Sebring promises to give us an epic battle this weekend. Waged between the untried concepts of the new Acura, the raw power of the new Audi R15 and the european interlopers, Peugeot. What makes Sebring extra special this year, though is that this will be the only time the LMP1 Acura, Audi and Peugeot will face each other this season. The Acura may only have this one chance to prove itself against Audi and Peugeot since Acura will only run in ALMS this season, Peugeot is only running this one race in the US and Audi is only slated to contest Le Mans after Sebring.
While Audi and Peugeot may see this as the ideal test bed for their ultimate goal of Le Mans, this is Acura’s only chance to prove their new design against the current powerhouses of prototype racing.
The critics have said many negative things about the new Acura LMP1 car since it is using the same size tires on the front of the car as used on the rear. While this has been done before in prototype racing, it has not met with great success in the past and brings in a whole host of issues such as increased drag and aero disturbance caused by the larger tires. Acura’s reasoning was to give more contact patch for the car to increase mechanical grip through the corners as much as possible to help make up for their relative lack of power compared to the diesel engines campaigned by Audi and Peugeot. While their gambit appears to be successful so far, earing the overall pole for the event, it remains to be seen if the car can maintain reliability throughout long runs and also, just as importantly, how the tires wear on the front of the car.
Audi announced earlier this year that they would only contest Sebring and Le Mans with their new R15. We can only surmise their intent was to brace for the southward economy, as the Porsche controlled Volkswagen group also pulled their LMP2 Porsches away from Penske this year in favor of a cheaper Grand Am effort with the Captain. Others though have hinted at more insidious motives as Porsche assumes more control of the VW group and may consider campaigning their own eerily similar turbo diesel next year instead of the Audi. Whatever the case though, it should be noted that campaigning a season in ALMS with the R15 would only cost Audi a fraction of what they spent developing the car in the first place. There have been hints though that the R15 might return for other races throughout the ALMS/LMS season, but no announcements have been made yet.
Peugeot is returning for the second time to Sebring in their preparation for Le Mans. And while the Peugeot was designed specifically with a closed cockpit to take advantage of the ACO’s regulations that allows a larger air restricor to offset the power draw from their air conditioner, that percieved advantage in power has not propelled them past Audi in their ultimate goal, winning Le Mans. Though it has helped them collect pole at Sarthe for the last two years.
So, enjoy this battle while it lasts. The economy may change the players yet again next year, so we may not see another P1 battle like this next year.