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SEBRING REPORT: Audi R8R Prototypes Sweep Sebring

19 March 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel
SEBRING, FL: Last year the Audi team was the target of quiet derision by other European teams that the Ingolstadt, Germany based team had constructed a slow racecar. None the less the team went on to a respectable finish (3rd and 5th) during the 39th 12 Hours of Sebring. What a difference a year makes. Audi arrived to Sebring this year determined to show everyone else that they are for real. From the time that they unloaded the two R8R prototypes the word was out. "Audi is for real."

Sweeping the front row during qualifying it was apparent that the team had done its homework during the off-season. The challenges presented by BMW, Panoz and newcomer Cadillac were formidable. Throw in the "unknown or X factor of Sebring" and all bets are off. Even when the green flag dropped at 10:06am the "conventional wisdom" said Audi would break or Sebring would break Audi. How wrong the experts were.

As is usual with Sebring the storyline it not easily told in two or even twenty paragraphs. At Sebring the storyline can change direction as quickly as the Florida winds. The race for over-all victory boiled down to a battle royal between two German (Audi and BMW) manufacturers and was not decided until the tenth hour when the BMW team let their last opportunity to win slip through their hands.

During the last caution period the BMW team elected to leave the leading #42 BMW out on course until the race went back to green. The team refueled quickly but the brake rotor, that had been giving J.J.Lehto fits, was determined not to be removed from the car. By the time the rotor was removed and replaced the team emerged almost half a lap down to the leaders. Team manager Charlie Lamm took the heat for the botched call. "It was my call, perhaps we were more concerned on extending our fuel mileage." Whatever the reason the decision canceled any last chance for a BMW victory. From that point the race came down to a battle between the two Audis.

The #78 and #77 Audis seemingly exchanged the lead all day. Except for a few interruptions by the BMW team, Audi dominated the race. Even when the #77 blew a tire and forced an extended stint in the pits the attitude of the entire team was to focus on the finish. The #78 car experienced its share of mechanical problems as well. A brake damper problem caused an extended visit to the pits. The drama of the race, as is usual, was played out with two hours to go in the race.

The #77 Audi being driven by Allen McNish took over the lead from the #78 with just over two hours left in the race. McNish, putting in a yeomans effort, turned the driving duties over to Capello with 45 minutes to go in the race. Capello, for whatever reason was not up to the challenge of holding the lead. Maybe their were team orders or maybe Emanuel Pirro in the #78 Audi was quicker. Who knows.

Whatever the reason, the #78 took over the lead at 9:20pm and never looked back. The #78 car drove to a 39.140 second victory. The BMW #42 took third one lap down followed on the same lap the #43 BMW took fourth. For Audi this was their first prototype victory. In spite of the obstacles that were presented it was apparent that Audi had the answers. No one ever solves just manage it.

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