The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) has brought a greater field to the LMP1 and GTE classes, but the LMP2 class at Sebring is only four cars.
Infact, the class has shrunk for what would have been the usual ALMS field last year, as Dyson Racing, Muscle Milk/Cytosport and Highcroft Racing all move into LMP1 for Sebring.
However, the change in regulations is still evident in the quartet that fill the gap. With new manufacturers brought into engine programs Sebring marks the debut a Nissan engine in an LMP2 car with the factory assisted Signatech Nissan team
The French squad also have the honour of debuting the new Oreca 03 chassis as part of an all new package. While more Oreca 03s and more new engine partners are expected in Europe and throughout the season, the remainder of the Sebring field are familiar names and teams.
No.26 – Signatech Nissan – Oreca-Nissan
Soheil Ayari-Franck Mailleux-Lucas Ordonez
The chassis is almost certainly a reliable one, thanks to the work done by Oreca themselves before delivering to their privateer customers. That Ayari – a regular in Oreca's own entries in the past as well as one of the drivers who shook down the new chassis earlier in the year – speaks volumes of how important this is to Oreca, almost putting this car in a unique position of having backing from two manufacturers.
With Nissan's engines and share in the team name comes the latest chapter in Lucas Ordonez's whistle-stop trip to the peak of sportscar racing. Just two seasons after winning the Playstation GT Academy he line up in a racing prototype. Sadly, for all it's a great story Ordonez remains the obvious weak link in the team, with minimal experience in prototypes and in endurance racing in general.
No.33 – Level 5 Motorsports – Lola-HPD
Joao Barbosa-Christophe Bouchut-Scott Tucker
Unless reliability, or incident and accident with one of the other 54 or so cars, one of the Level 5 cars will win LMP2. It should be bet-your-house safe. The only question is which one.
This entry has perhaps the stronger driving line-up of the pair. Sportscar journeyman Bouchut stays with the team in their new surroundings after a LMPC class season with the team last year. The Frenchman is rapid, but temperamental his inexplicable ignoring of first the checkered, then black, flag in GT1 competition last season a perfect example. Tucker – the team owner – has come to be recognised as a driver in his own right, a fact confirmed when he lined up with Kolles at Le Mans last year (though no doubt cash also played a role).
As a third driver Barbosa is as good as any Tucker could have called – he could easily lead either of the two non Level 5 cars in the class – with pedigree in endurance racing to bring to the team, that should give them the edge.
No.35 – OAK Racing – Pescarolo-Judd
Andrea Barlesi-Frederic Da Rocha-Patrice Lafargue
The driving line-up – two Frenchman and an Italian in 19-year-old Barlesi is one promoted by OAK from other prototype entries. Both Barlesi and Lafargue move into the 'proper' prototype classes from the Formula Le Mans/LMPC class, Barlesi with far more success as he was part of the DAMS team which won the class championship in Europe last season.
Da Rocha was part of the Pegasus Racing team which ran in LMP2 in the Le Mans Series last year. Despite the Courage chassis and AER engine being almost certainly the oldest combination in that field Da Rocha and teammates acquitted themselves well. Da Rocha's seat in a better car will make obvious how much of that effort was his.
No.095 – Level 5 Motorsports – Lola-HPD
Luis Diaz-Ryan Hunter-Reay-Scott Tucker
Scott Tucker clearly believes in leading from the front, being listed in both of his Lola Coupe, HPD motor combinations. And scratch the surface and the make-up of this driving trio is much the same as will wheel the no.33.
Ryan Hunter-Reay is another to follow the team into LMP2 after an LMPC campaign last year, and while one of the better road racers when in his Indycar guise – he won at Long Beach last year – he is just another road racer in sportscar competition.
Diaz, on the other hand, is an underrated gem. Left bouncing from ride-to-ride when Fernandez Racing closed at the end of 2009, 2011 starts with Diaz back in a competitive LMP2 car. Whether or not this is the winner of the internecine Level 5 showdown Diaz should be able to star.