March 17th, yes it's St. Patrick's Day when the whole of the USA turns green, drinks Guinness and pretends to have some connection with Ireland. Well, why not, any excuse to have a gargle even if the green wigs do not really go with my complextion.
Down in Florida's Central Highlands the date also has a deep significance, it also involves alcohol in industrial quantities but this time a race is tacked on. So in 2010 we anticipate the 58th running of the Sebring 12 Hours, the first round of this year's American Le Mans Series.
Like every other form of motorsport the ALMS has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a consequence of the fallout from the global financial crisis. Back a few months ago things looked frankly bleak but the guys and gals from Brasleton have dug deep, twisting arms and pulling rabbits from top hats to serve up a respectable grid in the mid 30s.
Stars of the Show, in a different league from the other competitors, are Peugeot with two of their ultra fast 908 diesels. 2009 proved that the team had added reliability and race savvy to the blistering speed that was always evident. Add to that a stellar driver line up of Marc Gene, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson plus Pedro Lamy, Sebastien Bourdais and Nic Minassian and it is difficult to see how the French will not take the top steps of the podium on Saturday evening.
I spoke to Nic on the flight out to Florida and he confirmed that if anything the squad was even stronger and that the car had many detailed improvements.
Leading the charge against the French Chevaliers is the wonderful sounding V12 Lola Aston Martin. Making its first appearance on American soil, the iconic livery and Siren song will captivate the fans for sure.
Two other Lolas, one from Drayson Racing and the other from Autocon Motorsports make up the category, now that Jon Field destroyed his example in pre-race testing.
The question that will be posed by historians in the future is why Audi are not racing. They tested earlier in the week and will continue that after the race, so why not take on the French for the delight of the crowd?
The LMP2 class is small but perfectly formed, the charge being led by the Patron Highcroft Racing Honda Performance Development ARX-01c, God what a mouthful. Note to PR/Marketing types…brevity and clarity please! David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti will give it 100% and if the weather turns as nasty as it did last week then expect the Green Hornet to sting the LMP1 cars.
Strong opposition to the Highcroft will come from America's Eternal sportscar team, Dyson Racing. The Lola Mazda B09/86 in the hands of Guy Smith and Chris Dyson will push the HPD all the way.
Final runner in the class and final chapter in the Porsche Spyder LMP2 story is Cytosport effort.
Mercifully LMGT1 is no more in North America. Instead we have the spectacle of the greatest GT2 competition on the planet, that is the verdict despite the strength of the class these days in the Le Mans Series.
Always challenging are the Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs of Flying Lizard, looking to take up where they left off last year.
New to the Porsche "Approved" list are Team Falken Tyre, who made steady progress in 2009 but are under no illusions as to the scale of the task in front of them. SpeedHunters will be following the team throughout the season, so keep looking out for the reports.
The factory Corvettes will be one of the hot favourites for the win at Sebring and indeed the ALMS title.
Another factory team that will be fully up to speed is BMW and Rahal Letterman. Tommy Milner will be blogging for SpeedHunters beginning at Sebring.
Jaguar will be hoping to develop their XKRS to get on terms with the leaders but they will not underestimate the amount of work involved.
There will be a new Ferrari team on the 2010 grid, Extreme Speed Motorsports with Patron backing will have two F430s.
Risi Competizione have been the Ferrari top dogs for several years and this season will see them once again fight for the title.
A sign of the times is that the ALMS grid is bolstered by two invitational classes. GTC features Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars and there will be seven examples on the grid.
A further six spots in the race will be taken by the LMPC Le Mans Prototype Class.
So the 58th edition of the Sebring 12 Hours will have 34 cars including two Peugeots, a stellar GT2 competiton and the first running in the ALMS of the Lola Aston Martin. Thrown in the tradition, the fans and the sunshine…………..what's not to like?