SEBRING, Fla. (AP) — Audi introduced a new car with the same old winning results in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello, who now have a combined total of 12 victories in the sports car classic at Sebring International Raceway, outdueled a Peugeot shared by Franck Montagny, Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazine on Saturday in a battle of diesel-powered prototype sports cars.
And they did it in record fashion, covering 383 laps and averaging 117.986 mph, breaking the previous mark of 115.85 set in 1986.
It is Audi’s ninth win in the American Le Mans Series opener in the past 10 years — a string broken only by Porsche’s victory last year — and the third time in that stretch that Audi has won in the debut of a new car.
A tire puncture late in the ninth hour cost the second-place Peugeot about 45 seconds and put it out of sequence on pit stops, a situation that turned out to be key. The top two cars swapped leads on stops several times in the final hours, but the French entry, also a diesel-powered prototype, lost the top spot for the final time when Montagny pitted with 44 minutes remaining, taking only fuel on board.
McNish, who took over the winning car for the final two hours, made his final scheduled stop with almost exactly one hour to go and moved past as the Peugeot sat on pit lane. But his team knew the Scot did not have quite enough fuel to finish and had to build a big enough lead to pit for a splash of gas.
"He just turned the heat up," Bourdais said of McNish. "Franck drove like a mad man, but he couldn’t get close enough."
McNish, who built a lead of more than 62 seconds, was able to make a 10-second stop for gas and came out with 14 minutes to go still leading by more than 25 seconds. He was able to cruise the rest of the way on the 3.7-mile, 17-turn airport circuit, finishing 22.279 seconds ahead of Montagny.
The second of the new Audi R15s, this one shared by Mike Rockenfeller, Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner finished third, two laps behind the leaders, followed in fourth place, another 21 laps behind, by the LMP2 class winning Acura of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz.
Kristensen, Capello and McNish, who won last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, also won the Sebring race as a team in 2006. Individually, Kristensen now has a record five wins here to go along with his record eight Le Mans wins, while Capello has won four times at Sebring and McNish three — all since 1999 when Kristensen first won here in a BMW.
"I knew exactly the fuel situation before we started the (last) stint and I also knew the information regarding where the Peugeot and where we needed to be relative to it," McNish said after posing for a jubilant victory photo on top of the open-cockpit car with his teammates. "They were updating me all the time, every lap I had more information, so I knew pretty much what I had to do."
Kristensen said McNish was incredibly cool in the last hour.
"In the end, he faced immense pressure. But (the Peugeot team) gambled and stayed on the same tires at the end, and that worked in our favor. It went down to the wire, and to win with such a young car is absolutely phenomenal."