The following piece will be split into two sections, writing the introduction and the Protoype classes section will be Kent Mueller and the second part and GT portion will be our sports car ace expert Ross Fujibayashi. Without further ado we bring you the 12 Hours of Sebring preview.
When the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship was introduced in 2012, I was really excited because finally we have a sports car championship like the old days where the season would start in Daytona with the 24 Hour race and then the 12 Hours of Sebring. The last time we had a sports car calendar like such was in the IMSA Camel GT Championship days, a mere 15 years ago. I like to use RACER’s, Marshall Pruett’s title of this the 36 Hours of Florida.
The first 12 Hours of Sebring took place in 1950 on a 3.3 mile circuit, since then Sebring has seen many changes in the track layout and the sanctioning bodies. Did you know the first 12 Hours of Sebring took place as a non-championship event and the first 12Hours of Sebring as a championship event was sanctioned by the AAA in 1951. Since then, six sanctioning bodies have had the 12 Hours of Sebring on their calendars.
As for this season, the 12 Hours of Sebring marks the second race in the year and the second race in the North American Endurance Championship. This is the first of the American LeMans Series events on the combined calendar.
In prototype, we have a total of 17 entries, one notable team missing off that list is Gainsco Bob Stallings Racing, who has decided to withdraw their horrific accident at the Rolex 24 Hour race in January due to crash damage and lack of funding. We here at Open-Wheels wish GBSR driver Memo Gidley the best in his recovery from injuries suffered in the wreck.
Not really a surprise for most people, Ganassi has a second car, Action Express has a second car. But who is the favorite? Here’s a breakdown of the entries.
#0 Delta Wing
The usual suspects return for the Delta Wing Racing team, Andy Myerick, Katherine Legge and upcoming open wheel star Gabby Chaves, who finished 2nd in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights championship to his teammate Sage Karam. The only driver they are missing from their rotation from Daytona is Formula One test driver and GP2 driver; Alexander Rossi. The Delta Wing which is powered by Elan engine had quite a strong showing at the Rolex 24. They surpassed most of the critics and throughout most of the race they were the top of the P2/ALMS transferred cars until they had mechanical problems. The question I have is will they be quick at a track they have information from last season and have done a lot of test running at. They have the core package to do it, just comes down to reliability.
#1 Extreme Speed Motorsports
The trio of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Brabham return for the second race of the year. After an absolute dismal showing at Daytona, this team will hungrier than ever to get a good result. This car and their sister car the #2 looked very fast at Sebring in winter testing, will they be able to bring the fight to those pesky Daytona Prototypes?
#2 Extreme Speed Motorsports
Just like the big brother car, the same drivers return for the second entry from ESM; Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and IndyCar star, Simon Pagenaud. Like the other team car these guys had a horrific start of this season. Will they rebound at a track they know?
#5 Action Express Racing
The Rolex 24 champions return with their same trio of drivers; Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais. This team also leads the North American Endurance Championship and the overall championship. The question I have is will they have the raw pace like they had in Daytona? This is a different race for the original Grand-Am teams, but one advantage they do have is testing in February and taking part in the BoP test at Sebring in December. While Bourdais is only signed for the NAEC he will be trying his best to help out Christian and Joao in bringing home maximum points in the title chase.
#6 Muscle Milk Racing
The 2013 LeMan Prototype One champions were fairly strong at Daytona considering how far off the pace they were compared to the Daytona Prototypes. Unlike the teams mentioned above they have a different lineup in their LMP2 car powered by Nissan. The Greg Pickett owned operation has kept gunners, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr but they lost Alex Brundle and have added Jann Marendbourough of England. Like the LMP2 teams mentioned above, this has to be a statement race for this team and show what they have for this season.
#9 Action Express Racing
Like their sister car they showed raw pace at the 24 Hours of Daytona but can they keep it up heading into the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Frisielle brothers have stayed on but they have added Grand-Am regular Jon Fogarty on loan from Bob Stallings Racing as the team’s third driver.
#10 Wayne Taylor Racing
The Taylor brothers and Max the Ax Angellleli return to pilot the 10 machine powered by Chevrolet. The most important thing for this team I believe is to protect their place in the overall championship. They have the chemistry to go for the win but like the Daytona Prototype cars, how will they fare on a fairly new track for them.
#31 Marsh Racing
Boris Said and Eric Curran return to the team for this event and they will run the entity of the championship. As of my knowledge, the team has not announced a third driver. This is still part of a transition period for this team as they are still learning from switching from GT to DP from last year. One advantage is the team has Chevrolet power which seems like the engine package to be with out of the gates.
#42 OAK Racing
Oliver Pla, Gustavo Yacaman and Alexander Brundle are to pilot this LMP2 entry powered by Nissan. Like most teams, this is a statement race for them.
