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?