Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who conquered most of Europe during his prime, knew a thing or two about warfare. However, being a pragmatist at heart he declared "I do not want a good General, I want a lucky one". That expression could easily serve as a motto for the 2010 Sebring 12 Hours. Several parties used their 'get out of jail free card' to great effect, others got screwed through no fault of their own. It was all gloriously random and made for a great event.
Take IMSA for instance, at one point their flagship event was heading for the rocks, with grid numbers in the teens, no Audi for the first time since 1998, Peugeot not confirmed, a real doomsday scenario. Yet the French brought two cars, Aston Martin also joined in and the new classes LMPC and GTC, assembled in sufficient numbers to give respectability to the grid, at least as far as the fans were concerned. Moreover the GT2 category gave ALMS series boss, Scott Atherton, some genuine legitimacy in the claim that the series is 'World Class'. It was a truly 'Victory from the Jaws of Defeat' performance. Talking to the fans, it was clear that they approved, so yet another box ticked.
IMSA and the fans also rode their luck, when the Peugeot team allowed their two cars to make a genuine contest of the race, treating us all to a great show and giving themselves a proper workout before the serious business of repeating their Le Mans victory over Audi begins. In the end mistakes and punctures would decide who stood on the top steps of the podium.
If, before the race had started, the GT2 script as it actually unfolded had been dropped on your desk, it would have been rejected as fantasy, completely unrealistic. Yet all those weird things happened.
So as the received wisdom would have it, starting from the front row, the French diesel pair would just engage the torque and drive away from the field for a nice little cruise through the orange groves in Florida's Central Highlands. It may have looked that way for the first three laps but then Emanuele Pirro decided to make a race of it.
Enjoying the performance of Lord Drayson's Lola Judd, he blasted by the Lola Aston Martin and soon hauled himself up onto the rear of the Bourdais' 908. On lap 17 while the leading trio were trying to negotiate the fierce GT2 battle, Pirro saw an opportunity to slip past the Frenchman on the run up to the hairpin. Carpe Diem indeed.
A lunge down the inside and verrrrry late on the brakes saw the Lola take second spot. In the long run it meant nothing as Bourdais used the diesel's superior grunt to power his way back past but it gave the crowd something to cheer and made Radio Le Mans' supremo, John Hindhaugh, bellow with delight.
One unintended consequence of this manoeuvre was to make the Falken Porsche run wide, ending its spell in the lead of the GT2 battle. More on that saga later.
For the Drayson Racing team, that was the high point of the weekend. Problems with an alternator and a water leak pushed the car down to a 12th place finish overall.
Third place in the race fell to the Aston Martin Racing, Lola Aston Martin LMP1 of Adrian Fernandez, Harold Primat and Stefan Mucke. Unable to match the Peugeots' pace they pushed hard all race and the result was a fair reward.
The battle for victory see-sawed between the blue coupes with little to choose either way.
In the end a puncture for Pedro Lamy in the #08 car forced a change in tactics to conserve fuel. That allowed a fired up Alex Wurz to create enough margin to remain in front after the final pit stops.
So victory went to Wurz and his team mates, Anthony Davidson and Marc Gene, most would have no argument with that result.
In LMP2 the honours went unexpectedly to the Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder of Klaus Graf, Sascha Massen and 62 year old car owner, Greg Pickett. Basically they had no problems or delays during the race, which could not be said for their two rivals in the class.
The Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01C was over four laps up on the Spyder with three hours to go but somehing electrical caught fire delaying the car around 30 minutes and costing them the win. A big disappointment for Marino Franchitti, David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud.
Delays early in the race with oil pump problems blunted the Dyson Racing Lola Mazda's challenge. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson and Andy Meyrick managed to drag the car to the finish, which may prove significant when the points are tallied up at the end of the season.
Six of the new Le Mans Prototypes turned out at Sebring, powered by Covette lumps, they proved a welcome addition to the field. It helped that some real talent was behind the wheel and the Christophe Bouchut, Scott Tucker and Mark Wilkens ran out as easy winners in end. This was after a fierce battle between the French star, winner of 24 Hours at Le Mans, Spa and Daytona, and up and coming talents such as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Gunnar Jeannette and JR Hildebrand.
The seven car GTC class was dominated by Alex Job Racing who monopolised the podium places. Butch Leitzinger, Juan Gonzalez and Leh Keen ran out as winners from their two sister cars. Given AJR's pedigree this was to be expected.
