Motor racing has returned with a bang for Alpine as the endurance teams scores its first podium at Sebring.
The Alpine Elf Endurance Team’s A480 was on point in its first appearance at Sebring International Raceway during the Prologue and continued to build momentum throughout the race week.
Part of the winning trio, Nicolas Lapierre said: “It is fantastic to begin our second season in the premier category with this win.
“Despite all the challenging conditions, we ran a clean race, especially on the strategic side as we stopped for fuel more often than our rivals.
“This win is a reward for all of the team’s hard work and I hope this is not only the first time the French national anthem will resonate on the podium.
“However, we know that Sebring is unique, so now we have to wait and see what Spa has in store for us.”
After setting the time to beat among Hypercars, the team continued to work hard during the three free practice sessions before tackling qualifying on Thursday evening.
Lapierre, who knows the atypical Sebring track like the back of his racing gloves, put in a superb time of 1:47.407s to seal Alpine’s second outright pole position in the FIA WEC by more than a second.
However, there was a twist in the tale before the start on Friday at noon.
André Negrão suffered from a minor case of food poisoning and left Matthieu Vaxiviere to start the race.
The Frenchman took on the challenge with panache, commandingly keeping the lead at the first corner before clocking a series of fastest laps.
Opening driver, Vaxiviere said: “We are all delighted with this maiden victory at Sebring.
“The start went well, we managed to control the Glickenhaus and we had a great first stint.
“Our plan worked to perfection as we built up a lead to be able to go on with confidence despite the many twists and turns.
“Everything went perfectly, and it highlights the work done this winter, but also since we arrived in Sebring.
“I want to pay tribute to the team for this well-deserved victory and I hope there will be more.”
Vaxiviere and Lapierre soon came upon traffic as they shared the driving duties in the opening stints.
They built up a one-minute lead before André Negrão got in the car.
The Brazilian came out of the pits in third place and gradually made up ground on his rivals until one of them made a mistake, which brought out the red flag.
After a long intervention to repair the tyre wall and three laps behind the safety car to reorganise the field, André kept his composure at the restart.
Thanks to the team’s operational excellence in managing its fuel consumption, the #36 Alpine even pulled off the perfect move by not having to make a five-second emergency refuel before the restart.
Negrão reclaimed the lead and completed two stints before Vaxiviere returned to the track under fading light and increasingly threatening skies.
The Frenchman held on to the lead during the cautions before thunderstorms closing onto the circuit with just over an hour remaining caused a second red flag.
The Brazilian driver, Negrão said: “It has been a fantastic week at Sebring, and I’m not about to forget it.
“First, there was Nicolas’ magnificent pole position on Thursday, and now our first Hypercar victory.
“I’ve been with Alpine for five years, and I know how hard everyone has worked, especially since our first season in the premier category last year.
“It brings a special meaning to this success, and it’s a source of pride to share these moments with them.
“I am now looking forward to Spa to repeat this excellent start.”
When the action was about to resume, the restart was scrapped with less than an hour to go.
This decision meant that the 1000 Miles of Sebring concluded before the eight-hour time limit and sealed the first victory for the Alpine Elf Endurance Team since its return to endurance racing’s premier category.
With the pole position and victory, Alpine scored maximum points to take the lead in the championship.
The BWT Alpine F1 team start their Formula One season in Bahrain with qualifying on March, Saturday 19 and will be looking to close in on the teams at the top after impressive free practices.
Alpine will defend its lead at the next FIA WEC round at Spa-Francorchamps (5-7 May).