The 12 Hours of Sebring 2011 was held Saturday, March 19th at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. The 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, the first event on the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) calendar, offered exciting racing and ended with an unexpected winner. Although a tight battle between the Audi R15 TDI and Peugeot 908 works teams was expected, in the end it was the privately entered, older Peugeot 908 HDi of Oreca Racing that crossed the finish line first. Throughout the twelve hours there were constant changes in leaders, not only for the overall position but also in the many classes. In the Grand Touring (GT) class BMW was victorious, narrowly beating contenders Corvette and Ferrari.
Both the Le Mans Prototype (LMP) and GT Intercontinental Le Mans Cup classes were not decided until the final laps. In each category, the top-three finishers were all on the same lap at the end of the twelve-hour endurance race. The 12 Hours of Sebring is also the opening race in the American Le Mans Series which is run within the same rules as the ILMC.
For Oreca Racing owner Hughes de Chaunac, a long time team-owner in motorsport, it was his greatest win: “It is huge and historical to win here. We won all by ourselves, it was our own strategy. It was a great job of the whole team and of course the Peugeot is a great car.” Earlier incidents, involving both the Audi and Peugeot work teams also determined the outcome of the race.
A “coming together” of Marc Gene’s Peugeot and Dindo Capello’s Audi sent both cars to the garage. In the second Audi, Rolex 24 At Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller suffered two punctures and lost precious time for repairs. In the end, it was a three-way battle between the Peugeot works team of Montagny/Sarrazin/Lamy, the Highcroft Honda of Brabham/Franchitti/Pagenaud and the Oreca Peugeot of Lapierre/Duval/Panis, and it was the Oreca entry that prevailed with the smallest margin, covering 332 laps on a classic, beautiful Florida day. The Highcroft Honda, which runs in the ALMS championship, was just 32 seconds behind.
In the GT class, BMW took both first and second. The Bavarian cars are built and prepared in Munich but run in America by the team of former Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. The last stint in the winning BMW was done by Joey Hand, bringing the young American another success, as earlier this year at the Rolex 24 At Daytona Hand also was part of the winning team. “We had a difficult start with a cut tyre, but did not lose too much time,” said Hand. “We made some minor mistakes but in all, the reliability counted.” The second place BMW finished just 37 seconds short. The works Corvettes came home third and fourth. The GT-AM class, the GT class for amateur gentlemen drivers, was won by the Krohn Racing Ferrari. In the LMP2 class, the Lola Honda with Indianapolis 500 regular Ryan Hunter-Reay took the laurels.
Of the 56 starters, twenty cars ran in the ILMC while the others are competing in the American series. The GTC class, in which nine Porsches competed, was won by Black Swan racing with drivers Pappas, Faulkner and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen. Sebastiaan’s younger brother, Jeroen, finished the Sebring event seventh overall driving the Lola Toyota. The LMPC class of the ALMS, was won by the team of Peterson/Cameron/Guasch.
Overall, there were 18 lead changes in an endurance race which also saw nine yellow caution periods for minor incidents.
While the American Le Mans Series will have its next race four weeks from now in Long Beach, California, the ILMC cars will run next in Belgium on May 9 at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack. Both series will meet again on the first of October when the Road Atlanta in Georgia will host the Petit Le Mans race. The ILMC will have its final race in China in November.
After its “farewell” appearance at Sebring, the record winning car of the Le Mans 24 Hours will now finally be moved to the museum. Audi Sport Team Joest from now on will entirely focus on the new closed Audi R18 with its race debut scheduled for the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup on May 7 at Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium).
12 Hours of Sebring 2011 – Overall Results
1 Lapierre/Duval/Panis (Peugeot) 332 laps in 12h 00m 28.423s
2 Brabham/Franchitti/Pagenaud (Acura/Honda) + 31.868s
3 Montagny/Sarrazin/Lamy (Peugeot) + 44.502s
4 Capello/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R15 TDI) – 5 laps
5 Bernhard/Dumas/Rockenfeller (Audi R15 TDI) – 6 laps
6 Dyson/Smith/Cochran (Lola-Mazda) – 8 laps
7 Prost/Jani/Bleekemolen (Lola-Toyota) – 12 laps
8 Wurz/Gené/Davidson (Peugeot) – 17 laps
9 Petersen/Cameron/Guasch (Oreca) – 20 laps
10 Priaulx/Müller/Hand (BMW) – 20 laps
Result GTE-AM class
1. Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo (USA/S/I), Ferrari F430, 301 laps
2. Lietz/Ried/Roda (A/D/I), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 252
3. Ehret/Lynn/Wills (D/GB/NZ), Ferrari F430, 226
1. Priaulx/Müller/Hand (GB/D/USA), BMW M3 GT, 312 laps
2. Farfus/Auberlen/Werner (BR/USA/D), BMW M3 GT, 311
3. Beretta/Garcia/Milner (MC/E/USA), Chevrolet Corvette, 311
4. Gavin/Magnussen/Westbrook (GB/DK/GB), Chevrolet Corvette, 311
5. Fisichella/Bruni/Kaffer (I/I/D), Ferrari F458, 311
6. Bergmeister/Long/Lieb (D/USA/D), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 310
7. Holzer/Law/Neiman (D/USA/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, 306
Result GTC class
1. Pappas/Bleekemolen/Faulkner (USA/NL/IRL), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 299 laps
2. Ende/Pumpelly/Li (USA/USA/HKG), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 298
3. Cisneros/Edwards/Kauffmann (USA/USA/GB), Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 296
12 Hours of Sebring 2011 – Photo Gallery (click image for larger picture and description)
[Source: ILMC; photo credits: Ferrari SpA; Audi AG; Rolex / Stephan Cooper; Porsche; Richard Prince/GM Racing Photo]