A pit speed violation paves the way for Capello, Alboreto and Aiello to win the 12 Hours of Sebring.
By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001
SEBRING -- In a final-hour race for the checkered flag at the 49th annual 12 Hours at Sebring, one Audi R8 won after another was flagged for speeding.
Tom Kristensen, seeking to match a Sebring record with his third straight victory, was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for exceeding the speed limit on pit road on his final stop Saturday night with 38 minutes remaining.
When Kristensen's No. 2 car was forced to pull off into his pit, stop, then resume racing, the No. 1 Audi driven by Rinaldo Capello went from 5.8 seconds behind to 25.6 seconds ahead.
That lead held up for Capello, Michele Alboreto and Laurent Aiello in the silver-and-yellow No. 1 car, giving Audi its second straight Sebring victory.
"From that moment, the race was in our pocket," said Capello, who eased on the final lap, allowing a 20-second cushion to dwindle to a half-second for a faux photo finish, the closest in Sebring history.
The Audi trio ran the gamut of age and experience. Alboreto had raced at Sebring for years, finishing second once and third another time, and called the victory "a dream come true." Aiello won in his Sebring debut, just as he was part of the winning team at Le Mans last year in his first appearance there.
"This is my first race in America, and you need some luck to win that way, but you also need some very good teammates," he said.
When Kristensen went into the pits, he had a one-minute cushion; the other Audi had pitted three laps earlier. The No. 2 team opted to skip a tire change and refuel, and Kristensen looked to have made it out of the pits with a slight lead on Capello.
American Le Mans series rules specify a speed limit of 37 mph on pit road and officials said Kristensen was 6 mph too fast. During a race in which the winner averaged 113.9 mph, the runner-up was pulled over for going 43.
Coincidentally, the only time in 12 hours when one of the two Audis didn't lead was a three-minute span in the eighth hour during which a third Audi, the No. 18, led after the No. 1 was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for a pit speed violation.
The 1-2-3 finish was the first by a manufacturer since Porsche swept in 1988.
The race was the first 12 Hours of Sebring without caution flags.
The four-day crowd at Sebring International Raceway was announced at 168,000.
The day's best debut came in the GTS series: A new Saleen S7 held off a pair of Chevrolet Corvettes and two Dodge Vipers to win in its first race at Sebring.
The largest class, the Grand Touring series, had 13 of 23 entries withdraw or retire with mechanical problems by the seventh hour.
The No. 23 Porsche posted an emotional victory -- just one day earlier, veteran Porsche driver Bob Wollek was killed near the raceway when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. Sascha Maassen, a co-driver with Wollek last year, drove the final leg.
"We dedicated this win for him," Maassen said. "We said, "We will win for Bob now.' For sure, that's what he would want. He was always a winner.
A new, fourth class was added to the lineup this year, but the Le Mans Protype 675-kilogram cars didn't fare well in their debut. Only two qualified, and one withdrew Thursday morning. The remaining entry, a Lola B2K/40 Nissan, retired because of overheating in the sixth hour.