It is a debut and a farewell at the same time: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro contests the 12-hour race at Sebring (Florida) in the USA for the first time on March 16 and, in doing so, makes the legendary racetrack ‘home of quattro’. At the same time, it is provisionally the LMP1 sports car’s final appearance in the North American endurance classic.
The race at Sebring is staged under special circumstances for Audi: the merger of the two U.S. championships, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and GRAND-AM, sees new regulations coming into force from 2014. In the future, no Le Mans Prototypes (LMP) of the top category can compete in this race. As a result, events come full circle for Audi in Florida: in 1999, the brand’s first LMP sports car celebrated its premiere at Sebring – now two LMP1 sports cars with the four rings provisionally contest a race here for the final time. After Audi customer racing’s winning start to the season with the one-two finish for the Audi R8 GRAND-AM in the 24-hour race at Daytona, Audi now targets another victory in the USA – despite difficult conditions as the race cars from the American Le Mans Series enjoy several advantages with regard to weight and engine power.
In the 13 outings to date in the sports car classic at Sebring, Audi has claimed 22 podium finishes, including ten overall victories. Three Audi drivers, Michele Alboreto/Dindo Capello/Stefan Johansson, mounted the podium at the premiere on March 20, 1999. The Dane Tom Kristensen is the race’s most successful driver with six wins. Marco Werner holds the lap record at Sebring, the trio Dindo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish the distance record.
Audi Sport Team Joest fields two Audi R18 e-tron quattro prototypes. The current World Endurance Champions and Le Mans winners Marcel Fässler (CH) and Benoît Tréluyer (F), who are supported by Oliver Jarvis (GB) at Sebring, drive an R18 from 2012. Lucas di Grassi (BR), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB) start in the new R18 e-tron quattro from 2013, which celebrates its race premiere at Sebring.
The Sebring raceverytrack is located on a former military airfield, which Audi transforms into the ‘home of quattro’ this year and therefore picks up the threads of a successful chapter of motorsport history: for the first time since 1989, when drivers like Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Röhrl raced from victory to victory with the Audi 90 quattro in the IMSA-GTO series, Audi Sport contests a factory event in the USA with a racecar equipped with four-wheel drive. The Audi R18 e-tron quattro is the first hybrid sports car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its front wheels are powered electrically and thus make the R18 a special type of quattro.
Exhibition with winning cars highlighting Audi’s motorsport history
Audi traditionally uses its involvement in sport prototypes to test new technologies for future applications in production cars. The fans at Sebring can discover this for themselves by embarking on a journey in time through the brand’s previous sports car eras. The exhibition shows an Audi R8 (ALMS winner 2002), an Audi R10 TDI (Sebring winner 2007), an Audi R15 TDI (Sebring winner 2009) and an Audi R18 TDI (Sebring winner 2012).
In addition to the active factory drivers, the former Audi drivers and Sebring winners Frank Biela, Dindo Capello, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner are also present and will be signing autographs, posing for photos and giving interviews for the fans. In this way, Audi thanks the passionate sports car fans in the USA for their long-standing loyalty to the brand. “Without a shadow of a doubt it’ll be an emotional race weekend for us because Sebring and its fantastic fans enjoy a very special status in both our motorsport and LMP history,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.”
In contrast to last year, the American Le Mans Series season opener is not a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The 2013 WEC season starts a month later on April 14 with the 6-hour race at Silverstone, Great Britain.