Last year when the field swept under the green flag to begin the 12 Hours of Sebring in doing so they also began the first season of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Though this year’s 12 Hours event – the 61st edition of the race – has lost that centre stage billing this weekend’s race has once again attracted an international cast with different motivations for the weekend.
All will, of course, be aiming for victory in their respective classes but there are team who are using the vent as a one off before returning to Europe for this year’s WEC curtain raiser. There are those starting a new season of contesting the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) for the first time and there are those for whom this weekend is a likely goodbye – or at least a ‘see you later’ to America’s oldest surviving sportscar race.
That last description applies to Audi, who enter a pair of R18 e-tron quattro hybrids in the race, the final 12 Hours before the LMP1 dispensing merger between the ALMS and the Grand-Am Rolex Series that is set to be given some concrete form in the way of a name on Thursday – the opening day of official running at Sebring.
The various LMP1 representatives from the four-ringed brand have been the story of the 21st century at Sebring, winning the first race of the new millennium in 2000 and adding a further nine victories. Five more for the phenomenal R8, two for the R10 TDI and one each for the R15 and R18. Only the LMP2 Penske run Porsche RS Spyders of 2008 and the Peugeot 908 have prevented unrelenting Audi success.
With Audi alone as a factory team in LMP1 this year there is little – on paper – to stop Audi from capping off its Sebring celebrations with a 14th victory. With the Le Mans and WEC winning e-tron quattro and two teams including double and defending Le Mans champions Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer and Tom Kristensen, the Dane trying to add to his record tally of six Sebring wins – all but one scored from the cockpit of an Audi.
The hybrid duo undoubtedly lead an LMP1 class filled with intrigue, though with no standout ‘Audi challenger’. Rebellion Racing enter two Toyota engine Lola Coupes, the Swiss team splitting their focus between the WEC and the ALMS with a single car lined up for a full season campaign in the US aiming to emulate the success they had in dominating Petit Le Mans at the end of last season.
Homegrown (at least in teams of the team) P1 opposition will come from defending champions Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s line-up of Klaus Graf, Lucas Luhr and Romain Dumas and Dyson Racing’s Mazda powered Lola Coupe. Also joining the class after an off-season of upheaval is the DeltaWing.
The winter has brought a new engine supplier, Elan in place of Nissan, a new tyre supplier in Bridgestone and a new team behind the project with Dr. Don Panoz now at the helm of DeltaWing Racing Cars. The changes have promoted the DeltaWing from LMP2 emulator to LMP1 contender as it will run for points at Sebring, and at the other round of the ALMS with Dr. Panoz planning further races this season for a closed cockpit development of the design.
The theme of visiting international teams beginning their season at Sebring before returning to Europe continues in the GT class.
The ALMS class have become accepted as arguably the strongest in the world for GTE cars, and 2013 is shaping up to live up to that reputation with Corvette, Viper, Porsche , Ferrari and BMW – now with a GTE spec Z4 – all represented in full season entries. Joining the grid for Sebring, to give their 2013 spec GTE car a race debut, are Aston Martin Racing, who enter a two car team in the race with long-standing drivers Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke joined by AMR newboy Bruno Senna. The other car is entrusted to Pedro Lamy and two American drivers more readily associated with BMW equipment – Paul Dalla Lana and Billy Johnson.
The ALMS GT ranks has seen comers and goers since the checkered flag fell at Road Atlanta last October. Flying Lizard Motorsports, for so long the lead Porsche team in the series, have stepped back to the GTC class. The team that won at Petit Le Mans – Extreme Speed Motorsports – have switched from GT and Ferrari to HPD and LMP2. The cause of the Prancing Horse has been taken up by a joint Team West and Alex Job Racing effort and Risi Competizione, the three time Sebring class winner returning for the 2013 season with a brand new Ferrari after taking a sabbatical last year.
GT’s loss – in the case of Extreme Speed Motorsports – has been LMP2’s gain with the Scott Sharp led team assuming the role as class rivals to Level 5 Motorsports. Both start the season at Sebring with a pair of HPD ARX-01b. However, they too will have to contend with European rivals at the start of the campaign, Greaves Motorsport bringing their Zytek-Nissan to Sebring before they too focus on WEC and European Le Mans Series assaults.
The 42 car field is completed by the ALMS’ pair of spec Challenge classes – LMPC and GTC.
Though often forgotten after the bluster of other classes in being limited to the same chassis and engine combination the classes almost guarantee close racing.
The LMPC class is the class with the least international drivers, though in the seven entries there is room for Alex Popow – the Venezuelan who will drive for Starworks Motorsport in the WEC this year – alongside Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende for RSR Racing as well as Pierre Kaffer as part of a DragonSpeed Mishumotors team that also features Germans Patrick Simon and Mirco Schultis
Like the main GT class the all Porsche GTC class brings together some of the best GT drivers from North America with some of the worldwide stable of Porsche stalwarts and regular wheelmen-for-hire.
2012 class champion Cooper MacNeil co-drives for Alex Job Racing with Dion von Moltke and Jeroen Bleekemolen. Porsche Supercup front runners Sean Edwards and Kuba Giermaziak both drive for NGT Motorsport, though in different cars, Edwards sharing with Marco Seefried and team owner Henrique Cisneros.
Further adding to the mix, actor Patrick Dempsey drives with Joe Foster and Andy Lally in one of the two Porsches entered by his Dempsey/Del Piero squad while Flying Lizard Motorsports begin a new life in GTC with two cars that feature American Porsche specialist Spencer Pumpelly, Pierre Ehret and Swiss Porsche Carrera Cup Asia champion Alexandre Imperatori among their six drivers, the Swiss another of the Sebring paddock to WEC bound, with Chinese team KCMG in LMP2.
The 12 Hours of Sebring begins at 10:45am local time (2:45pm UK time) on Saturday. Qualifying is scheduled for 1:15pm local time on Friday.
theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have full coverage of the race weekend, including hour-by-hour coverage of the race.