Tag Archives: BMW V12 LMR

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The House that Frank Built

This week I had both an AGM and a Committee meeting for the Guild of Motoring Writers, the location for these affairs was the HQ of Williams F1. A very impressive complex located at Grove near Abingdon housing one of the great Formula One teams of the modern era.

Employing over 1,000 people on site, Williams Grand Prix Engineering has grown enormously from the virtual cottage industry set up by Frank Williams and Patrick Head over 40 years ago.

One of the major attractions for visitors is a chance to stroll down Memory Lane and see the fantastic collection of Grand Prix racers from the past four decades.

In addition to the single seaters, my attention was drawn to the BMW V12 LMR that triumphed at Le Mans in 1999. Memories, memories………………

John Brooks, May 2018

Going Round and Round – Part Two

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The landscape of the American Le Mans Series had changed significantly for the 2000 season with the arrival of Audi and their second endurance sports car, the R8. This would blossom over the next six seasons to become one of the all time great race cars. The lessons of the shortcomings of the R8R had been absorbed so the R8 handled well, had good downforce and was quick in a straight line.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

However it would not be a push over for the newcomers as both BMW and Panoz had well proven teams and cars. In reality both were at a disadvantage with compromises that they had to make to conform to the new aerodynamic regulations introduced in the wake of the Mercedes-Benz’ flying accidents at Le Mans in 1999. In addition to that BMW stopped development on the V12 LMR before the season commenced and began focusing their attention on their upcoming return to Formula One.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

When the calendar was announced it contained three more visits to Oval Land……. the stadiums at Charlotte and Texas would join Las Vegas on the trail.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The first of these races was to be Charlotte in the heartland of NASCAR territory. The second round of the ALMS would be a tough event to sell to the Good ‘Ole Boys but the circuit itself was pretty good, a quick infield section with elevation changes, up to Daytona International Speedway standards other than the section taking the infield track back onto the banking at turn one and a silly chicane on the back straight.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The transition from infield to the banking caught out a few during the weekend, one of the first being Allan McNish in the Audi R8R, in the penultimate appearance of that car. The new R8 had crushed the opposition in the first round at Sebring but it was being kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours, so McNish had to push to the limit in the old car which he shared with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto. Spinning the Audi was bad enough but then seeing a grinning photographer with his 500mm lens lined up to record the indiscretion made things seem even worse.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Once we were all back in the paddock the Wee Scot forced a rueful smile when he confirmed that the wanker he had spotted with the camera was indeed yours truly, his description, not mine.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charlotte marked the low point the Audi campaign in 2000, the R8R was just about able to run with the Rafanelli Lola but not BMW or Panoz. These two teams would battle along in the race with the #42 BMW V12 LMR just shading the #1 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charly Lamm’s boys just about out fumbled the Panoz guys in the pits and in traffic but the result could have gone either way. JJ was pleased though…………….

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Brabham and Magnussen were just eight seconds down on the BMW lead car when the flag dropped with the Rafanelli Lola picking up the final spot on the podium.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela could only manage sixth place, the return of the R8 to the ALMS could not come soon enough.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

GTS was reduced to a Viper parade, as Corvette kept their powder dry in anticipation of their first trip to Le Mans for the Test Day later that month.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The only opposition was a pair of venerable GT2 Porsches which were a long way off the pace, though troubles for #92 Viper meant that Zak Brown and Vic Rice Roock Racing 911 bagged runner up spot to Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The GT class had been invaded in 2000 by a horde of the new 911 GT3-Rs , nine examples of which were at Charlotte. Their début earlier in the season at the Rolex 24 had been marred by a series of engine failures, I looked at that race earlier HERE

2000 ALMS Charlotte

They were opposed by two PTG BMWs, the E36 version almost pulling off a shock win after the Dick Barbour Racing ‘werks’ 911’s both hit problems early in the race.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Eventually the Bob Wollek/Sascha Maassen 911 recovered to take victory for Stuttgart rather than Munich.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The crowd numbered in the hundreds rather than Nevada’s tens but in the confines of the huge auditorium designed to take the huddled masses of NASCAR fans this looked pathetic, a problem experienced at all of the Ovals visited. Signs warning “NO THROWING, You will be Removed” stencilled onto the wall were not required………apparently it is a local sport to lob fast food and the like at passing cops, photographers etc., during quiet periods on the track……..a sort of Agincourt Experience with half chewed wings ‘n B-B-Q sauce rather than arrows……..no one much cared about the few clueless photographers like myself stumbling around in search of inspiration, we remained largely safe, a danger only to ourselves.

