Looking ahead to the Sebring 12 Hours


America’s oldest long distance sports car race takes place this Saturday on the rough and tumble Sebring airfield circuit in central Florida. A world championship sports car race from its second running in 1953 through 1972, Sebring became an IMSA race in ‘73 and has been a key round of the American Le Mans Series since it was created by Don Panoz in 1999.

This will be Sebring’s last year as the opening round of the ALMS. Next year it will follow the Rolex 24 at Daytona as the second round of the combined Grand-Am/ALMS series and everyone hopes the spirit of the ALMS will not be drowned by the merger.

Now known as the ‘Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida’, this year’s race features a pair of factory Audi R18 e-tron quattros. This will be the first time a hybrid car has raced at Sebring and is likely to be the team’s farewell appearance in the classic American race. The two Audi e-trons will be driven by Marcel Fässler /Benoît Tréluyer/Oliver Jarvis and Tom Kristensen/Alan McNish/Lucas di Grassi. Fässler and Tréluyer won last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours of course, while Kristensen and McNish share a dozen Sebring victories.

Six other LMP1 cars are entered at Sebring. Rebellion Racing will race a pair of Lola-Toyotas with the number one entry driven by Nicolas Prost/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani. Rob and Chris Dyson’s team will race two Lola-Mazdas with Chris Dyson/Guy Smith/Butch Leitzinger in the lead car. Greg Pickett’s ALMS championship-winning Muscle Milk team begins its title defence with Romain Dumas joining regular drivers Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr aboard Pickett’s HPD-ARX-03c. And the prototype Delta Wing will make its third start, running for the first time in the P1 class on Bridgestone tyres.

Five LMP2 cars will be in the field at Sebring, including a lone Zytek-Nissan with Tom Kimber-Smith on the driving team and four HPD ARX-03bs. Two of the HPDs will be run by Scott Tucker’s Level 5 Motorsports, which features a strong driver line-up including Marino Franchitti and IndyCar stars Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Briscoe. The other two HPDs are entered by Extreme Speed Motorsports for Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeeck and Ed Brown/Guy Cosmo.

The ALMS’s GT class features a dozen factory or factory-backed cars run by seven teams. Bobby Rahal’s championship-winning Team RLL will race two of BMW’s new Z4 GTEs. Corvette Racing will run a pair of C6 ZR1s with Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook on the driving team. Gulf/Aston Martin Racing will race two Vantage V8s with Darren Turner, Bruno Senna and Pedro Lamy among the drivers. Also entered are two Ferrari F458 Italias, a pair of Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs, and two Viper GTS V-10s. The 42-car field is completed by seven Oreca LMP Challenge cars and ten Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.

Of course, Sebring is renowned for the sustained party atmosphere among the motorhomes and tent-dwellers, which are scattered across the infield. Over the years many drivers have told tales as they drive into the evening of encountering the enticing aroma of steaks barbecuing on grilles, wood smoke and the more pungent aroma of Floridian weed. The ribaldry begins late in the week as practice and qualifying takes shape and reaches a crescendo on Saturday night. Like Le Mans, the infield party is as much a part of the weekend as the race itself.

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