With much to prove on its 2011 R18 LMP1 race car, whose best result came this past summer
during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi Sport is taking an active approach to testing in preparation for the 2012 World Endurance Championship (WEC) campaign.
Where Audi usually tests in private, weather conditions at Sebring International Raceway in Florida have proven too irresistible to pass up for the German automaker.
The R18 coupe prototype, the first closed car for Audi in more than 10 years, stressed its lighter-weight profile and smaller turbodiesel engine during the 2011 season.
The strength of this lightweight coupe was surely put to the test at Le Mans, where both Allan McNish (in the first hour) and Mike Rockenfeller (in the dead of night) tangled with Ferrari GT
race cars. While their cars were write-offs, neither McNish nor Rockenfeller was seriously injured in the crashes.
Audi wasn't able to beat arch-rival Peugeot on any other circuits last year--other than at Le Mans--and started the trial phase of its LMP1 sports car program for the 2012 season at Sebring. Since Saturday (December 17), Audi Sport has run tests with two vehicles at the Sebring airport/road circuit.
There are two development LMP1 race cars working at the track; Audi is using the second car to compare test results with the first. Drivers on hand to take turns at the wheel of the two development vehicles are 2011 Le Mans winners Marcel Fassler of Switzerland, Andre Lotterer (Germany) and Frenchman Benoit Treluyer for one of the cars.
Audi also brought its most experienced factory driving team of Dindo Capello (Italy), Dane Tom Kristensen and Scotland's McNish, who together earned the Le Mans title in 2008.
Audi chose to perform its rather public testing at Sebring for several reasons. The Audi Sport team owns nine victories at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring since the 2000 season; the team knows the circuit well. The 17-corner, 3.7-mile race track has a variety of corners which makes it an excellent testing venue.
The concrete surface of the former airfield's take-off and landing strip, in combination with the tarmac of the other track sectors, makes for a rather harsh testing climate.
On March 17th, the 12-hour Sebring contest--the Diamond Jubilee race--is also the starting point for the FIA's World Endurance Championship as well as the American Le Mans Series opener, and Audi intends to be present as it tries to defeat Peugeot, who have won the last few races on this circuit.
Audi Sport did declare it was not quite ready, despite this public testing, to state the details of its 2012 racing program. It will reveal the driver line-up and the technical state of its development program at at a later date.
© 2011 Anne Proffit