Saturday, March 17, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Le Mans Prototype 1

The premier class of sports car racing. This is it. In 2008, Team Penske's LMP2 RS Spyder driven by Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Emanuele Collard won overall. But that was more of an anomaly than the norm. Porsche has wisely decommissioned the RS Spyders to make sure they don't threaten Audi's R18. Timo and Romain are fighting alongside Audi now.

Not fully prepared

Dyson Racing Team #016. Lola B12/60 Mazda. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson, Steven Kane. Dyson racing is the defending ALMS LMP1 champion. Even though they earned that distinction in all fairness, the circumstances of the ALMS at the time (only 2
full season P1 entrants) greatly helped them. They have a new chassis, but the whole package together with this engine still has to be proven. Dyson is one of America's best sports car teams, but in recent years they have just been happy collecting checks from Mazda. In this race they're up against battle hardened teams and drivers.

Pescarolo Team #16. Pescarolo 01 Judd. Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion, Julien Jousse. it's ironic that this is the Pescarolo 01's last race. In order for it to be entered, all the competitors had to approve of it and it is carrying an extra 15 kilos of weight penalty, as it is not current with the present regulations. The Pescarolo 01 was developed in 2006, and in 2007 when it was on the podium at LeMans against Peugeot and Audi we wondered aloud what it was not raced at Petit or Laguna Seca. Had it raced in America then, we believe Henri would have been able to sell more of them and been a stronger privateer manufacturer. The ALMS affords each competitor more marketing exposure than the LMS. Audi was not racing by themselves in P1 for exercise. A few American races would have gave it life. But now it is brought to the U.S to seal its racing chapter. Here's an idea...why not use an Oak Pescarolo?

JRM Racing #22. HPD ARX-03a. David Brabham, Peter Dumbreck, Karun Chandhok. JRM had campaigned 4 cars in the FIA GT1 championship and won the title. Here however they are new to the racing. They are well behind all the other teams in developing and prepping their chassis. Contrary to everyone else we believe Karun Chandhok and not David Brabham is the hot-shoe in this lineup. Don't be fooled by Chandhok's F1 forays. He simply didn't get a fair shot. Dumbreck and Brabham are very experienced, but they're not the drivers they used to be. They're here because James Rumsey expects them to outlast their competitors by staying out of trouble and bringing the car home (on the podium). It will start happening when the team learns the car better.

Good but not great

Strakka Racing #21. HPD ARX-03a. Nick Leventis, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane. Just as JRM, they also did not get their chassis early enough to optimally prepare for Sebring. We have loved watching their ascension in the sports car world, since their debut at LeMans with a Vitaphone branded DBR9. They have grown and improved by leaps and bounds. But this year they have really stepped into what the french would call "la cour des grands" (the big leagues). There's a lot more to learn.

OAK Racing #15. OAK Pescarolo Judd. Guillaume Moreau, Bertrand Baguette, Dominik Kraihamer. While perhaps a long shot , we would really love to see OAK Racing take a victory home. They have done everything worthy of a winner. The development, the commitment, the top drivers, it's all there. We think Bertrand Baguette might make the car seem faster than it actually is, because his skills are of F1 caliber. A faultless race can yield a miracle if anyone above them gets in trouble.

Rebellion Racing #13. Lola B11/60 Toyota. Andrea Belicchi, Harold Primat, Jeroen Bleekemolen. Jean Christophe Bouillon is gone from this lineup. We felt he was very crash prone and this #13 car could have had better results at many race. The 3 drivers here are together in this car for the first time, so we think it could be a bit of a disadvantage, compared to the #12. But their speed is not to be questioned. They might actually shoot up the order if everything goes perfectly.

Rebellion Racing #12. Lola B11/60 Toyota. Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld. The only new person here is Nick Heidfeld. He might need to get readjusted to endurance racing since it's been away for a while. But we think it will suit him better. He is a more steady and consistent type racer, than a driver constantly at the limit looking to shave fractions off a lap time.

The heavy hitters

Audi Sport Team Joest #1. Audi R18. André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler. It might be seen as a sign of contempt that we put the fastest Audi car behind a gasoline engined car and as the last of the diesels. But these drivers have not raced here before. And the dense traffic will surely catch their attention. The race will be more than just about speed.

