23 March 2009 - 10:00
First blood to Audi
Audi has laid down the first marker for Le Mans in
June with victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The R15 driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello took the chequered flag on its first competitive outing, but only after a spectacular race-long battle with - yes, you guessed it - the Peugeot 908 of Frank Montagny, Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin, which finished within 20 seconds of the Audi.
The second of the works R15s, driven by Mike Rockenfeller, Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner, crossed the line in third.
The lead Audi and the Peugeot ran within seconds of each other for virtually the entire race, with only a puncture for Bourdais with three hours to go allowing the R15 to stretch the lead out to a minute.
Despite a series of blistering laps from the Toro Rosso driver to close the gap, it was McNish in the Audi who put the hammer down in the final stint, outpacing the Peugeot by a couple of seconds per lap and eventually crossing the line 22 seconds in the lead.
After the race, Bourdais paid tribute to the Scottish driver. "The puncture didn't help, but Allan McNish just killed us," said the Frenchman.
"I was quite
a bit quicker than the Audi when I was on the track, but as soon as Allan
turned the heat up, we couldn't do anything. He seems to be on another planet
and there's nothing we can do about it."
Audi's victory makes Danish driver Tom Kristensen - already an eight-time Le Mans champion - the first man to win Sebring five times.
Despite taking pole position, the Acura ARX-02a couldn't keep pace with the Audi and Peugeot, slipping back to fifth before retiring with suspension problems after eight hours.
So has this set the tone for Le Mans? Audi edging out Peugeot... again? Or will Aston's LMP1 car - though not competing in Sebring - be in the mix too? Thoughts please...