With Sebring a mere 30+ days away, I want to take a look at what type of drivers take on the visicous concrete runways and narrow asphalt of Sebring International Raceway for thier Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.
Upon the announcement of Bruno Senna joining the Aston-Martin Racing Team for Sebring, it hit me that another Formula 1 driver had left the lavish series as that of the Formula 1. To say F1 is a feeder series to Sports Cars may sound like a stretch, I mean F1 is the tippy top of the four wheel motorsports food chain. Granted some of the drivers didn’t have spectacular careers in F1, but the fact remains, instead of hanging it up they found opportunities within Sports Car racing. Just going from 2000 there has been a dozen or so drivers from the F1 ranks, cross-over into Sports Cars. Factory teams like Peugeot and Audi stacked thier line-ups with former F1 talent.
While the idea of F1 drivers racing sports cars is not a new and wondrous thing. In the past guy’s like Graham Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, and Mario Andretti to name a few, they drove sports cars AND F1. Although making a second career out of sports cars certainly seems to be a new fad. Let’s take a look at some if not all the F1 drivers within Sports Cars.
For 5 years in between 2007 and 2011 the 908 Hdi FaP and 908 were the car to beat. Just how did they accomplish such a feat? With former Formula 1 drivers of course. From a World Champion to a Ferrari third driver, the Velizy, France based team dominated the Audis for 4 years. While the Peugeots came up short at Lemans every year but 2009, they went on to win 20 times in 30 races. So, just who were these drivers that led Peugeot to victory? World Champion Jacques Villenueve. Former Formula 1 drivers Pedro Lamy, Alexander Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Bourdais, Christian Klien, Franck Montagny, Stepahne Sarrazin, Marc Gene, and Nicolas Minassian.
Jacques Villenueve tried to become one of few who have on the 24 hours of Lemans, the Indy 500, and win the F1 World Championship. JV came up short twice then moved on too concentrate on stock cars. I’m sure by now we all know how well that has worked. Pedro Lamy drove for the Lotus and Minardi teams in between 1993-1996. Teamed with various Peugeot drivers Lamy’s highest overall finish at Lemans was 2nd twice. In 2012 after the disbanding of Peugeot’s endurance team, Lamy moved to the Corvette Racing European counterpart Labre racing. Lamy co-driving with Patrick Bornhauser and Julien Canal finished first in the GTE-Am class.
Alexander Wurz drove in F1 for Bentton, McLaren, and Williams. Notching three podiums to his credit. Wurz won Lemans in 1996 with Joest Racing, then again in 2009 with Peugeot. Since the closing of the Peugeot program, he has moved to the Toyota TS030 Hybrid. In 2012 in the TS030′s first season Wurz with Nicolas Lapierre brought home 3 victories against Audi. Wurz’ teammate at Peugoet Anthony Davidson drove for BAR, Honda, and Toyota. When Honda pulled out of F1, Davidson stayed with the Brawn GP team and continued on after Mercedes had bought the team as a developmental driver. Davidson has finished no higher than 4th at Lemans, but has gotten several victories in the 908. As with Wurz Davidson also moved to the Toyota team for 2012. At Lemans in 2012, Davidson was involved in a spectacular crash, in which he broke his back. His first race back was this years Rolex 24 at Daytona with 8Star Motorsports.
Several of the victories Davidson had in 2011, he was teammed with current Dragon Racing Indycar driver Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais is no stranger to open-wheel racing, as it has been documented on this site in a couple posts from last year. Bourdais left the Newman-Haas team to run Formula 1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso. For 2013 Bourdais will not return to his hometown Lemans to try and win the 24 hour classic, to focus on the Izod Indycar Series. Christian Klien drove for Peugeot in 2008 & 2009 finishing on the podium at Lemans in 2009. While in F1 he drove for Jaguar, Red Bull, and Hispania Racing Team. After his stint at Peugeot, Klien joined the Aston Martin Racing Team to drive the ill-fated AMR-one. it finished 55th out of 56.
Franck Montagny raced for Peugeot from 2008-2011, finishing as high as 2nd at Lemans. Before Peugeot, Montagny drove for various teams at Lemans, including Audi, Oreca, Caddilac, and Pescarolo. At Pescarolo he was teamed with, probably the greatest rally driver ever Sebatien Loeb. After Peugeot, Montagny drove for Oak Racing, and DNF’d at Lemans. In ALMS, Franck drove for 2013 Izod Indycar Series Championship team Andretti Autosport (then Andretti-Green), also in 2009 he drove, on of Andretti’s Indycars at Sonoma. While in Formula 1, Franck drove for the Super Aguri team, and was in line to get a seat at Renault. Stephane Sarrazin, was a one race replacement on the Minardi team in 1996. He remained in F1 to be a test driver for the Prost team and Toyota in their first year. Where Sarrazin has really called home is the ultra competitive world of sports cars. In the past he has driven for Oreca, when they ran the Viper factory team, Aston-Martin, and Peugeot. At Lemans in 2012 Sarrazin was to share the Pescarolo-Dome LMP1 car with Sebastien Bourdais, when one of Toyota’s drivers pulled out due to back problems, Sarrazin was called to be his fill-in. The Toyota TS030 was wrecked after colliding with a slower GTE-Am car, and subsequently retired. Marc Gene drove for Minardi in 1999-2000, after being released from Minardi, he became the test driver for Williams. Gene made his debut for Williams when Ralf Schumacher missed a race due to injury in 2003. After the 2004 season Gene signed on with Scuderia Ferrari to become a test driver. At the end of 2010 Gene, and two other test drivers were replaced at Ferrari. In 2007 Marc started driving for the Peugeot Sport team, and conquered Lemans in 2009 with Wurz and David Brabham. When Peugeot closed Gene was another driver left out in the cold, for the 2012 WEC season. Gene would substitute for the injured Timo Bernhard in the Audi R18 Ultra. In Gene’s first race back, driving with Romain Dumas and Loic Duval, the trio would win the 6hr of spa event, then finish 4th overall at Lemans.
