Sebring (16 March,
It was a grueling and hard-fought race from start to finish at
the 50th Anniversary Sebring 12 Hours. In the end, ADT/Champion
Audi R8 drivers Andy Wallace, Stefan Johansson and Jan Lammers
finished in second place overall, also winning the Sebring
LMP900 IMSA Cup for Privateers, as the highest-placed privateer
entry in the LMP900 class.
After a week of warm and clear weather in
the Sebring area, race day dawned humid and much warmer than any day
during practice or qualifying, so in addition to being a tough endurance
test for the cars, the Sebring 12 Hours would be a real test of driver
fitness as well. A recent record 59 cars took the flying start at
10:30am, and Andy Wallace (who had qualified the car) made an excellent
move from his fifth-place starting spot to move into third place on the
first lap, and then promptly set out after the two leading Joest Audi
R8's. Unfortunately, the technical advances of the factory Audis meant
that even our latest-spec 2001 R8 was falling back some three seconds
per lap to the two lead cars, despite the best efforts of driver and
crew. If this race was to be ours, it would have to be won in the pits,
but even that would not be possible unless the factory cars hit trouble
at some point.
Wallace did a double stint to open the race
(staying in the car at the first fuel stop), but was over a lap down to
the leaders when he turned over to Stefan Johansson just after noontime.
Johansson's experience was just the same as Wallace's, and it remained a
struggle to keep within one or two laps of the factory cars. A tired
Wallace exclaimed after getting out of the car, "It's just bloody
difficult. We simply can't match the factory cars on speed, much less
make up time, particularly when we're having to pass seven or eight
slower cars every lap."
As the day wore on the ADT/Champion Audi R8
held on to third place as the factory cars traded the lead back and
forth during pit stops. Johansson, and then Lammers were able to remain
within the same 1-2 lap margin from the leaders, but could not make up
ground. Whenever the Champion drivers set a quicker lap time, the
leaders would pick up their pace to match, keeping the gap from closing.
Of great help in the fight were our fantastic Michelin tires, which were
able to be double-stinted, and which actually performed better in their
second stints than their first! Every driver set his fastest times of
his double stint in the second half, when the Michelins were already
more than a full stint old. This allowed the team to keep pushing to the
maximum extent, despite track temperatures exceeding 118 degrees F.
The #1 (red) Joest Audi was forced to pit
several times to replace the car's nose bodywork after on-course contact
with another car. Late in the afternoon it pitted again with its front
tray full of steering fluid. These stops allowed Champion to move into
second place, but only just. Then the #1 Audi had a very long pit stop
to fully replace the steering rack, which effectively dropped them far
enough down the standings that it was a straight fight between Champion
and the #2 (yellow) factory Audi for the win.
Through the supreme efforts of drivers and
crew alike, including some effective pit strategy by Crew Chief Brad
Kettler during the long full-course caution near sunset, the ADT/Champion
Audi R8 was able to regain the lead lap as the field raced into
nighttime, and hold onto the lead lap position, staying in contention
for the finish. All the drivers were using the car's maximum
capabilities just to stay on the lead lap though, and were again unable
to make any headway from there to close the gap to the lead car. But
despite making two fewer pit stops than the lead car, and despite a
mechanically flawless run for the full 12 hours, the lead factory Audi
did not falter, and we were simply unable to catch them despite our best
efforts. In the end Champion had to settle for a "best of the rest"
second place finish, but the whole team was upbeat nevertheless.
"We did everything we could", said Champion
Racing team owner Dave Maraj. "All of our careful preparation and the
work of three great drivers were just no match for the factory cars
today," Maraj continued, "I am proud of Andy, Stefan and Jan, and my
whole crew for their tremendous work under these conditions. We are very
pleased to be on the Podium here at Sebring, a race which has such an
important place in the history of sportscar racing, as well as being a
home race for Champion with all our friends and family here. And we are
proud to take our new primary sponsor, ADT Security Services, to the
Winner's Circle in just their first race with us."
With the postponement of the ALMS Miami
race from April to October, the next event for the ADT/Champion Audi R8
will be at Sears Point, on 19 May.