- Audi will celebrate a highly successful era at the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16.
- The race will be a finale for the Le Mans Prototype 1-category cars in the race.
- LMP1 will be excluded from U.S. road racing in 2014.
INGOLSTADT, Germany — Audi, the overwhelmingly dominant brand in sports prototype racing for more than a decade, considers the March 16 12 Hours of Sebring to be the completion of a historical circle and the end of an era — specifically, the era of Le Mans Prototype 1-category cars in U.S. motorsport.
The unification of road racing in the U.S., announced last year and taking place after this season, will exclude the LMP1 cars, the most exotic, expensive and innovative of all sports cars.
"Before the Le Mans prototypes of the LMP1 class are no longer permitted at this event from 2014 on, Audi is coming full circle in Florida," said Audi in a statement. "In 1999, the first LMP sports car of the brand celebrated its debut on the former airfield — and now two prototypes emblazoned with the four rings will arguably be competing there for the last time."
Added Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of motorsport for Audi: "We're in for a very emotional race weekend on which we'll be taking the fans along on a journey into our past. Sebring is where Audi's sports car era that has been so successful began."
That debut in 1999 yielded 3rd- and 5th-place finishes for Audi Sport Team Joest, with BMW taking the overall victory in the 47th running of the Sebring classic. For the next six years, the Audi R8 won at Sebring. Five out of those six years, the R8 also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Following the immensely successful R8 was the R10 TDI, which replaced the gasoline V8 with a turbocharged diesel. Results were largely unchanged. The TDI won at Sebring in 2006 and 2007 and at Le Mans in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
In 2009 came the R15 TDI, which won at Sebring but was finally beaten by diesel challenger Peugeot at Le Mans. The French marque's 908 HDi FAP also won Sebring two years in a row in 2010 and 2011, but Audi reclaimed the top of the Le Mans podium with the R15 in 2010 and then won again in 2011 with the new R18.
The R18 won at Sebring last year, just ahead of the debut at Le Mans of the R18 E-tron quattro, a diesel-electric that became the first hybrid winner at Le Sarthe. The new car will bid to give Audi its fourth straight win and 12th in a 14-year span in June.
Audi plans an exhibition at Sebring International Raceway with displays of its historic cars and with a cast of drivers on hand to meet with fans.
"Audi wishes to thank the ardent sports car enthusiasts in the United States for having been loyal to the brand for so many years," the company said.
Edmunds says: Certainly 2013 marks the end of an era not only for Audi but for a genre of racing machinery in North America. It is apropos that the marque is highlighting its own effort in this celebration. It has set the standard with technological innovation and competition success.