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.