Choosing a single experience from another busy season is tough. But it has to be done and I have plucked one from way back in March.
The Sebring 12 Hours is a very real motor race on a very raw circuit. It has history, it has atmosphere in bucketfuls and a passionate crowd camped out around the old Florida aerodrome.
To be there with Audi makes it that bit more special. The locals have taken the silver team to their hearts and the men from Ingolstadt have responded by putting on a tremendous show on race day. Some years they have run away with this first endurance test of the season, in others they have fought tooth and nail with Peugeot and Toyota.
The R18 e-tron quattro is no ordinary racing car. Audi Sport is no ordinary racing team. By this I mean that they are constantly pushing the envelope. First and foremost Audi is manufacturer of road cars, the racing department ceaselessly feeding new technologies into the cars we see around us on the highways and byways of the world. Racing improves the breed, or so they say, and there’s no doubt that the new generation of diesel hybrids has given us more efficient daily transport.
But back to Sebring. The cars come out for their first test session on the Monday, and they’re on the track for the rest of the week. There’s night practice on Thursday, qualifying on Friday and the race, from 10.45 to 10.45 on Saturday. So what you have is a ‘speed week’, a festival, a huge gathering of fans who camp out around the circuit intent on having as much fun as possible.
The air crackles with anticipation and, while the teams are toiling away in search of tenths, Yankee petrolheads are seeing how much beer and how many burgers they can consume. By start time on Saturday they are primed for maximum participation in the drama that will unfold into a hot, sweaty Florida night. Drivers say they can smell the barbecues in the braking area at the end of the home straight.
Watching the Audi Sport crew at work is a tutorial in teamwork. Every single little macro-detail is attended to, every strategy examined and re-examined, every possible scenario assessed and tested. They work like military ants, every man and woman tasked with delivering the perfect race.
2013 winners Fässler, Jarvis and Tréluyer
Joest Team Director Ralf Juttner and Audi Motorsport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich watch over proceedings, eagle eyes focused on the slightest thing that might go wrong. The atmosphere is not tense, simply controlled and purposeful, honed to perfection during decades of competition.
This year, sadly, there wasn’t much competition and the silver cars swept the board. This was the first win for a hybrid car at Sebring and, despite the R18 winning by five laps, the crowd seemed not to mind. They were there for the sheer fun of seeing – possibly for the last time – the world’s most sophisticated endurance cars fly round this historic airfield circuit.
Sure, they love their Corvettes and Vipers too, but Audi has been loyal to Sebring and the fans will miss them next spring when the race comes under the banner of the new United SportsCar Racing Series. Same circuit, still 12 Hours, but not at all the great occasion we have seen these past few years.