2000 ALMS Texas

If Charlotte had been pleasant enough on April Fools’ Day then the furnace conditions encountered at Texas Motor Speedway in early September were not. Whoever signed up the circus to perform in this part of the world at the beginning of September kept a low profile during the weekend, if discovered he, she or it would have been lynched.

2000 ALMS Texas

Those of us compelled to work outside in temperatures of 110F looked like extras from Lawrence of Arabia and as for the poor sods driving front-engined, closed cockpit crucibles such as the Viper and Corvette, words fail to describe the heroics required of the drivers just to last the race.

2000 ALMS Texas

In recognition of the insanity of trying to run in the noon sunshine the race was timed to start at dusk…….about 2 degrees cooler………naturally not all Texans are mad despite what you may read and they stayed away in droves…….the rest of us were not so fortunate.

2000 ALMS Texas

The grid lined up for what seemed forever, certain drivers getting dehydrated as the various pre-race ceremonies dragged on. One problem for the photographers was actually finding anywhere accessible during the race to shoot the cars, hence taking to the stadium’s roof.

2000 ALMS Texas

The Audi R8 duo had the rest of the pack under control with McNish and Capello in search of a third win on the trot in the second part of the ALMS season.

2000 ALMS Texas

BMW had managed to paper over the cracks in their operation but Texas would see their first failure to grab a podium place since their appearance in North America at the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours.

2000 ALMS Texas

Even Jörg’s new hair style could not improve things.

2000 ALMS Texas

The challenge to the Audis was led by the #1 Panoz crew who were a lap down by the end of the race, a podium was their reward. No one had an answer to the R8.

2000 ALMS Texas

Lehto and Müller’s title aspirations were given a slight boost when the Schnitzer team ordered their sister car to crawl to the finish, letting #42 into a distant fourth.

2000 ALMS Texas

There were celebrations in the Pratt & Miller pit as the Corvette of Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim took the first win in the ALMS against the Vipers. One of the ORECA cars ran out of fuel, the other had a malfunctioning cooling system which cooked Wendlinger in the first stint.

2000 ALMS Texas

Similar stories were found in the GT class, I recall Rohan Skea staggering out of his Porsche after a single stint in a very bad way and being taken straight to Medical Centre. Most teams had personnel in and out of the doctors’ care, it was an extremely unpleasant place to be working at.

2000 ALMS Texas

The race went to Pirro/Biela in spite of the superior pace of the McNish/Capello R8. Two yellow flag periods taking over a minute’s lead from the #77 car, then a problem with the radio meant a mix up with the final pit stop, it was that kind of a race. Most of us could not get away from the place quick enough and there were no spectators to impede our exit.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Two months and three races later we returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to continue the lacklustre pattern of holding ALMS events at this kind of venue………..as usual the on track stuff was OK but there was little or no interest locally and few in the way of spectators to be seen. Even the promise of the Steve Soper Experience could not tempt the punters away from the tables and slots.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Actually some off track action WAS exciting as nearby Nellis Air Force Base played host to all kinds of foreign exotic warplanes on some sort of Top Gun event. The pilots, being gearheads, would circle low over the stadium on their final approach to the base, giving us something new to argue about. Those who had been to Vegas before had scant enthusiasm for the place, a little of that town goes a long way.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Even Morse getting me the loan of a Lincoln TownCar – Cartier Edition of course, with white-walled tires, gold stripes and blacked out windows could not lift the mood that we were all in the wrong place.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

It did however piss off David Price, who wondered how a low life like me got to ride around like a Rap Star or Vegas pimp, and he had to put up with some anonymous Camry, he grumbled to anyone who would listen………… P. Diddy Brooks anyone?