The fans meanwhile did what fans at Sebring have done since the race was first run in 1952. They drank beer, sat around, talked bollocks and enjoyed great racing.
They also had their picture taken with grid girls, hey we can all dream, can't we?
Grid Girls? Did someone say Falken? No? Well, here you are anyway.
Falken? Ah yes that brings us neatly to the fantastic GT2 battle. If anything is going to carry the ALMS along during 2010 it is the GT2 class, easily the best on the planet.
As already related on SpeedHunters, the Team Falken Tire Porsche seized the lead at the start and Wolf Henzler kept the 911 there, resisting all attempts from the pack to get by. Then came the pass by Pirro on Bourdais and Henzler was forced onto the marbles, lost grip and traction, slipping down the order. A strong finish was in prospect till the seventh hour of the race when a wheel parted company from the Porsche, clouting a Corvette. The team attended to this and the 911 was despatched once more only for the wheel to detach once again with serious conseqences for the Flying Lizard #45. Extended repairs to the Falken car ensued, dropping them out of contention. For them Sebring is a case of what might have been.
The Flying Lizard #45 carried most of Porsche's hopes coming into the Sebring event. Assuming pole position after the BMW failed an airbox test the car ran strongly with Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Marc Lieb on driving duties. Then came the hit from the errant Falken Porsche wheel, damaging the left rear and forcing Bergmeister to stop. This misfortune was compounded by some Keystone Koppery by the race officials, who took three laps to pick up the race leader in the ensuing full course yellow period. All that time the pits remained closed as per the rules, costing the Lizards any chance of a win. Not IMSA's finest moment and not a way for a professional outfit to get beaten.
The other Lizard had a pretty trouble free race to finish fifth in class.
In testing on the Monday before the race, the Robertson Racing Ford GT had an absolutely massive shunt, the crew had to work around the clock to get the car onto the grid. A largely drama free run ended in points being scored and some kind of victory for the small team.
New boys on the block were the Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferraris who had mixed fortunes at Sebring. Team owner Scott Sharp saw his F430 catch fire late in the race as a result of an oil leak, while the second car finished a solid sixth.
The factory backed Jaguar had a torrid time in Florida. During qualifying the beast caught fire.
The race was no kinder to the XKRS and lasted 11 laps before coolant loss brought the day to a premature end. There is much work to do before Le Mans.
The strangest incident that afflicted the GT2 class, on a day of strange incidents, was the pit lane mix up that effectively put the Corvette Racing duo out of the race for victory. The #3 car had lost eight laps early in the race while a steering rack was changed and was about to finish a routine pit stop. Jan Magnussen was given the signal to leave the pit just as the #4 arrived with Emmanuel Collard on board. A heavy impact was the result with substantial damage to both Corvettes. That this happened to Pratt & Miller, widely recognised as one the best teams in any form of sportscar racing, made the whole incident more incredible.
So as last men standing in GT2, it was a straight fight between the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT and the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing pair of M3s. Once again the intervention of safety car cost both BMWs while Risi prospered, over a season it should even out. The M3s were consistantly the fastest GT2 cars on track as the race progressed. Dave "Beaky" Simms, team boss at Risi, expressed to me his concern at how that speed would turn out during the balance of 2010.
In the end #92 finished second and #93 third. Not a win but a good solid start for BMW and an important advantage over some of their title rivals already.
That left the GT2 class win at the 2010 Sebring 12 Hours in the hands of Ferrari, Risi Competizione and the driver line up of Gianmaria Bruni, Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer. They will be tough to beat all year and have now won six classic endurance races on the trot. 2008 & 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours and Petit Le Mans, 2009 & 2010 Sebring 12 Hours, an amazing record.
GT2 received a big boost while at Sebring after the recent cancellation of the FIA GT2 Championship. The ACO announced that the rules will be frozen for the next two years and that the new Intercontinental Cup will be open to GT2 as well as LMP1. I heard that the manufacturers have all agreed to support this GT2 formula and not the FIA GT1 World Championship. The FIA has to replace Maserati, Corvette and Aston Martin at the end of the 2011 season and that task just became appreciably harder with that news. Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Spyker is a pretty impressive line up of sportscar people and it is generally expected that GT1 will be quietly dropped from ACO rules based racing after this year.
One final look at the Risi Competizione F430 GT and this, I think, brings my SpeedHunters coverage of the 2010 Sebring 12 Hours to a conclusion. There is something addictive about the bumpy runways in the Florida Central Highlands, I'd like to think that I will be back next year.