#50 Highway to Help
For this North American Endurance Championship entry, a result is very important. The team fell out early in the Daytona race.
#60 Michael Shank Racing
The trio of Ozz Negri, John Pew and IndyCar driver, Justin Wilson return for this event. The biggest question I think for this team has to be the reliability of the Ford EcoBoost engine which had problems for this team down in Daytona. If these problems get solved there is no doubt in my mind that this team will be a contender.
#70 Speed Source
Like ESM, like Highway to Help this team also had a poor showing at Daytona. I believe it will be hard to rebound just considering how many problems the team had.
EJ Viso and Scott Mayer are to pilot the Starworks Daytona Prototype, a third driver hasn’t been announced. The team is debuting the Honda DP engine which will be interesting. Like HtH a finish would be a huge accomplishment.
#90 Spirit of Daytona
The trio of Michael Valiante, Richard Westbrook and Mike Rockenfeller return. The team was the underdogs of the Daytona Protoype cars at Daytona. They just seemed to fly under everybody’s radars. I would like to see the same at Sebring
#01 Chip Ganassi Racing
Like Michael Shank Racing, the team had a horrific showing at Daytona. Between the problems with the Ford Engine and just team errors. The team has made several changes since the 24 Hour event. Team manager Tim Keene has resigned and Ganassi has hired Andy O’Gara to fulfill that role within the team. Sage Karam has switched to the team’s #02 car and Marino Franchitti (Dario’s brother) has been transferred to the 01 team in an effort to increase winning chances partnering with regular drivers Memo Rojas and veteran Scott Pruett. The team should be very strong and prove that Daytona was a fluke.
#02 Chip Ganassi Racing
Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon (Ganassi IndyCar drivers) return and Karam has been transferred to this team. This team has one job and one job only in Ganassi’s eyes go for the win. They aren’t running the full season. The only driver with something to prove is Karam, as he has nothing planned after this event. There has been talk to Marino Franchitti and Karam pairing up in this car if sponsorship is found.
Overall for most Prototype teams this will be a statement race. A lot of questions will be answered Saturday night after this event.
The Grand Touring Le Mans class is made up of several factory teams, manufactures like BMW, Chevrolet, Porsche, SRT, and Ferrari will do battle in this hotly contested class. Pounding around the former World War 2 Air Base circuit is no easy task, and if the past years are any indication, look for the Ferrari 458 Italia GTE to be at the front when the clock counts down.
After a horrendous crash during the Rolex 24 the Houston based squad is back and ready to go. Driver Matteo Mallucelli, who was involved in the crash, returns with Gimmi Bruni and Ginacarlo Fisicella in the #62 machine. The Ferrari 458’s have been quick in the past at Sebring, and 2014 doesn’t look like thats going to change. A late race charge by Corvette spolied Risi’s return after sitting out the 2012 season.
After last years final voyage for the C6R, the Corvette Racing team returns to Central Florida with one goal in mind. To repeat as winners. The #4 car of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin, and Richard Westbrook, overcame early troubles to chase down the leading Ferrari with 15 mintues to go for the win. With Westbrook and #3 car endurance driver Jordan Taylor running in the P class, Verizon Indycar Series star Ryan Briscoe and former Stevenson Motorsports driver Robin Lidell fill the vaccancies in the #3 and #4 Corvettes. Last years ALMS championship team of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are joined by Briscoe.
Porsche North America
Porsche returns to Sebring with factory team for the first time since the RS Spyders of Team Penske. The Core Autosport crewed team brings two 911 GT3 RSR’s to Sebring, and the points lead in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship. Former Flying Lizard teammates Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister are joined by regular season driver Michael Christensen in the #912 machine. Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz, and Patrick Pilet are coming off a GTLM class victory at the Rolex 24 in the #911 car.
Falken Tire makes it’s 2014 debut with a new 911 GT3 RSR. Regular season drivers and longtime teammates Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler will try to repeat the success they had in Falken Tire’s last race, Petit Le Mans. The Falken duo are joined by Porsche works driver Marco Holzer. Look for this Derrick Walker led team to be the sleeper of the GTLM field
2013 was a coming out party for the SRT team, wining at Road America and getting several pole positions. The V10 powered car is piloted by Dominic Farenbacher, Marc Goosens, and another Verizon Indycar Driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Rob Bell, Jonathan Bomarito, and Kuno Wittmer will be in the #93 Viper
The BMW Z4 GTE return to Sebring after debuting there last year. Bill Auberlin and Andy Priaulx with BMW DTM driver Joey Hand in the #55 Z4. Dirk Werner, John Edwards, and Dirk Mueller will be in the #56.
Due to so much to cover with cars and drivers and time constraints of life, we were unable to include everything. Enjoy the race everyone!!!