success for team-mate Kristensen and completed a hat-trick of debut wins for Audi's LMP1 machinery, with the R8 and the R10 TDi having also won first time out. With only three caution periods, the race also broke the records for highest average speed, distance covered and laps completed.

The Peugeot crew had to settle for second despite leading the race on no fewer than eight occasions while the second Audi eventually secured third place but was two laps behind the battle for victory after dropping away from the leading pair as the race went on. The #9 Peugeot had battled back from its problems to hold fourth before stopping on the track in the closing hour, although it was still classified in fifth place.

The debut for the new Acura ARX-02a didn't go according to plan, as both the Patron Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports teams failed to make it to the finish. The de Ferran car had started from pole but was unable to hold off the diesel cars at the start as de Ferran quickly dropped behind the Audis and Peugeots when the race went green and retired with mechanical problems after 246 laps, while the Highcroft car also ran into issues which forced the team to call it a day after just over 300 laps. The Autocon and Intersport Lolas also failed to make it the finish.

The LMP2 battle turned into an easy win for Fernandez Racing, which made amends for its disqualification last year to take fourth place overall

With Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz sharing driving duties, the lone remaining LMP2 Acura had the edge on the new Dyson Racing Lola Mazdas throughout and was never challenged as its rivals ran into problems with its new cars - one of which hadn't even turned a wheel prior to the Sebring race week. Indeed, neither Dyson entry made it past the half-way mark to give the Fernandez crew the early advantage in the championship race.

"We just had to focus and keep a secure pace," Diaz said. "After that it was just a matter of not losing the concentration. Lap after lap it's hard to keep the concentration so it became a challenge of not making mistakes. The Dyson Mazdas did not score points and we got a lot, so it gives us a cushion. But our goal is to win every single race this year. That is the pressure for ourselves. We want to prove we are the best team."

The final appearance for the dominant GT1 Corvette C6.R saw the #3 car of Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia come out on top, with a winning margin of a lap over the sister car of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler. The #3 car led the majority of the race in what marked the penultimate ALMS event for the car which will also race at Long Beach before the team heads to Le Mans to try and defend its crown. The new GT2 Corvette is then set to debut in Mid-Ohio in August.

"It was a really good battle," O'Connell said. "The #4 car had a better set-up for qualifying, but we improved our car some and both cars were within 20-30 seconds throughout. We closed up during some cautions but our crew did a great job. The #4 car is full of fighters and they kept pushing every bit."

The GT2 battle went the way of Ferrari, after the leading Porsche teams ran into problems in the early stages. Contact for Jorg Bergmeister's Flying Lizard Porsche with the Ford GT of David Robertson early on put the #45 car out of contention while the Farnbacher Loles car of Dirk Werner, Wolf Henzler and Richard Lietz - which had started from the class pole - ran into mechanical issues that left it well down the order.

It left Risi Competizione to secure a second win in three years, despite the #62 Ferrari having started at the back of the field thanks to Jaime Melo's late arrival at the circuit for the event. It took only a matter of hours for the car to make its way to the front however and once in the lead, Mel, Mika Salo and Pierre Kaffer were never headed as they secured victory by two laps over the Advanced Engineering Pecom Racing Team car, which was making its debut in the event.

"We started from the back, but it was OK because we won last time from the back," Salo said. "The GT cars could get spread out so you could do two or three laps by yourself. Winning is good. You always want it close but a win is great. Some laps the new Porsches could not keep it consistent, but we saw in the week they can do really quick laps but in the long run we can beat them."

Having battled with the recovering Lizards car in the closing hours, the Panoz Team PTG Esperante of Ian James and Dominik Farnbacher rounded out the podium positions, with the Lizards Porsches in fourth and fifth ahead of the Krohn/Risi Ferrari in sixth. The Ford GT, which had impressed with its speed throughout the week and maintained its form in the early hours, was seventh followed by the Primetime Viper, which also performed strongly compare to last season.

For Rahal Letterman BMW however, there was disappointment as neither BMW M3 made it to the finish, with the #90 car being pushed off the grid at the start and managing just 27 laps before becoming the first retirement, although the sister car of Dirk Muller and Tom Milner had run in a podium place before it too succumbed to mechanical problems.

The two VICI Racing Porsches were withdrawn before the start.

To view the result, Click Here.



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