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The event was the penultimate round of the series in 2000, there being a race scheduled in Adelaide on 31st December but Las Vegas still had an end of term feel with a few new entries joining in and some familiar faces about to leave. Tom Coronel impressing in Carsport Holland Viper he shared with Mike Hezemans.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The BMW V12 LMR was making its final appearance as there was no desire from Munich to go Down Under. The car, a collaboration with Williams Grand Prix, had a great racing record over two seasons, victory at Le Mans and six ALMS wins, including Sebring. Quality. Regrettably it also brought down the curtain on the sonorous BMW V12 engine which aurally entertained those track-side since 1995. For 2001 BMW would be running M3s in the GT class.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Another great combination that was making its final ALMS appearance in North America was ORECA and the Dodge Viper GTS-R. After five seasons the French team was headed into the ranks of prototype racing with a Dallara chassis and MOPAR power. The list of the Viper’s successes is almost to long to contemplate.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Reflecting the improvement in the Panoz’ performance as the season progressed Magnussen jumped McNish and Biela at the start of what would be a chaotic and incident packed race.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

McNish restored the normal order of things but then the bumping and boring began…………..

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Both Panoz entries were in the wars as was Müller’s BMW and Capello in the #77 R8, there were several incidents.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The upshot was a fortunate victory for #78 who had been largely off the pace, especially Biela, but you take the wins as they come.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

As was the custom that year GTS honours went to the Viper of Beretta and Wendlinger with the GT class win going to the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen. It was their fifth win of the year and would be Wollek’s final victory of his career, as he would be killed in a pointless road accident the following March while out cycling near Sebring. I have written about the mercurial Frenchman HERE HERE and HERE .

Another Roval, another failure to bring in the spectators, even someone with Don Panoz’ deep pockets would have to consider how long this strategy would be tried.

2001 would provide the answer and that is the topic for Part Three.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Going Round and Round – Part One

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

I wrote the majority of this post ten years ago this month, some of it came to pass, some did not. Who could have predicted that a decade later the business models of both Formula One and NASCAR would be under threat, both suffering falling audiences and both appearing to lose connection with the younger generations? In F1’s case, the sheer amount of revenue that is leaving the sport is undermining the very existence of half of the grid, that is not sustainable. The lack of an obvious successor to Bernie Ecclestone is another issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later, even BCE cannot turn back the clock, there will be no settling a $100,000,000 deal with Father Time.

2014 Le Mans 24

Endurance Racing has more hopeful signs than it did a decade ago, the rules package for the LM P1 category is a reflection of the technology driven solutions that we will all have to use in this era of reduced energy consumption and emissions. The FIA World Endurance Championship now has four manufacturers in its premier category, with others supposed to be in the wings, all pushing different solutions to the hybrid technology question. The Le Mans 24 Hours remains the pre-eminent event in motor-sport and the alliance between the ACO and FIA is working as well as can be expected. The question of how to fuse GTE and GT3 remains tricky, with a few vested interests keen to maintain the status quo and therefore undermining any progress, but the day will come, driven by budgetary considerations as much as common sense.

2014 Spa 24 Hours

GT3 in Europe, under the leadership of Stéphane Ratel, continues to grow, with the Pirelli World Challenge in North America rivalling the Blancpain Endurance Series in terms of numbers of competitors.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

The Tudor series endured more than a few hiccups in its inaugural season but in the longer term it was the only possible solution to the ALMS/GrandAm schism, I remain optimistic that the problems will be ironed out.

2000 ALMS Texas

So let’s go back in time, when we were anticipating the Le Mans Series and reflecting on a cul-de-sac that the American Le Mans Series took in their early days. I have updated and corrected the text where necessary.

But before we do, I would like, on behalf of my loyal correspondents and myself, to wish all the readers of this little blog, Compliments of the Season. Roll on 2015.

John Brooks, December 2014

2001 ALMS Texas

Do you remember the time that we sports-car folks were sampling the delights of racing at Super Speedways or Rovals, as they became known? Seems like another era.

