The 59th running of the 12hours of Sebring takes place this weekend and will kick off a series of GT racing previews on Speedhunters.
This year, the Sebring Endurance race plays host to the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and the regular American Le Mans Series. It makes for a packed grid of 56 cars, with a confusing number of classes…. Most cars are entered in one or the other series. A few, such as BMW are running in both. Confusing!
The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) is a series of Endurance races around the world including Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans. Run by the ACO, this is fast becoming the series to enter in, if you can afford to travel to races in the US, Europe and China. It's almost a World Championship for Sportscars.
The American Le Mans Series retains its basic format with nine rounds, including a round at Mosport, Canada. Both series run to ACO regulations. Thanks to SPEED.com and Marshall Pruett for many of these images in this preview. You can view a larger gallery here.
At the sharp end of the grid will be the LMP1 entries running to new less powerful 2011 regulations. It looks like a classic battle here, with Audi, Peugeot and maybe Lola Aston Martin and Highcroft in close contention, thanks largely to the ILMC entry.
Audi have brought two of its R15+ TDI machines while rival Peugeot have three entries.
Two new 2011 Peugeot 908s for the ‘works’ team, while the Oreca organization is running an older car. Any one of these five cars could win. All five cars are entered in the full LMPC championship.
All new 2011 cars can be picked out by the new vertical engine cover fin. Known as the 'Honkin’ Fin' with good reason. This fin is supposed to stop roll-overs in mid-air, a problem suffered by a number of prototypes over the years.
However it might not all be plain sailing for the Peugeot team. It appears two cars have been written off, or badly damaged in testing for unexplained reasons. Star driver Nicolas Minassian is also missing from Sebring, apparently injured in the latest incident. Audi are going with a flawed, if proven package ahead of the R18 debut in Europe later this Spring.
Peugeot and Audi are ILMC entries, so this, and Petit Le Mans, at the end of the season looks like the only visits to North America for these brands.
Behind these factory entries. Greg Pickett now has his hands on a Lola Aston Martin in Muscle Milk colors for the full ALMS season. Car looks great and has to be favourite for top Petrol car.
As this, and many other cars are 2010 combinations, they have been performance capped, but are proven racecars, which could be the key for the 12 hour race.
Back to back ALMS Champions, Highcroft Racing return with a new development of the Honda Performance Development HPD-ARX-01e, itself a development of the old Courage LMP racer.
New livery and bodywork makes for a distinctive machine. The team have been playing catch up, finishing the car at the circuit this weekend. David Brabham, Marino Fanchitti and Simone Pagenaud remain as drivers.
The car is quite distinctive with its front end aerodynamics. Highcroft have not confirmed a full-ALMS campaign, so we have to wait and see.
Toyota have made a quiet return to Endurance racing, their TRG arm (the remains of the F1 team) in Cologne supplying engines to the Rebellion Racing.
Although not racing this weekend, Aston Martin Racing will return to the ILMS and Le Mans with their new in-house developed machine. Unfortunately, their Sebring entry was scrubbed earlier this month.
Unfortunately, the less powerful P2 class isn’t very healthy. Just four entries for this event, three of these for the ILMC class.
One entry of interest is the Signatech entry running an Oreca with a Zytek-Nissan engine. This has been quick in testing all week. Nissan have dipped their toe in the water with a new engine program for the ILMC in conjunction with Zytek Engineering and it would be quite fitting if Nissan won the P2 class after tragedy in Japan.
Honda are also represented in LMP2 with their new HPD engine in the back of two Level 5 Motorsport Lolas. This car appears to be a little under power at the moment.
Behind the prototypes, the GT class is in fine health with eight manufacturers and nine models represented and will be the focus for many Speedhunters.
This class is too close to call. Anyone of the manufacturer supported programs could win. We could have another Petit, where the result is decided on the last lap….hopefully not due to fuel this time.
Corvette appear to have made an improvement in testing with their C6.R complete with the addition of Speedhunters supported Tommy Milner. Just a day after his win in the Dubai 24 Hours in January, Tommy flew back to the States to test the 2011 Corvette.
He’s had a good number of testing miles and either Corvette could win.
We will also be showing the design process of Tommy's new 2011 helmet later today, courtsey of Censport Graphics on Speedhunters shortly.
Tommy joins Olivier Beretta, and for endurance events Antonio Garcia in the #3 car. The other Corvette ) is driven by Oliver Gavin, Jan Magnussen and new boy, Richard Westbrook.
BMW are also on top form after snatching the 2010 Teams title on the last lap at Petit Le Mans.
BMW will be competing in the full ALMS with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schnitzer Motorsport in the ILMC.
As Sebring is in Rahal's backyard, they will be running the cars this weekend. New bodywork and Le Mans-style livery give the cars a more aggressive appearance.
Team Need for Speed Dubai 24H Augusto Farfus will be running in the #55 Car.
