Audi’s 2018 Sebring Experience
As Reported By
Audi Sport Customer Racing had some success and some disappointment at this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring. In the years when the World Endurance Championship ran at Sebring, Audi enthusiasts were treated to success after success at the 12 Hours. But times have changed and the days of nearly “automatic” wins for Audi race cars in the 12 hour marathon have become history. Now it’s a struggle against a plethora of equally fine and very competitive machinery.
The high point of Audi’s Sebring experience was in Friday’s IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge. There was only one R8 GT4 entry in the GS Class. It qualified in 6th place and finished in 5th place. But in the new TCR class Audi had five RS3 LMS TCR cars on the grid occupying the first three starting spots in that class. Heading into the final lap of the race Audi RS3s were in first and second place. Just before the finish line the first place RS3 pulled off the track with a mechanical problem so the second place RS3 inherited the lead and took the checked flag. Another RS3 finished in 3rd place so Audi dominated the winners’ podium.
There were two big story lines leading up to the start of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. The first is related to the ‘nuclear penalty’ handed out to the #29, Land Motorsports R8 LMS GT3, at the 24 Hours of Daytona. The penalty given to #29, while in the lead of the GTD class, was for a violation of the “minimum” refueling time. The result was #29 lost any chance they had of winning their class. Land Motorsports’ Peter Baron said in an interview with FOX Sports that, “…they thought they had found a loophole in the rules…” they could exploit but this turned out to be a flawed strategy. For the Sebring Race, IMSA established very specific minimum refueling times for all three classes of cars thus clearing up any misinterpretations of this rule. The second story line had to do with tire selection. Continental Tire, the required tire for all competitors in Prototype and GTD classes, issued new tires with different rubber compounds and construction to all competitors. This creates a whole new set of questions regarding setting up the car and how to utilize the new rubber compounds. Some teams got over this hurdle better than others.
As far as the race itself, there were just two Audi R8 LMS GT3’s on the entry list. The Land Motorsports entry (#29) and the Magnus Racing entry (#44). During practice both cars showed great promise holding down positions in the top five of the GTD Class. At the end of the GTD qualifying session, the #29 car was in 2nd place and #44 was in a respectable 15th place. A marvelous feat for Land Motorsport considering the #29 car required an engine and clutch change just before qualifying. Once again most competitors treated the Sebring 12 Hours as a sprint race and at the start everyone took off like a bat out of hell. The Land Motorsports car was actually in first place in GTD barely two hours into the race and the Magnus Racing R8 remained in the top ten around the four hour mark. Things were looking very good. After several rounds of pit stops (and a drive through penalty for the #29 car) the two R8s were comfortably in 9th and 10th place at the half way point. With just 4 hours remaining the #29 retook 1st place but due to pit stops had dropped back to 3rd with just 2 hours to go. After some inspired driving and competitors’ pit stops the #29 got back in 2nd place with just one and a half hours remaining. There were just 48 minutes left in the race when #29 took its final pit stop, returning to the track and fighting hard to hold onto 3rd place. After 11 hours and 44 minutes of racing, #29 had to relinquish 3rd place to the #33 Mercedes AMG. The Land Motorsports team just missed a podium finish ending up in fourth.
The Magnus Racing Team, car #44, had a difficult race which can best be summed up by this description from the Magnus Racing web page:
“Beginning the day with incurred damage during the morning warm-up practice session, the day never really rebounded, with drivers John Potter, Andrew Davis and Andy Lally all making assorted contact during their stints, including substantial damage to the No. 44 Audi Tire Center Audi R8 LMS after being hit twice by the Land Motorsport No. 29 machine.”
In the end the Magnus car finished in 13th place ahead of three other GTD cars. A tribute to the teams overall tenacity. The two Audi Sport Customer Racing R8’s didn’t do as well as we had all hoped but it’s a new day in racing and the competition is very strong. The days of Audi dominance at Sebring have not yet returned but as the old saying goes, “Hope Springs Eternal”.
By the way, there were rumors circulating around the Sebring track that next year the World Endurance Championship will return to the venerable airport circuit. If only Audi were still competing in the WEC then we could dream of the good old days when Audi dominated so many Sebring 12 Hour races. Now it’s on to Lexington Ohio for the May 4th Mid-Ohio race and the next opportunity for Audi to showcase there excellent RS3 and R8 race cars.