With GT1 increasingly a thing of the past in the ALMS all eyes will be on GT2 for almost undoubtedly the most competitive class in the race, while the returning GT Challenge class begins to show signs of coming of age, only to confronted with growing pains.
No.01 – Extreme Speed Motorsports (Ferrari 430) Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Dominic Farnbacher
No.02 – Extreme Speed Motorsports (Ferrari 430) Guy Cosmo/Ed Brown/Joao Barbosa
No.3 – Corvette Racing (Chevrolet Corvette ZR1) Jan Magnussen/Johnny O'Connell/Antonio Garcia
No.4 – Corvette Racing (Chevrolet Corvette ZR1) Olivier Beretta/Oliver Gavin/Emmanuel Collard
No.17 – Team Falken Tire (Porsche 997) Bryan Sellers/Wolf Henzler/Patrick Pilet
No.40 – Robertson Racing (Doran Ford GT-R) David Robertson/Andrea Robertson/David Murray
No.44 – Flying Lizard Motorsports (Porsche 997) Darren Law/Seth Neiman/Richard Lietz
No.45 – Flying Lizard Motorsports (Porsche 997) Jorg Bergmeister/Marc Lieb/Patrick Long
No.61 – Risi Competizione (Ferrari 430) Tracy Krohn/Eric van der Poele/Nic Jonsson
No.62 – Risi Competizione (Ferrari 430) Jaime Melo/Pierre Kaffer/Gianmaria Bruni
No.75 – JaguarRSR (Jaguar XKRS) Ryan Dalziel/Marc Goossens/Paul Gentilozzi
No.90 – BMW Rahal Letterman Racing (BMW M3) Dirk Muller/Joey Hand/Andy Priaulx
No.92 – BMW Rahal Letterman Racing (BMW M3) Bill Auberlan/Tommy Milner/Dirk Werner
Firstly, just look at that entry list!
Thirteen cars from six different manufacturers driver by some of the best sportscar drivers in the world, among them multiple class champions at Sebring and Le Mans, six Porsche works drivers and two of the reigning Daytona 24 Hours winners.
GT2 is in rude health. Admittedly the winter has seen the loss of relative minnows PTG Panoz, Dodge and the LG Motorsports Corvette, as well as the Farnbacher-Loles team, but the class as gained as much as it's has lost; Team Falken Tire returning for a full season (and being rewarded by the Porsche backing of factory drivers Henzler and Pilet) Jaguar returning to Sebring and Scott Sharp's newly formed Extreme Speed Motorsports.
So what of the chances of these 'new' teams?
Obviously the potential of the Falken car cannot be underestimated, but the real headline for the new teams is the no.01 car. Dominic Farnbacher joins after a 2009 campaign with PTG, Van Overbeek from Flying Lizard and Sharp himself after winning the P1 title with Highcroft. Put 'em together and what have you got? A Sebring winning team?
Maybe, but they will have to overcome the established teams of the class – Flying Lizard, Risi and Corvette. Trying to pick a winner from those three is just this side of impossible. The no.62 Ferrari is even stronger than when it won last year thanks to the addition of 'Gimmi' Bruni to the driving squad. Flying Lizard have three Porsche works drivers ready to step into the no.45 car and Corvette have two very strong cars, like Risi only strengthened by a winter signing as former Porsche works driver Emmanuel Collard joins the team.
There is also the threat of the BMWs. Like Dyson in LMP2 they spent much of last season coming to terms with a new car, but completed the season with a handful of podiums and a win. The team are optimistic after a number of off-season developments and a successful two days at the series' winter test. However, whether they are now worthy of being favourably compared to their class rivals remains to be.
The final piece in the GT2 puzzle is the new Jaguar. The team have been under some scrutiny since their much delayed, inauspicious debut at Laguna Seca last year and their surprise invite to Le Mans in June has only tempted greater examination of Paul Gentilozzi and his team. The car still has very much the feel of a 'work in progress', the team working with Riley Technologies to develop the XKRS through the year. A finish at Sebring would probably be as good as a win.
No.23 – Alex Job Racing – Bill Sweedler/Romeo Kapudija/Jan-Dirk Lueders
No.32 – GMG Racing – James Sofronas/Bret Curtis/Andy Pilgrim
No.63 – The Racer's Group – Henri Richard/Andy Lally/Duncan Ende
No.69 – WERKS II Racing – Cory Friedman/Robert Rodriguez/Galen Bieker
No.80 – Alex Job Racing – Ricardo Gonzalez/Luis Diaz/Patrick Kelly
No.81 – Alex Job Racing – Juan Gonzalez/Butch Leitzinger/Leh Keen
No.88 – Velox Racing – Jerry Vento/Shane Lewis/Lawson Aschenbach
All cars Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Optimistically the GT Challenge field is the most fantastically surprising out of all the classes; a coming of age for the class that only entered the ALMS last year to boost grid numbers. However, in many ways it is also the most disappointing .
Firstly, in the way of negativity, the defending champions Snow Racing are absent. Secondly the class, despite the spec car has a distinctly two tier feel. Three teams return from 2009 – GMG, Velox and WERKS II (a joint entry with P7 Racing), but two more, bringing four cars between them are new to the GT Challenge fold.
The problem is this: In TRG and Alex Job are the teams simply too good for what was, and still is to some extent, a class angled at developing drivers' talents or gentlemen racers? TRG have a wealth of experience in Porsches, including a class win at Le Mans and AJR have three ALMS GT championships.
The driving line-ups the teams bring do nothing to quell the fear. Luis Diaz and Butch Leitzinger both drop down from P2 campaigns last year due to their cars disappearing from the grid, but both would still easily find their way into race seats in the class on merit. And while the pair may grab all the attention those alongside them are experienced drivers in their own right – Leh Keen as a driver on Patrick Dempsey's Grand-Am team, the same series where Kapudija raced last year, while Bill Sweedler moves over from Orbit Racing – another team from last season who appear not to have returned.
While the big names will draw all-important attention to the class, and as part of a three driver team it remains impossible for one person to single-handedly pull a car above its competitors, domination by the incomers could do serious damage to the class, just as it seems to be coming of age.
Photo credit: James Boone