O Opinions & Commentary

The sights of Sebring

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The day after announcing that the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am will jointly race under the United SportsCar Racing banner next year, we look ahead to the final ALMS version of the 12 Hours of Sebring, beginning tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. ET on SPEED.

Steeped in racing tradition that dates back to 1950, the shortest duration of endurance racing’s ‘Triple Crown’ is a showcase of the best prototype and GT racers and people who drive them. It also marks the final year of P1 racers in North American racing, but it is set to go out as one of the most beautiful races of recent memory. Let’s take a look at some of the showstoppers this year.

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Keeping true to the world class event that it is, Audi is bringing two of its multiple Le Mans-winning R18 quattros to Sebring, both in e-Tron form. Donned in silver, white, red and black, Team Joest is the most successful team to ever race the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with 13 victories since 1984. At Sebring, they will look to build on Audi’s staggering record of 10 wins in races. Looking to help them will be race-record holder Tom Kristensen (six wins), and four-time winner and distance record holder, Allan McNish.

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Rebellion Racing comes with two of its Lola B12/60 Toyota prototypes. Last years privateer champs from the World Endurance Championship will field a full-time, single-car effort in the American Le Mans Series this year, following their success as overall winners at Petit Le Mans last year. The Lola chassis (saved from extinction after Toronto’s Multimatic, Inc. purchased licensing rights from the flailing English manufacturer), is a prime representation of world sports cars at their finest. Former F1 pilot Nick Heidfeld takes the spot as the most recognized name among the six-man squad.

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Completely reworked for its first full-time campaign and 12 Hours of Sebring, Don Panoz’s Elan Motorsports have brought the famed DeltaWing in-house. Gone is the black Batmobile paint colour, and in comes a full-chrome livery. For those who remember Panoz’s previous efforts, the colour is somewhat representative of the Panoz Esperante GT-R, albeit with red highlights instead of orange. The DeltaWing also features a Mazda/Elan power plant in place of last years Nissan V6. Bridgestone also replaces Michelin on the tire front and while there are many changes to the car, the drivers are quite confident with it. After taking his first spin in testing, P1 driver Andy Meyrick (GB) seemed quite impressed. “The first run out in the car put a huge smile on my face and it’s an excellent car to drive. It gave me confidence as a driver right away – and I think that’s the main thing. There’s huge benefits in terms of nimbleness and reaction.”

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Returning for another year of BMW competition, this time with the new Z4 GTE instead of the M3, Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) is going quite German with its Sebring squad. Along with the cars, Germans Dirk Muller, Jorg Muller and Uwe Alzen join DTM driver and Joey Hand (USA) , Bill Auberlen (USA) and Maxime Martin (BE). The new Z4 caused a bit of a stir following its ALMS announcement due to its non-production V8 engine, but there’s little doubt the car will grab attention as a new addition to the American sports car scene.

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Celebrating its centenary year, Aston Martin brings the two Vantage GTEs in the timeless Gulf livery. While the exterior of the Aston is as beautiful as we’ve seen, serious fans will be interested to see how newly-signed Bruno Senna (BR) and Canadian Paul Dalla Lana will perform. Senna will be paired with Stefan Mucke (DE) and Darren Turner (US) in the 97 car, while Dalla Lana will drive alongside Billy Johnson (US) and Pedro Lamy (MX). Dalla Lana comes into this year an experienced Grand-Am GT driver, finishing fourth last year in his Turner Motorsports BMW M3 GT.

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PRN Ignition contributor Kyle Marcelli will be paired with fellow Canadian Chris Cumming and Stefan Johansson (SE) in the MAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 Chevy. Marcelli is looking for a strong finish after a DNF last year and an impressive third place finish in PC in 2010.

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The SRT Viper makes its debut in Sebring for the first time since 2000. Canada’s Kuno Wittmer is part of an experienced list of SRT drivers that include Tommy Kendall (US), Dominik Farnbacher (DE), Ryan Dalziel (GB), Marc Goosens (BE) and Jonathan Bomarito (US).

NEWS

Patrick Dempsey/Del Piero Racing will field two Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars in the GTC category. Dempsey is an impressive driver who’s credentials should precede his reputation. It’s also a good chance to see him and his team up close and, if you have a spouse that hates racing, it’s a great bargaining tool to watch some cars this weekend.

Photos: DeltaWing Racing, Audi Sport, ALMS, BMW Motorsport, Aston Martin Racing, BAR1 Motorsport, Dodge/SRT, Dempsey/Del Piero Racing

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