Despite not being included as a round of the FIA WEC this year, the 12 Hours of Sebring signals the true start of the endurance racing season. Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler, who will be without regular team-mate André Lotterer, are hoping to christen their 2012 World Endurance Championship title with victory.
While both would have liked André to be joining them in Florida, a need to balance race programmes means that the German will be back alongside the pair from the opening round of the world championship, the 6 Hours of Silverstone, on April 14. At Sebring British driver Oliver Jarvis completes a trio that will be aiming to win with last year’s Audi R18 e-tron quattro, while the 2013-spec car will be in the hands of Di Grassi/Kristensen/McNish. “There are two slightly different objectives,” reveals Benoît. “By using the previous specification we are there to finish the event and win it. For our team-mates in the 2013 version their goal, as well as victory of course, is to test in proper race conditions the technical upgrades introduced during the winter months.”
Since the final round of the 2012 season Audi and its drivers have remained flat-out. Tyre testing before Christmas was followed by additional mileage during January that concentrated on set-up work. All has been aimed at improving the R18 e-tron quattro – an evolution of last year’s car – ahead of this season’s mission to beat Toyota, who have decided against racing in Florida.
“It is going to be a much tighter championship and certainly even more exciting than last year’s, as well as less stressful within the team. Since the start of 2012 we knew that the title would be decided between Audi’s two cars due to it being very hard for Toyota to catch up after not contesting the opening rounds and therefore having fewer opportunities to score points. There was greater tension. This year we need to work together more in order to meet Toyota’s challenge right from the start. I personally prefer this mentality! And we won’t be short of work either as there has already been a lot of focus towards 2014 and the arrival of brand new regulations.
“But that doesn’t mean this is a season of transition as it is very important to properly prepare for 2014,” insists Benoît. “Everything we learn this year will be helpful for the following season, which will involve a lot more than simply starting with a known quantity: there is the challenge of a brand new concept. We are satisfied with the developments brought to the R18 e-tron quattro but now we need to learn how to optimise them and make the most of their benefits.”
With this in mind, Sebring’s demanding layout is an ideal proving ground for new machinery. The Frenchman knows all too well about its challenging characteristics after being forced to spend a lengthy period in the pits last year. Needless to say he’s hoping for payback this time around…
“Of course I would like to win. It’s a difficult race with a lot of traffic, and there are different strategies compared to European events. On top of that, this is the last time we can contest the race with an LMP1 prototype so it’s something I would like to add to my CV. It’s a bit of an old fashioned race that takes place on a circuit partly constructed of concrete. Both the surface and track width vary, while there are some corners that we enter very quickly right next to the walls. It’s just incredible! This is a special race, a bit like the Le Mans 24 Hours, although it does not have the same aura.”
This first meeting of the season also represents Benoît with the opportunity to christen his world championship title. “It gives you a confidence boost,” he says modestly. “We know how difficult it is to win a championship and the slightest mistake can have serious consequences. Last year, especially at Sebring, we were unable to finish at the front and lost many points. That forced us to push really hard throughout the year without making errors. We are approaching the new season with the same philosophy.”
This measured, realistic but no less enthusiastic approach is one shared not only by the Normandy-based driver and Audi, but also a number of new personal partners. GT Bikes, cycle equipment specialists Sram (derailleurs, brakes, etc.) and off-road motorcycle manufacturer KTM have all joined forces with Tréluyer. “All of my partners are linked to my physical training,” he concludes. “Cycling and enduro motocross are the base of my physical preparation throughout the winter, so it is a huge pleasure for me to welcome these respected brands alongside my existing and faithful partners Ellip6 (professional racing simulators), Michelin, Motul, Alpinestars and Arai.
12 Hours of Sebring timetable*
Thursday 14 March
Free Practice 1: 10.15 – 11.15
Free Practice 2: 15.15 – 16.15
Free Practice 3: 20.00 – 21.45
Friday 15 March
Free Practice 4: 09.20 – 10.20
Qualifying: 13.15 – 14.35
Saturday 16 March
Warm-up: 08.00 – 08.25
12 Hours of Sebring: 10.45 – 22.45