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.