For Audi, testing at Sebring has become a traditional part of its pre-season preparations over the years, irrespective of whether the Audi prototypes were taking part in the 12-hour race in Florida or not.
This year is no exception, with all nine of Audi’s FIA WEC works drivers present this week, as they take turns behind the wheel of the German manufacturer’s heavily revised 2015-spec R18 e-tron quattro.
According to Audi Sport Team Joest team director Ralf Jüttner, there are have been many benefits to testing at Sebring.
“I think we have been coming here to test for 15 years now,” Jüttner told Sportscar365. “Usually, at the end of the session, we already book the track for the next year, always roughly the same period, the first half of March. It has become a good tradition.”
Since last year, Audi Sport has had its own driving experience center near the headquarters in Neuburg, Germany. The track is sometimes used for roll-out of race cars, but conditions there can in no way be compared to the rough circuit at the former Hendricks Airfield.
“We have a lot of data from previous years, which is useful, and you have a certain feeling about how the car is running on the track,” Jüttner said. “Another factor, and certainly one that shouldn’t be underestimated, is the fact that the drivers know their way around the track.
“They know how the car handles and can put that in perspective with their experience from previous years. And then, there is the rigidity and durability of the chassis. When the car survives here, you are usually on the safe side for any other tracks we will be racing on during the season.”
Reigning FIA WEC champions Toyota never tested at Sebring. Porsche came to Florida last year to prepare for its maiden season with its 919 Hybrid, but opted for different venues in its preparation for the 2015 season.
“Of course, you can go to Abu Dhabi or Bahrain, as Porsche has done, but there, you have the sand that is changing track conditions all the time,” Jüttner said. “And the south of Europe is not really an option at this time of year, because the weather is simply too unpredictable.
“We tested at Aragon in Spain at the end of January, and we were really lucky, because there was massive snowfall just as we had finished our test. Our trucks couldn’t even leave the track because of the snow. In that sense, Florida is much better! In terms of logistics, it is easier, too.”
Jüttner himself made his first trip to Sebring back in 1992 and remembers it fondly.
“I was still with Porsche at the time and a colleague, who went out to assist the Joest team for the IMSA race at Sebring, asked me to come along. It was a far cry from what you have at Sebring nowadays. There were hardly any restaurants, the old pits were still there.”
The ‘Inn on the Lakes’ hotel has been Jüttner’s favorite place to stay at Sebring ever since.
“It is a place where the whole racing community meets up,” he said. “Everybody knows about the ‘Chicanes’ restaurant and the bar. Other places I like to go are ‘The Watering Hole’, where they do some pretty good steaks, and the ‘Blue Lagoon Saloon’.
“In general, I like Sebring. It has a very special atmosphere. We might not be racing there anymore, which I regret, but at least we have the opportunity to go there for testing. I hope that will continue for some more years!”