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.