Penske Porsche defeats Acura team at Sebring
The 2007 American Le Mans Series was a magical one for Penske Racing. The 2008 season may be even better if Saturday was any indication. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard drove to an historic overall win at the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida.
The win was the first overall at Sebring by an LMP2 car and saw 27 overall lead changes, a race record, and three lead-lap finishers, tying a race record. Dumas took the checkered flag by 1:02.084 over Dyson Racing’s trio of Butch Leitzinger, Marino Franchitti and Andy Wallace in their Porsche RS Spyder. The Audi Sport North America trio of Dindo Capello, Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen finished third overall and first in LMP1.
Third in P2 class and fourth overall was the second Dyson Porsche of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith as the P2 class took three of the top four spots.
The overall win for Porsche was its first since 1988 when Hans Stuck and Klaus Ludwig took victory in a Porsche 962. Roger Penske took his first win at Sebring in 40 years and became the first team owner to win overall at Sebring, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
“I have to say thank you to Team Penske because they did a great job today,” said Bernhard, who also won the 2004 race in GT. “The strategy was really good and we had no problem with the RS Spyder. We were a perfect trio today and it was very important that the whole package was working.”
Collard also won for the second time at Sebring, and Dumas was a first-time winner. The trio ran a smart, consistent race and watched their toughest challengers all fall by the wayside. They led seven times for 144 laps including Dumas’ final 31 to the end.
“The key today is that we ran without a problem - gearbox, engine and race strategy,” Collard said. “That’s why we won this race.”
Bernhard and Dumas won six overall races in 2007 with two more LMP2 victories en route to capturing the class championship.
“We were on the lead lap late and thinking, ‘Why not win?’” Dumas said. “The Acuras are very strong, just like they were a few weeks ago. Their car was very quick and we saw that again. Today was something special. I think we will have a great championship. Today was just exceptional and I think the season will be. It will be very difficult to win so many races overall (as last year). I’m quite sure about that.”
Audi’s streak of consecutive overall wins at Sebring ended at eight although it extended its Series record of consecutive class wins to 23.
Kristensen won for the fifth time at Sebring, Capello won for the fourth time at Sebring and McNish was a victor for third time. The sister car of Mike Rockenfeller, Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner were the class runners-up after losing precious time while changing a turbo in the paddock. Third was the cellulosic E85-powered Intersport Racing Lola B06/10-AER of Clint Field, Jon Field and Richard Berry.
“It was a great race and great finish,” Kristensen said. “We had issues and we had to deal with them under green, which was very tough. We needed something yellow, and not the yellow car (Penske Porsche). We needed the yellow flag to help us but it didn’t come.”
The race started out ominously with a stop-and-go penalty for Capello after colliding with one of Flying Lizard Motorsports’ Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs in the opening hour.
McNish, Kristensen and Capello overcame a myriad of other problems to come within a whisker of a remarkable comeback. After the team changed front brake discs and a pushrod, the trio fought back from three laps down with three hours left.
“When I was in the car for my third and fourth stint, I was impressed with how good the car was,” Capello said. “From the third lap on, the car was jumping left and right. I could not control it and we were losing three or four seconds a lap. We could see the car was behaving in a strange way. Tom did two stints and even he was having trouble. Once the team changed the pushrod, the car was as good as it was.”
The much-anticipated battle between diesel rivals Audi and Peugeot materialized in the race’s opening half. The two traded the lead back and forth for 131 of the first 133 laps before the Peugeot 908 began to falter with hydraulic problems and related issues. It eventually finished fourth in P1 and 11th overall in its maiden North American race.
Johnny O’Connell became the winningest driver in Sebring history with his seventh class victory as he broke a tie with Sebring legend Phil Hill. O’Connell teamed with Jan Magnussen and Ron Fellows for a nearly flawless run in Corvette Racing’s Corvette C6.R. The trio started from the head of the class and never trailed.
“We had some unfinished business,” Fellows said. “We had a really strong car at Road Atlanta and had some bad luck with Jan. We had a great race at Le Mans. All three of us feel that this is a great way to start. Le Mans is the next big prize we’re going to shoot for. This is a great confidence builder for all of us and we definitely want another Le Mans.”
O’Connell won overall in 1994 and posted class victories in 1993, 1995 and 2002-2004. It gave Fellows four Sebring wins - he teamed with O’Connell for three straight from 2002-04 - and was Magnussen’s second in four years.
“If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Phil Hill, he is everything good and proper about motorsports,” O’Connell said. “He was what was wonderful about that era. You run across some of your heroes that you run across that are so full of themselves. But you meet someone like Phil Hill, he’s one of the coolest cats around! You start to have a real understanding about what this race is about.”
While the No. 3 Corvette ran faultlessly, the No. 4 sister Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Max Papis ran into trouble early. The car lost time early in the race when the crew had to change a driveshaft in the second hour. The trio was trying for a second straight class win together.
“We had great pit stops. We made time on in laps and out laps,” O’Connell said. “Anytime you beat your own team, you have to be pretty good. Everyone is really feeling positive about things. Last year there were a lot of races where I thought we were the dominant car and had a lot of bad luck.”
Flying Lizard Motorsports finally broke through in the 12 Hours after finishing second the last two years. Jörg Bergmeister, Wolf Henzler and Marc Lieb drove their No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to a two-lap victory over the sister car of
It is the first 1-2 class finish for the Lizards, which placed third in 2005 and runner-up in 2006 and 2007.
“The Lizards really deserve this victory because they have worked so hard over the years,” Lieb said. “To win this race after the last two disappointing seasons, it makes me very happy. The Lizards really deserve this victory because they have worked so hard over the years. This team puts a lot of effort into racing with Porsche. It goes down through the people who care for the tires to engineers. Everything is just running really well at the moment. Flying Lizard is one of the top teams in the world and deserves a win like this.”
Henzler and the Lizards took the lead near the halfway point when Risi Competizione’s Jaime Melo ran hot in Turn 7 while leading in the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT and collided with the second-place Porsche of Dirk Werner and Farnbacher Loles Racing.
As a result, the Risi Competizione/Krohn Racing Ferrari finished third in class, driven by Nic Jonsson, Eric van de Poele and Tracy Krohn.
“At six hours when the Ferrari hit the No. 87 Porsche, our main competitors were out of the race,” Henzler said. “We decided to take it a little bit easier and bring the car home.”
In the 2007 race, Flying Lizard came up 0.202 seconds short of a class victory in a final-lap duel with the Risi Ferrari that stands as the closest finish in race history.
“I’m really happy with the result,” Bergmeister said. “The big competitors we had for this year and a lot of bad luck and zero points. So that makes for a nice cushion. I was pretty amazed. We have been testing quite a lot and the car had no problems from beginning to end.”
Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz had finished second overall and in class but failed a post-race stall test in technical inspections. Their Lowe’s Fernandez Racing Acura ARX-01b was excluded as a result.
The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg. The green flag is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 5 from the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be broadcast on ABC from 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET on April 5. Radio coverage will be available on XM Satellite Radio and on americanlemans.com, which also will feature IMSA’s Live Timing & Scoring.
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