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. HPD ARX-03a. Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf, Simon Pagenaud. We're actually shocked to see that Lucas Luhr is the fastest driver in the car. Pagenaud is the most celebrated pilot here. For Lucas this is the best chance he has had yet to stick it to Audi. He used to be one of their drivers. But when he couldn't adapt to the DTM machines, he was let go. Audi wanted the luxury of being more flexible with their younger drivers. If Muscle Milk stay out of trouble and keep pushing, a podium spot is theirs. The odds of all 3 Audis running trouble free races are not very high.

Audi Sport Team Joest #3. Audi R18. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Loïc Duval. The chemistry here is a bit disturbed. Romain and Timo have worked together for so long that Loïc might seem like an intruder for them. But he owns the lap record at LeMans so Audi didn't want to pass up the chance to nab him. Lest he falls in Toyota's lap.

Audi Sport Team Joest #2. Audi R18. Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello. A major win is very needed for Audi's longest tenants. They themselves can feel the pressure brewing. Their many mistakes in all major races serve as proof. They know very well the unpredictable nature of the race environment, and have always been good at staying out of trouble...until about 2 years ago. Having the lineup that has been together the longest and knowing the circuit perfectly will play to their advantage. And of course the other 2 cars will not actively engage them the way the will engage anyone else, being that they are the elders of the clan. Well Dr Ulrich, they won't right?

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Le Mans Prototype 2

LMP2 used to be the class of the last man standing. The last car still running was the winner. The cars were required to be so light that durable components could not be fitted to them. To remedy the problem, they have been made just as weighty as LMP1 cars, but with less power requirements. This has allowed them to be built cheaply. And by some accounts, LMP2 cars are cheaper to run for a season than a championship caliber program in GTE.

Just happy to be here.

Lotus #31. Lola B12/80 Lotus. Thomas Holzer, Mirco Schultis, Luca Moro. It almost seems as if this car is actually here literally to help make up the numbers. The 2 Rebellion entries will have a similar livery and they are expected to get more headlines, and are more serious contenders. The 3.5L V6 Toyota engine in the GT2 car never worked quite to satisfaction last year. We just hope it was reworked during the off season.

Gulf Racing Middle East #29. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Frederic Fatien, Keiko Ihara, Stefan Johansson. This car might get some premium exposure, for the presence of Keiko, a Japanese female driver. Apparently she used to be a podium girl and then decided she wanted to try the racing thing herself. Solid package regarding the chassis and engine, but aside from Stefan Johansson they are racing tourists.

Black Swan #54. Lola B11/60 Honda. Tim Pappas, Bret Curtis, Jon Fogarty. Lately it has been hard to imagine Tim Pappas in a lineup where he wasn't the least accomplished driver. He had penchant for surrounding himself with the best talent he could find. It was announced that Black Swan would be entered in P2 with a Lola-Honda, but it took quite a while for the car to appear on entry lists. We feel Bret Curtis is a gentleman driver. Even though he is an ace in Grand-Am, we don't remember the last time Jon Fogarty raced a LeMans type prototype. He could be out of his element. Even if he has had plenty of test sessions, nothing could possibly simulate the race ahead.

Gulf Racing Middle East #28. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Fabien Giroix, Maxime Jousse, Jean-Denis Deletraz. A stronger lineup than the #29 car. However these reworked Lolas are still very untested and unproven.

Looking for a solid result.

ADR-Delta #25. Oreca 03 Nissan. John Martin, Robbie Kerr, Tor Graves. Robbie Kerr is a highlight here, and we also happen to think they have a very refreshing livery. Thor Graves brings sponsorship from Thailand. Will they actively be going for the Michelin Green X Challenge crown?

Conquest Racing #37. Morgan Judd. Martin Plowman, David Heinemeier, Hansson, Francesco Dracone. With 2 open wheel youngsters they should have been ranked higher. But these 2 young guns have not done multi-class racing before and it still
needs to be seen how much patience they will have in dense traffic. David Heinemeier is moving over from the GTE Lotus to prototypes this year.

Greaves Motorsport #41. Zytek Z11SN Nissan. Christian Zugel, Elton Julian, Ricardo Gonzalez. It seems a Nissan engine is "de rigueur" for European LMP2 squads. Whatever chassis a team happens to get, they just make sure they complement it with a Nissan power plant as is the case here. The 3 drivers all drove in the ALMS last year. But they're now after new horizons. There are faster drivers and faster cars out there. Besides mandated bodywork requirements we're not sure if the Zytek has had any performance updates.