The Ferrari F458 will make their GT debut at Sebring. Risi Compeitzione will run one car with Mika Salo, Toni Vilander and Jaime Melo. You can see they are testing out a new front bumper/splitter in this shot.
Extreme Speed are running two stunning Tequila Patron Ferraris.
ILMC entrant, Luxury Racing will also run a F458.
Italian team, AF Corse are also at Sebring as part of the ILMC and have decided to run the tried and tested Ferrari F430 rather than risk new car gremlins with the F458, which is they left testing in Europe..
Archrival, Porsche, also have a number of cars at the event. Flying Lizards are likely to be the leading 911. Lizards are running two cars, but the #45 entry of Marc Lieb, Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister are most likely to battle with the Corvettes and BMW’s.
Falken are back with an updated 911, this time run by Walker Racing, who have a very successful history in IndyCar and CART racing. A new category for the team, but one which is very efficient and well liked. Brian Sellers and Wolf Henzler remain with the team, joined this weekend by Martin Ragginger.
Lamborghini return to the ALMS via West Racing with their Yokohama sponsored Reiter Engineering Gallardo. Painted in Matt Black with Gloss Black graphics, the car looks great. A steep learning curve for the new team.
Ford will be represented by two Ford GTs for Robertson Racing. The Robertsons have been quietly developing their car for a couple of seasons now. It’s a non-works team, but they are moving up the grid and its always great to see a Ford GT in competition.
RSR Jaguar have now expanded to a full-season two car team. Now shod with Dunlop tires, the RSR Jags slowly became more reliable during the second half of 2010. The #98 car has an ex CART line up of Bruno Junqueira, Cristiano Da Matta and Oriol Servia.
Panoz will also be running its Abruzzi GT car. The first time, this car will be in competition. Due to homologation issues, it may run unclassified.
I'm not a fan of this car, but it would look better if it was matte black, with a couple of red flashes…..Batmobile anyone?
As this race is part of the ILMC, there will be an additional GT class for Pro-Am drivers in cars at least a season old.
Krohn Racing have to be favorites for this event as they have competed in the ALMS for a number of years with the Risi team. Now working on their own, the F430 is a known quantity to them,although this is a different chassis to the car they have raced before.
CRS Racing from the UK will also be competing in the ILMC GTE-Am category with the F430. This team is working with McLaren on the new MP4/12 GT3 race car.
Labre Competition also make their debut with their ex-works Corvette.
Finally, Aston Martin is represented by AMR Middle East, with their Gulf liveried Vantage. This team performed well at the Dubai 24hrs, with a Gulf sponsored Lamborghini Gallardo, before their new partnership with Aston Martin. Veteran team manager, David Price looks after the team, so you can be sure they will be a smooth running well-(Gulf?) Oiled machine.
It’s a tough call on who will win the GT Class. Corvette and BMW have to start as favourites, while the Flying Lizard Porsche and a reliable Risi Ferrari should not be discounted.
There are additional classes, unique to the ALMS, LMP-C which are similar to LMP2 cars and GT-C which are Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.
A quick tip. All the ALMS entries start with the number ‘0’ while the ILMC have their own numbers. Each class has colour coded number panels and leader lights. Quite confusing, so you might find my ALMS Spotter Guide helpful (Blatant Plug!).
Virtually every team has helped on the guide this year, so it has as much detail as possible for the 1st event.
Once Sebring is in the history books, the two series will go their separate ways.
The ILMC will next race at Silverstone while the ALMS will visit Long Beach, one week after the Formula Drift opener with a smaller field. The ILMC will return to North American at the end of the season for Petit Le Mans.
From an ALMS perspective, the GTs are where the competition will be all season long, but for Sebring, we have battle royale with Peugeot and Audi at the front. In the ILMC, the Prototype filed is much stronger.
The ALMS have a new TV and media package and this could be an issue for some as there is little traditional coverage.
In the US, you can watch the whole race online at ESPN3.com if you are fortunate to receive ESPN. Edited Highlights will then be aired on ABC on Sunday
Outside of the US, you are limited to live qualifying and race covered on the series website, which will be taking the ESPN3 feed. US residents will not have access to this.
Good friend of Speedhunters, John Hindhaugh from RadioLeMans.com will beproviding the commentary for the series website.The audio feed of this will also be available on RadioLeMans.com worldwide in association with Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed which will allow US residents to listen to Hindy and watch video via ESPN3. Not going to be easy for the casual follower is it?
It has been reported Eurosport will also show some linmited coverage in Europe.
Qualifying starts at 3pm local (EST) time on Friday 18th March with the race starting at10.30am the following day.
Its all set up for a classic. Lets hope people can get to see it…..
Many thanks to Marshall Pruett of SPEED.com for many of the images.
- Andy Blackmore
Photos: Marshall Pruett/SPEED.com, ALMS and various teams.