2014 Rolex 24 Hours

OK the first flaw in this statement is that we still go down to Florida every January for the Rolex but that somehow feels different, nearly 50 years of 24 hours races on the Tri-Oval will do that. Frankly during the era of Daytona Prototypes the race was largely irrelevant in the eyes of the endurance community. Now, since the take over of the American Le Mans Series by NASCAR, there appears to be a way forward to bring some form of unity in regulations, technical and sporting. There is a way to restore the Rolex to its former glories.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The ALMS visited these temples of NASCAR/CART (remember them?) Korporate Racing some five times over the 1999-2001 seasons. This odd direction for a pure road racing series was part pragmatism, part opportunism. Pragmatic in that some of the traditional arenas for endurance racing in North America (Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock and Mid Ohio) were signed up for the successor to the defunct USRRC Championship, Grand-Am. Opportunism came from two rich and powerful barons of motor-sport, Don Panoz and Bruton Smith; Don needed venues to give the ALMS credibility with the manufacturers that had embraced his series, back in 99 they already comprised of BMW, Chrysler, Corvette and Porsche with plans for others such as Audi, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz to tap into the wallets of the North American sports-car fan base. The ovals with their vast capacities and demographic friendly locations seemed to be a ready made answer. For Smith it was a potential revenue goldmine getting into the wine and cheese crowd at no risk (Don no doubt underwrote the affair).

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

This sequence of races kicked off with the final round of the 1999 ALMS season when we headed for the Nevada desert and the city of Fear and Loathing, Las Vegas. At the time some of us expressed the hope that when aliens finally land on this planet that do not commence their exploration by starting at The Strip……..others felt that the aliens were here already and Area 51 is just down the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ and that is how Vegas came into being, but I digress.

I remember making the trip down to Las Vegas via LAX, as there were no direct flights back then from London. Picking a Ford press car courtesy of Morse I headed out into the desert, destination Barstow of HST fame, I would spend the night in some grubby motel. It became clear why Thompson kicked off his masterwerk thus:

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Well none of that kind of misbehaviour for me, no siree,  I was on my way to the races, this was serious business. There was a title to be won or lost, and that was the main story. Veteran Elliot Forbes-Robinson in the Dyson Riley & Scott versus David Brabham and Eric Bernard in the Panoz. E F-R had ‘retired’ several seasons ago and was driving a car that had completed over 45,000 racing miles, at least that is what the press were told, who knows, Pat Smith might have been pulling our legs.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There should have been another contender in the shape of JJ Lehto in the BMW V12 LMR but a failure to complete the necessary paperwork at Sebring back in March meant no points from that victory and no possibility of the title. The Finn was not happy, grumbling to anyone who would listen.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There was an end of term feeling with many teams running their cars for the last time, Wayne Taylor would be leaving Doyle-Risi Racing and the Ferrari 333SP behind, bound for the factory Cadillac project.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The DAMS Lola would also be having its final outing as the French team would represent the European arm of the Cadillac deal.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Champion would run its Porsche 911 GT1 EVO in Las Vegas but was planning for a Porsche-powered Lola in 2000. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Lola was also the chassis that Team Rafanelli would adopt in 2000, though with Judd engine, similar to the power-plant they used in their modified Riley & Scott Mklll. 

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

There were two other titles to be decided at Las Vegas Motor Speedway GTS was almost in the hands of Viper and Olivier Beretta.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

A late season charge from Cort Wagner in the Alex Job Porsche GT3-R had left him with the GT class title almost in his grasp.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The Panoz team looked to be strongest, especially after Steve Soper destroyed a BMW while testing and the two Braselton-based roadsters monopolised the front row.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

The title looked to be heading the way of the Panoz lead pair but with under 30 minutes to go their engine cooked itself and that was the end of their hopes. E F-R was Champion.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

David Brabham reacted in a sporting fashion, congratulating his rival despite his own disappointment, typical of the man. The race was won by the BMW of JJ Lehto and Steve Soper from their teammates Bill Auberlen and Jo Winkelhock………..Beretta and Wagner took their crowns as expected, the American Le Mans Series first season had come to a close. Everyone agreed it had been a roaring success.

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was better than anticipated, even if from a photographer’s perspective it was crap location to shoot at. That would be a common thread running through the ALMS’s visits to these stadiums. However the tiny crowd lured from the flashing lights of the slots meant that the event was on balance a failure. The lack of interest shown by the punters in the ALMS was illustrated by the findings of noted chassis plate fondler and author of the legendary endurance racing encyclopaedia, Time And Two Seats, Janos Wimpffen. During the race he ended up sitting with the few spectators that did show up to the facility on the day and discovered that most of them were patiently waiting for the sports cars to finish so that they could enjoy a ride in the Richard Petty Experience……..

1999 ALMS Las Vegas

Morse and I agreed they would have done better with the Steve Soper Experience…………

More later in the week.