Signatech Nissan #23. Oreca 03 Nissan. Jordan Tresson, Franck Mailleux, Olivier Lombard. This is the team that made the Oreca-Nissan famous today. They were so dominant last season, that it made any other vehicle package a daft choice - given that you would pay the same or more for anything else. So why are they this low? In response to the great season the Oreca-Nissan had last year, everybody feared going out of business, so all the other chassis received significant improvements during the off-season. Not that Oreca has kept a pat hand either. In our view Signatech's lineup is almost downgraded from last year. But they're still Nissan's factory effort and are well-backed.

The heavy hitters.

OAK Racing #24. Morgan Judd. Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye, Olivier Pla. Just seeing the level of dedication and respect Jacques Nicolet has treated matters regarding his racing activities has made us a fan of his. This team had 4 cars at Sebring, and the 24hr of LeMans last year. This year they only have 2 entered at Sebring. But they come with stronger lineups in both cars. The car has also been updated, and is also now called a Morgan. The update takes significant cues from last year's diesel challenging ARX-01e campaigned in last year's race by Highcroft. Very fast pro drivers flanking Jacques Nicolet. Could be one to watch, if some strong entries hit trouble.

Starworks Motorsports #44. HPD ARX-03b. Enzo Potolicchio, Ryan Dalziel,
Stephane Sarrazin.
We are not sure what his real name is. On various lists his first name has been Enzo, and on others it says Vincente. Either way, he is pulling out all the stops to ensure success. It was quite a surprise when it was announced that Peugeot's lead driver would be racing for Starworks. Stephane Sarrazin was the head tester at Peugeot, and was generally seen as the fastest and most reliable driver there. Ryan Dalziel is well entrenched in the Starworks team and seems to be the one the head honchos trust. However at the 24hr of Daytona they had Allan McnIsh in their squad, he had set the fastest lap of the race. Towards the end of the race they elected to have Dalziel hunt down the lead car, to no avail. Here in LeMans type racing Sarrazin is immensely more experienced than Dalziel, and probably just as fast or faster. We think the team would have to allow Stephane to do some crucial and decisive stints to make the most of his experience. That needs to be seen.

Level 5 Motorsports #055. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa. Unless some of the Nissan teams decide to work together, or the Morgan teams decide to help each other get to the front, Level 5 will have an advantage over them. They have 2 cars and both of them will work to help each other. They're both essentially running just to get Scott Tucker the win. We believe this is the car he will nominate himself in for points, since this is the steady, and experienced lineup, the long distance masters. This is also the newer car of the two. So it should be a bit faster.

PeCom Racing #49. Oreca 03 Nissan. Luis Perez-Companc, Soheil Ayari, Pierre Kaffer. We would have picked this car for the win, if it wasn't for the fact that Level 5 has 2 cars working in sync. This car essentially has 3 professional drivers. Although Luis Perez-Companc (the PeCom in PeCom Racing), is bank rolling the operation, he is an enlightened gentleman driver. He can go blow for blow with the best pros in the field. Signatech's loss is this team's gain since Soheil Ayari is part of the mix. Being that AF Corse is the brain behind this mission, the obligatory Ferrari driver is imbedded, with Pierre Kaffer in presence.

Level 5 Motorsports #95. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Luis Diaz. This entry is an older car than the #055. But Hunter-reay and Luis Diaz are flat out drivers. We suppose Scott Tucker will nominate himself in the newer car alongside the real endurance guys since they are more likely to get to the end by taking fewer risks and nursing the car home. But if all works well (as it could) this car will blow past the sister car, and will challenge the fastest drivers in this class. The only reason to reel them in would be if both cars are running in consecutive positions in the last hour of the race with no one challenging for position. If that does not materialize and everything goes well, they are a strong bet for the win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Endurance - Professional class

The The ALMS' GT field competes with the WEC's GTE-Pro class. In theory almost half of the 15 cars here can claim the win. While we have listed them in order of their perceived strength, in such a competitive field, intangibles such as cunning strategy calls, driver error, vehicle reliability, and just plain luck are the ones that will decide, who happens to lead the pack at the end of 12hrs.

