tampabay.com

Champion Racing lives up to name

By SCOTT DRESSEL
Published March 20, 2005


SEBRING - Finally, everything went right for Champion Racing at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

After three straight second-place finishes, the two Champion Audi R8s dominated the race at the 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway on Saturday, with the No. 1 of Tom Kristensen, JJ Lehto and Marco Werner taking the checkered flag and the No. 2 team car of Allan McNish, Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro right behind.

"I'm proud for our Team Champion," Kristensen said. "Finally won Sebring, and to be a part of the dynasty means a lot to me. When we put the new tires on it, I knew, now is my wakeup call. At the end of the race, it got really exciting. The R8 is still working, it's still beating."

It was the sixth straight win by an R8.

Kristensen held off McNish over the final 15 minutes, as McNish trimmed the lead from 15 seconds, to 10 and then to eight, but Kristensen pulled away a little at the end to win by 6.365 seconds, the closest racing finish in 12 Hours history.

The closest racing finish was 9.2 seconds, in 1999. Audi had a team-managed finish of less than half a second in 2001.

Kristensen sounded like he wanted to make it even closer in the final laps.

"Do you want a photo finish?" he radioed to team boss Brad Kettler.

"Keep the hammer down," Kettler responded emphatically, drawing an "I was just kidding" response from Kristensen, who won his third 12 Hours.

While it was a breakthrough win for Champion, it was another year of heartbreak for the two-car Dyson Racing team, whose two Lolas ran into mechanical difficulties, though the No. 16 of Butch Leitzinger, Andy Wallace and James Weaver did rally to take third overall.

In the GT1 class, Aston Martin scored an upset, with David Brabham, Darren Turner and Peter Kox beating the factory-backed Corvettes by more than a lap. The Corvettes dominated the 12 Hours in recent years, but had both mechanical and on-track problems.

Another dynasty also ended in the GT2 class as both Alex Job Racing Porsches failed to finish in their bid for a fifth straight class win. The No. 31 Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Lucas Luhr, Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister ran away with seven-lap win, finishing seventh overall.

The No. 10 Courage C-65 AER driven by Ian James, Chris McMurry and Jeff Bucknum, all of Arizona, won the LMP2 class, finishing 14th overall.