 

 

Corkscrewed

1998 Petit Le Mans

Bill Auberlen leads JJ Lehto down Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew in their BMW V12 LMRs. It is October 1999 on the Monterey Peninsula, a very agreeable time and place as I recall. Their main opposition came from the Panoz Roadsters, those rumbling beasts who have passed into legend.

1998 Petit Le Mans

The Williams-built V12 LMR prototypes raced during 1999 and 2000, racking up a Le Mans triumph in the first year but they failed in their quest to win the drivers’ or teams’ or manufacturers’ titles in the American Le Mans Series. A paperwork snafu at Sebring and the team’s withdrawal from Mosport on safety grounds let others slip in front the first season. Audi’s arrival with their new R8 accounted for the following one. Then Munich set sights on Formula One, their endurance prototype campaign was dropped and we all know how that cunning plan panned out in the long run.

John Brooks, November 2013

They call me MISTER Sebring

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

Tom Kristensen has been at the head of the endurance racing grid for the past 15 years, since he burst on to the scene by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt in 1997. That famous victory in the Joest Porsche led to a factory drive with BMW the following year and that led the Dane to Sebring in 1999. Tom has gone on to score a record further seven wins at La Sarthe and to many he is known as ‘Mister Le Mans’. However a good proportion of the temporary population of Highlands County each March would claim that another nickname would be more appropriate, Mister Sebring. So why is that so? Let’s find out what Tom thinks himself.

Recently I caught up with Tom and discussed with him his experiences at America’s greatest sportscar race.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 1999, your first time at the 12 Hours of Sebring what do you recall?

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: My first race was with BMW in 1999, with Jörg and JJ. We had tested at Homestead the week before to prepare our new car, primarily for Le Mans but also for Sebring. We had a problem with differentials, we did not have enough spares, and I know that BMW were not very keen to race at Sebring. However the team at Williams Grand Prix, who had designed and built the car, particularly John Russell, pushed very hard to go on as planned. In fact we had some new differentials flown in as late as Thursday as all we had were the units that were actually in the cars.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

Then we got to the race and it was certainly an eye opener for me to drive on the historic circuit. I remember that there were quite a lot of Yellow Flags, a lot of cars had problems and went off. I recall that the whole section of the track from Turn Ten to Turn Fourteen was full of sand towards the end of the race. Of course James Weaver was pushing very hard, he is a guy who never gives up and really put pressure on me. I drove the last stint to finish the race and we scored the début win of the BMW V12 LMR, which was a big step forward from the previous car. So that then became a trend for the manufacturers to go to Sebring both to race and test in preparation for Le Mans. One thing I do remember about 1999, we were waiting I think for the arrival of the spare differentials and we went with a certain photographer, I guess it was Regis, I’m not sure*, out to meet the fans and especially to Turn 10. They are true fans of life and true fans of Sebring, it was nice to receive such a fantastic welcome. I always try to wave to the crowd there, either under a yellow flag period or on my in lap, to show my appreciation of Turn 10.

JB: Then we move on to 2000, and your first race with Audi…………….

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: In December 1999 I was at Sebring again driving an Audi, it was an interim car between the ‘99 car, the R8R and the R8, which went on to be so successful. The interim car had the rear end of the R8.

JB: One thing that I remember from 2000 was during one of the practice sessions you burying the R8 into the tyres at Turn Three, do you recall that?

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

No, that happened in Qualifying. It was the first lap in Qualifying and I locked up avoiding another car that had just come out of the pits and I went in heavily to the barriers under the foam sacks. Of course Dr. Ullrich was standing at that corner, he saw everything and jumped over the fence to help shift the sacks off the car. At that time I was on the radio to the pits to say that I have just had a small off, and of course Dr. Ullrich had the headset on and could hear this while pulling the foam away. It is not the perfect situation when it is your boss trying to dig you out and you are trying explain that it was only a small off…………

JB: Still despite the red face the race turned out OK and it was a great win for Audi, their first at Sebring and the first for the R8.