Hoping for a good showing

Aston Martin Racing #97. The last top team to run an Aston Martin Vantage was JMW in the former LeMans Series. Their best result was a podium and a 3rd place finish at Silverstone. Darren Turner and Rob Bell were the drivers then. Darren Turner is once again part of this Prodrive factory effort along with Stefan Mucke and Adrian Fernandez. We lament the fact that they did not run all of the 2011 season with the Lola Aston Martin, especially at LeMans. Everyone seems to want them to do good here with this car. But all the teams here are very well funded operations, and that's just the minimum requirement to have any chance of a good placement among this field.

Extreme Speed Motorsports #02. Ed Brown, Anthony Lazzaro, and Jeff Segal will be the drivers of this car. Quite different than expected. That almost begs the question will Guy Cosmo be paired p with Ed Brown for the regular season, or will Lazzaro or Segal switch to the ALMS. We think Cosmo will resume his regular season duties with Ed Brown. With Jeff Segal's presence here it's actually quite refreshing to see top Grand-Am drivers try their hand in the ALMS.

Flying Lizards Motorsports #044. Andy Lally, Darren Law, and Seth Neiman. If the car is competitive compared to last year, this lineup can figure pretty high at the 24hr of LeMans in the GTE-Am ranks. In this mix of competitors the going will be tough. We also suspect this car does not have the same level of preparation as the lead #45 car.

Team Falken Tire #17. They may have got 2 very popular wins last year, but the longevity of their Falken tire compounds still needs to be proven. They might fare better in shorter races.

Paul Miller Racing #48. Last year it was as if they were not even on the grid. The TV commentators barely mentioned them. This time around we think they will be a bit more visible. They have switched from Yokohama rubbers to Dunlops. The latter is generally thought to be the second best tire compound. Bryce Miller may be the team owner's son, but in this lineup he is the least accomplished.

Just a bit more work and we're there

Extreme Speed Motorsports #01. In the past 2 years, the regular lineup in this car was Johannes Van Overbeek and Scott Sharp. Having watched Guy Cosmo in the #02 car out-qualify this car we always thought that for the team to get better result Guy Cosmo should be paired with Van Overbeek. Well for Sebring Guy Cosmo joins Sharp and Overbeek. But now we actually have another wish. Seeing that Jeff Segal is in the #02 car. An even better lineup would have been Segal, Cosmo, and Overbeek in this car. No?! O.K then, this lineup is just fine with us as well.

AF Corse #71. Ten years ago if you had a car with Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta, that car would have been a sure contender. These GT warriors are not the thoroughbreds they once were. But their experience still makes them very valuable, they have seen it all. A 3rd driver still has to be named. Could it be......Mika?

BMW Motorsports #155. The M3 was a step above the rest last year. Since this is supposed to be the program's last year we do not see them having made any UN-required updates to their machines. Uwe Alzen and Jorg Mullen will be flanking Bill Auberlen. Uwe and Jorg are no longer in the prime of their careers, and they're more of touring car drivers now. Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand almost always shared a cockpit together, until they were split at the beginning of 2010. Since then Bill has done pretty well for himself, but Joey has become a benchmark for other GT drivers.

Team Felbermayr-Proton #77. This squad will be in direct competition with the Lizards' #45 car. Porsche has all of its 9 factory drivers in the race, and those 2 cars account for 6 of them. The 2 teams have often shared drivers throughout the years. Patrick Pilet, Marc Lieb, and Richard Lietz have all driven for Flying Lizard in the past.

Corvette racing #4. In the ALMS, Corvette racing remains the eternal fan favorites. But the pressure is mounting, to rack up race wins, an ALMS championship and more LeMans 24hr victories. Corvette's lineup has been shuffled for the second year in a row. This lineup is the more experienced, with Oliver Gavin, Richard Westbrook, and Tommy Milner.

The elite squads

BMW Motorsports #56. Joey Hand had en exemplary 2011 season. He was chosen to go to LeMans and is now one of BMW's DTM drivers. Usually Schnitzer which runs the BMW's sports car operations have gone to drivers the have worked with in the past to enter major races. So for Joey Hand to have been invited to LeMans he must have caught the attention of someone very high on the ladder. This year there are not any BMW in the ELMS or the WEC. Too bad because we would have wanted to see how this Rahal Letterman Lanigan team would have fared at LeMans and Spa. In our opinion it was always a stronger operation than the Schnitzer group. So why are they ranked so low? All indications are that this is the last year for the program, and Bobby Rahal is really starting to focus on Indycar racing. Joey Hand and Dirk Muller are proven ingredients, but Jonatan Summerton will be learning on the fly.

