Sebring Always Entertaining

A Peugeot won again at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, this time it was the underdog Team ORECA Matmut taking the checkers. Winning in what many consider America’s greatest sports car race and the opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron and it was the first of the Intercontinental LeMans cup race at the historic Sebring Raceway.

With “I Love US Racing” on the side of the car Loic Duval was driving the Peugeot 908 HDI-FAP that beat Simon Pagenaud by over 30 seconds with the factory Peugeot finishing third with Stephane Sarrazin behind the wheel also on the lead lap. Team ORECA took a late race splash of fuel to make it to the end with co-drivers Nicolas Lapierre and Oliver Panis staying out of trouble and the factory teams of Audi Peugeot having some problems it opened the door for Team ORECA who was running last years winning Peugeot 908. No one expected this outcome especially with Audi coming back after not competing in last year’s race.

With the new Peugeot, the plucky Team ORECA did everything right. Oliver Panis said this track is very tough and with the traffic you really had to be on your game because you had no room for error. That’s what happened when Dindo Capello and Marc Gene got together going into turn 17. That was the move that cost them the race and opened the door for Team ORECA. Team owner and ORECA founder Hughes de Chaunac was in tears of joy during the final lap . This was the first time he brought his team to Sebring since sweeping the GTS podium in 2000 with the factory Dodge Viper program. Additionally, the Highcroft team finished second after getting their car seven days before race. Being oh so close the first time out had to be tough for veteran driver David Brabham. I spoke to “Brabs” earlier in the week and he was saying they, the team have a lot to do in a short time but showed it can be done.

Talking to the drivers this earlier in the week, many said ones of the keys was to overcome practice this week. How? Many sessions were filled with interruptions such as red flags and the traffic was the worst they have ever seen. With the record car count and the speed differences, it was really going to test the drivers patience. Dindo Capello said it was really hard to get into a rhythm on the track because you were always in traffic. Having to go off line to pass all the time which was very dirty from all the traffic was one of the things the teams had to put up with. However, he said it was like that for everyone. I also asked him about the new R18 they would be testing it Monday he said he was looking forward to the new challenge and getting some more seat team. He added, the car is really nice, the one only downfall in the closed cockpit car is the vision and that will take some getting used to.

One of the biggest incidents was the popular Flying Lizards Porsche 911 of Patrick Long getting together with the Corvette of Jan Magnussen and causing Johannes van Overbeek in the Extreme Speed Ferrari F458 to hit the Corvette and then hit the wall ending his day. A tough break for the Scott Sharp run team.

The other big winner was Bobby Rahal and his two sharp factory BMW’s as they took the top two spots in GT class. This was another case of staying out of trouble as the BMW team seem to never drop a wheel all day. Dirk Mueller said before the race the car is really good and added, “If we keep a good pace and stay out of trouble we will win this race.” He was correct.

The other news was the debut of the new Ferrari 458GT and all the Ferrari’s that where here for the race and the Risi Competizione was running in the front till they had some electrical problems but were up front all day till they retired the car at 9:03. Mika Salo said it was very disappointing that they had to retire the car it ran great and we only got the car four days before we had to be here the crew did a great job getting the car ready and this car has great potential and will win races.

This year at Sebring was the biggest crowd and most media I have seen in ten years, there are only two chances in a the US to see Audi and Peugeot race against each other and Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta should be the same. They will be very happy to see Audi back. Also, this was also Michelin Tires thirteenth 12 hour Sebring they have won in a row.

They also had the 1971 winners there for their 40th anniversary. It was pretty seeing Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford at the track and back again in victory lane. This was a great way to show the tradition of Sebring and it showed as the fans seem to really appreciate them.

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