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Audi had learnt a lot from their first race there the year before, Sebring nails down any challenges or issues that you have with the car. Of course Joest and Audi are particularly good at dealing with such issues and the information and feedback that you get from Sebring is so valuable, there are five or six different types of tarmac around the track and that gives car and driver a rough time.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2001 there was a rain affected race, and your team mates Dindo, Laurent and Michele just managed to beat you in a close finish.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Actually I was very disappointed that time, we had a great race and it seemed that Dindo and I were often on track against each other. I remember that we were actually leading but in the crucial time of the race, I came into the pits too fast so got a Stop and Go Penalty which dropped me behind Dindo and, despite pushing very hard, I could not catch him before the end of the race. Yes it was a disappointment because it was solely down to me.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: It was Michele’s last victory.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Yes, and it was certainly deserved and in that sense it is much better to look back at the race with that fact in mind.

JB: 2002 was a completely different race because the heat was extreme there was a problem with the car and the steering rack needed changing during the race. Of course once you lose a chunk of time in the pits your race is effectively done, especially competing against another R8.

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: No you cannot come back from that much lost time, we had the issue with the steering which I had never experienced before or since and when you need to change something like that all your plans are out the window. We had a fast car however it was not to be but Audi scored a hat trick so the race was not completely lost.

2003 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2003 you joined the ranks of the Bentley Boys.

TK: Yes, I remember that the Bentley was a hot car, certainly after the R8. The car ran really well but we had the issue of being put to the back of the grid after Qualifying and this definitely compromised our race. I think we had only one problem and that was with the brakes, we had to be very careful towards the end of the race. We were very focused on winning Le Mans, and Sebring was an important part of that. We had a very good debrief after the race. The Bentley was very different to the philosophy of the Audi R8. We had an Audi engine so we were safe on that side, and for the guys working on the car the Sebring race helped the team to gel. Racing at Sebring was crucial to our Le Mans’ victory. Getting both cars to the finish at the 12 Hours was really important to us in the context of our whole programme.

JB: 2004, how could they do this to us? No Tom Kristensen at Sebring?

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Well 2004 was the year I started in DTM as that was the only factory programme for Audi that year. Dr. Ullrich offered me the opportunity to join the Audi DTM effort and I then raced in that for several years, really enjoying it. In all the years I was in DTM I just joined the endurance races like Sebring and Le Mans, keeping in touch with that side of the sport.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 2005 you joined Champion Racing for Sebring, and Le Mans. You shared the driving with JJ Lehto and Marco Werner. You had a big fight with Allan in the other Champion car in the last stint, you always seem to get the last stint at Sebring.

TK: It was a good race between the Champion cars, all the way to the flag it was very close, the result all depended on how we played our cards. We were out of sync in terms of tyres and fuel strategies and I remember that when I was on new tyres I had to make a gap to make sure that when Allan had new tyres that he did not get too close. So the gap moved around a little especially in the last three stints. It was vital that when you left the pits on cold tyres, in particular on the penultimate stop, there was just enough grip to keep Allan back and he did not pass me. I was then on new tyres and could keep him behind and created just enough margin that when he got his last set of new tyres he was still just behind. I think it was the closest ever finish at Sebring.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

I still have the video from Speed TV and on the last lap Allan and I were still racing hard, so as we get to the back (Ulmann) straight, I got on the radio and asked if they wanted to stage a photo finish. Brad Kettler who was engineering our car, started yelling back, “No, No, No! Keep the pedal down. Keep the pedal down” Of course I did not realise that this was going out live, and the Speed TV commentators were really laughing at this exchange. I still have the recording.

12h-Rennen Sebring (USA) 2006

JB: So then the 2006 race, the début of the diesel powered R10.

TK: Yes, that was amazing, it was a big step forward for both Audi and motorsport, very important. It made the front page of the newspapers in many places. The day after the race I had Ulrich Baretzky the engine designer, as one of my passengers on the way to Miami, he was a very proud man that day and rightly so. The R10 TDI had a big engine, which meant that there were compromises in how the car was configured and also in the way that you drove it. Now we have a very lightweight engine in the car but back then the V12 was much bigger and heavier. The R10 TDI was a very sophisticated car, with the very latest technology and it won its first race and that was at Sebring.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: On to 2007 and there were a couple of things that went wrong as I recall. The rear suspension needed changing……………

TK: I’m not sure I completely remember, I think we had to go behind the wall, so we lost time and that was that. It was one of those times that Sebring gets the better of you.