Flying Lizard Motorsports #45. This is a well-liked squad. Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister are very people Savvy. Even though it's a skill almost required from factory drivers, these 2 exude a calm charm that even watching them on TV they seem very approachable and you only want to believe that they are the good guys. But behind those good manners Pat and Jorg are ferocious and cunning competitors, and it has been evident in their multiple championships. Marco Holzer will be the third driver for Sebring. He was selected as a works driver ahead of Martin Ragginger. We gave them the nod ahead of the Proton #77 simply because they are somewhat in their arena.

Luxury Racing #59. Last year at Petit LeMans it seemed to us that Frederic Mackowecki was driving the car all by himself. Or did we only pay attention when he was driving because he made quite a few mistakes? He had never been to Road Atlanta at the time. But the team is sticking with him because he's a stud behind the wheel. At Sebring this year he will have Jean-Karl Vernay and Jaime Melo along side him. Risi Competizione is not fielding a car of their own, but they are behind the scenes here. Jean Karl-Vernay was Indy Lights champion in 2010, and was also 3rd in LPM2 at Petit LeMans last year. Jaime Melo is there to provide the experience, but in the last couple years with Risi he has not proven to be too reliable himself.

Corvette Racing #03. In the regular races the pairing of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen will be the best driver pairing Corvette has had in a while. But ultimate driver pairings haven't always worked out for the best. Things like pressure, and driver ego can blow the whole thing apart. For Sebring Jordan Taylor will be learning at the side of these two. He might already be just as fast as them. The LeMans style of racing is what he needs to get used to. Corvette is also desperate for success on home soil, and ALMS wins are a must. With the presence of European squads, a win here would definitely set their season in the right direction.

AF Corse #51. With Risi not officially campaigning this year, AF Corse has been given all the reins to officially represent Ferrari on all GT fronts. it seems the breadth of their operations has tripled in the last couple years. They came close to winning LeMans last year. Considering it was the 458's first season, it really speaks volume. For this season the car has been developed and refined. Being the only official Ferrari team, they really do not have to worry about stepping on anyone's toes. They can be deliberate in their actions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Endurance - Amateur class

The GTE-Am class is only recognized in the European LeMans Series and the World Endurance Championship. The only time an ALMS entry will directly race against them is at the LeMans 24hr. This category can be seen as the ACO's attempt to recognize the deep pocketed captains of industry who support the sport almost unconditionally. It makes it easier for them to actually win a championship and the LeMans 24hr.

Just happy to be here

AF Corse #61. Michael Waltrip is a former Nascar champion discovering new horizons in his racing twilight. Robert Kauffman is very famous in the Audi Paddock. He was piloting the AF Corse Ferrari at LeMans when the #1 Audi driven by Rocky, swerved to avoid a collision and ultimately crashed.

The #1 Audi at LeMans was also our personal favorite. Rui Aguas is Ferrari's embedded hot shoe here. But he is more of a factory test driver with a cushy gig, than a thoroughbred racer.

Luxury Racing #58. Pierre Ehret and Francois Jakubowski are long time gentleman ferrari racers. In the GTE amateur field Dominik Farnbacher can be considered one of the 3 best drivers. But the other 2 have more say than him. In long distance races last year the 458 Italia was the car to have. But it takes more than average talent to squeeze out the performance advantage.

Looking for a good result.

JWA-Avila #55. Bill Binnie returns to US sportscar racing. Had he won his bid for U.S Senate we wonder if he would be here now. If yes then this would have been one powerful and very carefully protected entry. The name might confuse some, but this team is James Watt Automotive. With Joel Camathias and Markus Palttala, Binnie has pretty good company. Their experience should ran kthem higher, but it takes a bit of practice to get used to some of the ALMS' race procedures to quickly formulate strategies on the fly.

Larbre Competition #70. It's arguable that the JWA-Avila team might have a better lineup and could finish ahead of this entry. But Christophe Bourret, Pascal Gibon, and Jean-Philippe Belloc have been a trio for a while. They're banking on a chemistry and formula they have developped between themselves to carry them through, and so are we. The car is solid and if they quickly master the circuit, they can even figure higher.

Team Felbermayr-Proton #88. Gianluca Roda has won the Porsche Cup for the past 2 seasons. And that's not a small feat. To put it into perspective, Porsche factory drivers Wolf Henzler and Marc Lieb are past winners, and so is BMW driver Dirk Werner. But Gianluca will not be getting a factory contract offer anytime soon. He actually races for pure recreation. So does Christian Ried his teammate - who actually represents "Proton". As in Felbermayr-Proton. The trio is completed by steady driver Paolo Ruberti.

