Scot Allan McNish was labelled as coming from “another planet” after his brilliant drive in the final stint of the race brought his third victory in the Sebring 12-Hours race in Florida.
The 39-year-old from Dumfries, who claimed his third Sebring victory by just 22.279s ahead of the lead Peugeot piloted by French trio Franck Montagny, Sebastien Bourdais and Stephane Sarrazin, was in scintillating form.
Having diced nose-to-tail with the Peugeot throughout the race, McNish took over the Audi R15TDI from team-mate, Dane Tom Kristensen, for the final sprint to the chequered flag knowing he would have to make a final splash-and-dash pitstop for fuel.
Leading by 38s from Montagny, the Scot rapidly extended his lead to over a minute — lapping the 3.7-mile circuit more than two seconds a lap faster than the Peugeot —before dashing into the pits with just 13 minutes of the 12-hour race remaining.
Swift work from his pitcrew allowed him to rejoin the race with a lead of 25s and he was able to pace himself to the chequered flag to add another accolade to his and Audi’s incredible sportscar record.
“It was a really, really tough charge,” McNish, partnered also by Italian Dindo Capello and who will be bidding to repeat last year’s Le Mans 24-Hour victory with Audi in June, said today.
“We knew we had a big uphill struggle in the last hour and a half, and we managed to do it a little bit easier than we thought it was going to be. It’s a very sweet victory for Audi. We can definitely say the new R15 is ready to race.
“I think that’s got to be one of the best Sebring 12 Hours ever, because of the competition and the intensity,” McNish continued. “Right from the word go, it was a sprint race. The last two hours particularly just typified what Audi Sport is all about, the grit and the determination. We had a fantastic car from start to finish.”
Formula One racer Bourdais, meanwhile, reckoned McNish had made the key difference when it counted.
“Allan McNish just killed us,” the Frenchman admitted. “I was quite a bit quicker than the Audi when I was on the track, but as soon as Allan turned the heat up, we couldn’t do anything.
“It looks like traffic doesn’t have any impact on his performance. He seems to be on another planet and there’s nothing we can do about it. Franck’s been trying like a mad man, but we just didn’t have enough.”
But while McNish celebrated his success, there was disappointment for the two other Scots in the race, Bathgate brothers Dario and Marino Franchitti.
While 29-year-old Marino was forced out early when his new Dyson Lola-Mazda suffered mechanical problems, Dario’s disappointment was even deeper having lasted 302 laps, 10 hours and 10 minutes before transmission failure halted his Highcroft Acura.
“That just the way endurance racing goes,” the 35-year-old, partnered by American Scott Sharp and Aussie David Brabham, acknowledged. “This was the car’s first outing and it performed brilliantly. But we desperately wanted to get to the finish.”
The trio though were officially classified as 15th overall, but fifth in the highly competitive LMP1 class which included the two Audis and Peugeots.