At the end of qualifying for Sebring, we felt a little betrayed by the LMP1 class. Mainly by the Audis. During the the test and practice sessions the privateer squads seemed somewhat close to them and the Audis were sometimes the last ones in their fields. Well we now realize they were playing coy to make everyone believe the new technical restrictions were severely hampering them.
Perhaps they had to also, because had they shown their speed during the test sessions the ACO could have swiftly swooped in and imposed newer restrictions on their machines before the regular practice sessions.
The restrictions placed on the manufacturer teams this year only takes account of their existing technical regulations, but it seems no one took into account that their hybrid systems would improve significantly. So now the gasoline engined privateer cars would have been closer to last year's Audi R18 Ultras, but the R18 E-tron Quattros have pace similar to their V12 diesel counterparts.
The P1 pole qualifying time in 2012 was 1:45:820 by Andre Lotterer in the R18 Ultra. That year the best privateer team was Klaus Graf in the HPD at 1:47:536. This year the privateer teams have more pace than last year. Rebellion Racing's Nick Heidfeld qualified first of the privateer cars at 1:46:456. But the Audis have gained even more spread, with Marcel Fassler flying in at 1:43:886
Will there be any more changes before LeMans....
We expected Level 5 to be the dominant LMP2 team. What we did not expect is the pace of the Zytek, and the lack of pace from Extreme Speed. It's actually quite refreshing to see the Zytek being so competitive against the HPD's. We remember when Danny Watts used to carry the flag for the brand during their heydeys. But qualifying and racing are somewhat different, we'll need to see how they hold up. As for Extreme Speed, they might just be a bit behind in their prototype expertise. They should get better during the season.
For Sebring Paul Miller Racing is Porsche's flag bearer (Core Autosport is expected to also be one later), as evidenced by the two factory drivers embedded in the squad alongside Bryce Miller. They now also run on Michelin tires and Marco Holzer will be there for the whole season, signifying Porsche backing. During the practice sessions and then qualifying, they did not have the pace we expected. They qualified 7th out of 12. Let's see how this race and the season shapes out.
In his many forays in the ALMS we still are not convinced that Bryce Miller has the outright pace of the best drivers in this class.This is really a manufacturer's class even more than P1, and only a few drivers have the skills to match factory drivers.
Andy Lally won the pole for Dempsey racing ahead of Jeroen Bleekemolen. These two are drivers capable of matching wits with factory drivers. The best thing about them is that they can literally drive any car on the field, all the way up to the P1 cars. So they are in effect "money drivers". As Johnny O'Connell would say "they're hired guns". When you have the resources and just want the job done no matter the cost, you bring them in. They could easily find factory drives if they looked, but they seem to prefer swinging it from team to team.
Despite the pole position, Andy Lally's contractors mainly Joe Foster and Patrick Dempsey do not have the pace that Jeroen Bleekemolen's bosses (Cooper Macneil and Dion Von Moltke) can deliver. Alex Job Racing, where Jeroen Bleekemolen races is also a specialist team in GT endurance racing. So given that the cars are equal in this class, all those attributes make the #22 Alex Job Racing car the favorite to win the class.