The heavy hitters.

Larbre Competition #50. In 2011, they won LeMans and were the GTE-Am champions in the ILMC. For 2012 they come back even better with Pedro Lamy in place of Gabriele Gardel. But then again they were used to Gabriele. Pedro is new here and could possibly disrupt the chemistry they've built over the years. Sebring did not go to well for them last year. But despite not scoring points there they still managed to get the title. Larbre is really a top organization that can run with the best of them. But we have a feeling that Pratt and Miller is not allowing its GTE customers to run in the Pro class.

Krohn Racing #57. Aside from the car being updated from a F430 to a F458, everything else is the same as last year. But this ride is more complex and is designed to be pushed. At times Tracy Krohn has been able to stay out of others' way and at times their races have ended all too prematurely with him at the wheel. You just can't win them all. But either way, his resilience over the years has made him one of the most accomplished gentleman drivers on the grid. Michele Rugolo is a flat out racer who can match Larbre Competition's Pedro Lamy. Nic Jonsson is the middle ground between his 2 teammates in skills. But he's actually the team captain.

Friday, March 9, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Prototype Challenge class

For 2012, the ACO has decided that all series it sanctions should call this class LeMans Prototype Challenge. No big change in the American LeMans Series because that's been the standard appellation there, since these cars began running in 2010.

In the former LeMans series - now the European LeMans Series - this category was named Formula LeMans. So essentially the ELMS is switching its category name. We imagine they decided to adopt the ALMS' naming convention because it fits right in with the the other class names. Such as LMP1, LMP2, and LMPC. Instead of FLM.

Here are are our predictions:

Just happy to be here:

Core Autosport #06. There are no named drivers in this entry. it could either be a strong lineup or a midpack runner. But our haunch is that this entry will not see the green flag.

Merchant Services #7. Chapman Ducote took over Intersport racing's operations. So it's essentially the same team, just with new management. We will miss Jon Field's daring exploits on the track.

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing #5. While Muscle Milk's P1 entry is a strong contender for the ALMS P1 championship, and in a best case scenario a podium contender for the Sebring race, expectations are not so high for the LPMC entry.

Looking for a good result.

RSR Racing #9. Last year, with Bruno Junqueira at the wheel, the Jaguar XKR showed flashes of what it could be with more development. In LMPC where everyone has supposedly equal machinery, we can realistically expect far better performances from RSR. Bruno is as fast as any driver on this grid. But the team has been average to mediocre for so long and it might take them time to adjust to running among front runners. Tommy Drisi is in the car, but a 3rd driver has not been announced. He won a race in LMPC with Kyle Marcelli last year. The potential of this car could go higher or lower depending on who the 3rd person is.

Core Autosport #05. Colin Braun is back in sports car racing. Ever since his 2nd place in GT2 at LeMans in 2007, his sports car forays have been limited. He will be in the ALMS for a full season in 2012. Running in the Nascar truck series and the Nationwide series were surely a lot more financially rewarding than whatever he can expect to gain from the ALMS. But financial matters aside, finishing 20th out of a 45 car field can only be so satisfying. In LMPC he can
realistically aim for the podium during the season.

Dempsey Racing #025. Just having Patrick Dempsey in the car could have gave Corvette Racing some competition during the autograph session. Popularity contests aside, this is one of the best lineups in LMPC. Last year's pole position battle between Dane Cameron and Ryan Dalziel was very entertaining. It's realistic to expect Dane Cameron to claim the pole again. Duncan Ende is a solid driver, and Henri Richard is experienced. We didn't rank them higher because of the team being new to the ALMS. Rules, strategies, a new car, are all intangibles that come into play during a 12-hour race. To be honest we expected them to field a P2 entry for the season.

The heavy hitters.

Merchant Services Racing #8. Kyle Marcelli was one of the stars in LMPC last year. Had he been with a solid steady teammate he could have been champion. Talents like him make the ALMS' prototype challenge class worth watching. With a steady teammate this year this could be a championship contending entry.

Performance Tech Motorsports #18. Probably the most accomplished driver in the LMPC field, we always envisioned Raphael Matos landing in Formula 1 someday. It was a very realistic thought. He was simply that good. But F1 takes more than talent to crack. We're still a big fan of his and are looking forward to watching him fighting it out with Kyle Marcelli and Dane Cameron for pole position.

PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports #52. They get the nod over Performance Tech because of the presence of Mr Steady Hands, Butch Leitzinger. There's no blazing or sultry fast drivers here. But what they have is stability. Rundy Junco was the 3rd
man helping Gunnar Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez in long distance races last year. Butch Leitzinger was Dyson racing's finisher in the #20 car when they had the RS Spyder in 2008.

Monday, March 5, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Challenge

While the GTC class has been bashed (along with the LMPC class) as spec classes that do not belong in this type of racing, they have played their role perfectly; filling up the grid and adding the occasional suspense factor, etc.

In the ALMS, this class has the only cars that can be used in other series. They can be ran in the Grand-Am GT class, the SCCA World Challenge GT class, and the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge. That's 4 different series and almost 40 races in a year. Sure many of the races are at the same venues and during the same racing weekends, but that's still 39 different races for 2012.

From a privateer team owner's perspective, the versatility of the Porsche GT3 Cup, and the many opportunities to capitalize on that all-around utility, make them the most valuable cars on the ALMS grid.

There are 9 entries in the GTC class for the 60th 12hrs of Sebring. We have identified them in 3 groups.

Those just happy to be there:

Competition motorsports #024. Bob Faeta is the 2009 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup champion. Cort Wagner has lots of Grand-Am experience. His last drive at Sebring was in 2004. Michael Avenatti and his 2 co-drivers drove together at the 2012 24hrs of Daytona and finished 14th in class.

NGT motorsport's #031 entry. Nick Tandy was runner up in the Porsche Supercup in 2010, and won the 2012 24hrs of Daytona GT class driving for Magnus racing. We have never heard of his other 2 teammates, the father and son duo of Angel Andres Benitez Jr, and Angel Andres Benitez Sr of Venezuela. Tandy might flirt with pole position, but in the race we think the other 2 will be wide eyed when the prototypes fly past them.

Alex Job Racing's #022 entry. Leh Keen pretty much lived in Dirk Werner's shadow when they were paired at Farnbacher-Loles. But his GT racing credentials do not need any scrutiny. He was second in GT2 at LeMans in 2010. LP Dumoulin is French-Canadian and a Nascar Nationwide driver trying endurance racing. His foray into this new discipline won't be as celebrated as Michael Waltrip's. Cooper MacNeil is a 19-year old Canadian just looking for more experience.

We would like to become like the best:

JDX Racing #11. Their very striking metallic gold livery is sure to get them some camera time no matter what happens. Chris Cumming and Mark Bullitt drive in the IMSA GT3 cup. So they're familiar with the car. Michael Valiante is a racer. We would like to see how he would do in a LeMans prototype.

NGT Motorsports #30. Sean Edwards placed 4th in the Porsche Supercup championship in 2011. So he knows the car very well. He along with Henrique Cisneros, and Carlos Kauffmann had placed 10th in class in the Daytona 24hrs. A solid result considering there were over 35 GT entrants. They were 3rd in GTC last year at Sebring.

GMG Racing #32. Only 2 drivers are named. Team owner James Sofronas and Alex Welch. No thoroughbred racer...not yet maybe? But they have always been in the thick of things. They seem to have a good crew and that can make a difference. We also give them the coolest name award for Global Motorsports Group.

The heavy hitters:

Green Hornet Racing #34. Last year Tim Pappas won the GTC class at Sebring while flanked by Damien Faulkner and Sebastien Bleekemolen. The same racers for hire have been called in to flank Peter Lesaffre this year. Black Swan and Green Hornet were pretty much the same organization last year. So it should be a safe bet to say that the strategy, know-how, and tactics has been passed on. But the difference is Tim Pappas was a bit more skilled as far as Pro-Am drivers go. But they can certainly repeat the win again with Peter LeSaffre this time.

The Racer's Group #66. Spencer Pumpelly is the only driver named. But we do remember his many last year with Jeroen Bleekemolen from Black Swan. Team owner Kevin Buckler's winery has made a special Sebring 60th anniversary bottle of wine. What better way to sell the spirit than to win the race.

Alex Job Racing #023. Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Dion von Moltke. Since TRG's crew is so far uncomplete, this is the best crew in GTC as of now. The team knows how to win, they have locked up the podium here before, and they have the resources.