Simon Pagenaud also drove the 908′s at Lemans, in fact chased down the lone surviving Audi R18 in 2011, to finish 13 seconds behind.
While Ferrari hasn’t fielded an actual factory team in sports cars in some time. They do have Works Drivers for sports cars still on hand. Remember when Ginacarlo Fisichella was going to replace Felipe Massa, and was granted release from Force India to do so? Well Massa came back after the life-threating injury, that regulated Fisichella to Test Driver status with Scuderia Ferrari. At the end of 2011 Fisichella, Luca Badoer, and Marc Gene were replaced by Jules Bianchi as test driver. Now Fisichella drives for AF Corse in the WEC as a factory driver in AF Corse’s GT2/GTE 458. Another former F1 driver Mika Salo drove GT1 Maserati MC12′s, and Ferrari 430 GT2 for Risi Competizione and AF Corse. Gianmaria Bruni who drove 18 races for the Minardi team, is another F1 refugee who found a home in sports cars with the AF Corse team. Former Larrousse F1 driver in 1994, Olivier Beretta, started racing sports cars in 1999 with the Team Oreca Viper, then on to the Panoz LMP01. For 8 seasons Beretta drove for the Corvette Racing team winning his class 3 times at Lemans. At the end of the 2011 season Beretta was released from Corvette Racing and started driving for, you guessed it, AF Corse. As of today two more ex-Formula 1 drivers Karun Chandhok and Kamui Kobayashi were testing the 458 Italia GT2 for AF Corse.
Corvette racing has been a fan favorite at Lemans since they returned to Circuit De Le Sarthe. Two former F1 drivers make up the roster of Corvette Racing, Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin. Jan Magnussen debuted with McLaren in 1995 in a one-off race. He would come back F1 to drive for Stewart Grand Prix. Since Joining Corvette he has won his class at Lemans 4 times. Teammate at Corvette Racing Oliver Gavin was a test driver for the Pacific Grand Prix team in the mid-90′s.
Aston-Martin since re-joining the sports car ranks, has fielded several different variations of the DBR and the Vantage. They ventured into the LMP ranks with Lola, making one of the most beautiful sounding Prototypes of this decade. In 2011 Aston Martin and Prodrive tried their hand at making their own LMP1 challenger, which ended in failure. Former Peugeot driver Christien Klien drove the ill-fated AMR-one in 2011. 11 year Formula 1 veteran Johnny Herbert piloted one of the DBR9-GT1′s at Lemans, after stints with Audi and Bentley. Prost F1 driver Tomas Enge took the Lola B09/60 Aston-Martin to fourth in LMP1 in 2009. Tomas Enge also drove for Panther Racing in 2005, including the Indianapolis 500.
Toyota started it’s return to endurance racing, with supplying motors to the Swiss team Rebellion Racing. Former Williams, Jordan, Sauber, and Renault driver Nick Heidfield, was added to the car of Nic Prost and Neel Jani for the 2012 season. Heidfield returns to Rebellion Toyota for 2013, to run three ALMS events.
The Toyota TS030 has former Peugeot drivers Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson. In addition to them is Sebastien Buemi, Ex-Scuderia Torro Rosso driver and Ex-Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima. In the TS030 Hybrids first season it notched 3 victories at Sao Paulo, Fuji, and Shanghai. For 2013 Toyota will run two cars for the WEC season, with drivers Wurz, Nakajima, Lapierre, Davidson, Sarrazin, and Buemi.
Ahh yes, the kings of top class endurance racing, since 2000. Tom Kristensen maybe Mr. Lemans, but it’s his longtime co-driver that most associate with Audi. He is no other than Allan McNish. McNish was on the fast track to become a F1 driver until there wasn’t a ride for him. McNish would drive for Porsche at Lemans and win in 1998. When Toyota would enter F1, McNish jumped at the chance eto become an F1 driver. McNish would drive for Toyota in 2002, only to be replaced by Cristino DeMatta by the end of the season. McNish would become a test driver for the Renault team for the 2003 season. McNish would make his return to sports cars at the beginning of the 2004 season with Audi, and as they say the rest is history. 6 Podium finishes and 2 victories at Lemans, a great battle with A.J. Allmendinger and Ozzi Negri Jr at Daytona last year, and 4 victories at Sebring highlight McNish’s sports car career. Other Formula 1 drivers that have graced the Audi cockpit are Emanuele Pirro, the late Michele Alboreto (he was killed in a testing accident), and Johnny Herbert.
Other former Formula 1 drivers that have done sports cars after F1 are Stefan Johansson, Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, and Nigel Mansell. Johansson will be competing in the ALMS this season with the BAR1 Motorsport Oreca FLM900 in the LMPC class. They are the projected favorites to win the championship this season.
Thanks for reading!