ALMS 01 - Sebring (USA) 2008

JB: 2008 and another difficult race, as Dr. Ullrich said at the time, the team had more problems in this one race than they would normally encounter in a whole season. Brake disks were a particular problem.

TK: Well we were trying very hard, racing against the Peugeots and maybe we went a little bit in the wrong direction. That being said, the problems that we had at Sebring and how we fixed them were the basis of our win at Le Mans that year. The performance in Florida really hurt us and made us really push to the maximum to get our pride back in France. Some people consider the 2008 Le Mans to have been the best or one of the best ever, perhaps, but the determination after Sebring, in Joest, in Audi, in the drivers, everyone, was really strong. We knew that Peugeot had a faster car, but we had a car that we could race, and we thought that if we performed to the maximum we could beat them. We believed in winning when others did not, the Truth in 24 movie shows that pretty well.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2009 another new car, the R15 TDI, and another début victory, now win number five, up against Peugeot again.

TK: The R15 TDI right on the limit was delicate, so to keep it in the performance window was always interesting at a circuit like Sebring, a real challenge for engineers and drivers, so I feel that our victory was hard earned and well deserved. It was certainly not an easy win.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: The following year the updated car, the R15+ was not ready in time for the race itself though you did go testing later.

TK: I would not have been in the race, as I had injured my Achilles tendon and was in recovery mode.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2011, things were going well in the race, a big battle with the Peugeots and then Dindo was hit by Gene while racing.

TK: That was in Turn 17, which is very fast and that was our race done. It was a shame because we looking in good shape. But if I recall all the factory cars hit problems and the Oreca car took the win.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2012 the Peugeots had gone as a result of financial problems, but on the positive side Sebring was the first round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship and it was Sebring’s 60th birthday and you managed to add to your list of wins.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Last year was another great race and an important one, being the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. It brought together, the ACO, IMSA and the FIA. It was an honour to have won the 60th race, and it was a really big battle with our two other Audis. It made up in a way for my mistake on the 50th anniversary race. I said to Dindo on the podium, “Congratulations on your fifth victory, now you have caught me”…………then the penny dropped and he called me something rude. Of course now Dindo is retired but he will be in Sebring, as Allan and I always get him to pay for the espressos in the morning at Starbucks………………..

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: If someone says to you “Sebring 12 Hours”, what do you think of? Why do you think the race is so special?

TK: It is unique, even the journey from Miami through small towns of central Florida is very different from Europe, you are approaching the tradition and history that is this 12 Hour race. Famous names like Fangio and Moss were part of this rich history and then later Andretti and Ickx, all the great names of the sport have been to Sebring. So if I speak to any of these guys I can relate to their career as the track is basically the same layout as when it started. That is really cool, it is the Paris-Roubaix of motorsport, the famous traditional cycle race. To get the best set up for the track is difficult and you really need to get on it as a driver, you have to conquer the corners every lap. You have to be aggressive but at the same time be very aware, alert for traffic. 2012 was the hardest race in terms of traffic that I have experienced, as there were more than 60 cars on the grid. So you feel like you are overtaking cars every 50 metres, you are constantly overtaking. There is not much space and if you put the car even a few centimetres off line you can hit a bump which is much harder than you expect and then you are in trouble.

JB: You have mentioned the Sebring fans…………..

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

TK: The Sebring fans are fantastic, the enthusiasm they show is just like Le Mans but it is also different. Sebring has the American way and that is really cool. Another place where the fans are on the same level is the Goodwood Revival. The fans at all these events are genuine and they are there to watch the race but most importantly they are there to have a good time. They wake up in the morning and say to themselves “Hey I’m going to have a good time today” and the atmosphere where everyone feels like that is fantastic. You are in the right place at the right time. Sebring makes me feel that it is THE place to go to every March and I am very happy that Audi asked me to go again as it looks like it might be the last time that Audi and LM P1 will compete there.

JB: Briefly what would you say your best and worst moments at Sebring were?

TK: It is difficult to choose but I suppose that my first race which showed me that the 12 Hours of Sebring is very different from any other race. Then the victory last year was very special. The second place in 2002 was difficult because I knew right after the Chequered Flag that the defeat was down to me, I was the one who was speeding in the pit lane and that was a very hard defeat to take. But on the other hand it was Michele’s last win and that makes it easy to get over.

* It was me………………..

John Brooks, March 2013