The World Comes to Sebring

March 10, 2012

The World Comes to Sebring

March 10, 2012

Contrary to folklore, Sebring, Florida, is not located at the end of the world.  In fact, you cannot even see the end of the world from Sebring.

What you can see are the newest cars and top endurance racers from around the world as the center of the sports car universe shifts 4,470 miles west from Le Mans, France, to Sebring International Raceway for the opening round of the new 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The arrival of top teams, drivers and technical wizards and a hefty 61-car field is a fitting tribute to the 60th Sebring race.

The 3.7-mile Sebring circuit is fast, bumpy, flat and sure to be filled to the brim with a massive crowd as Sebring will be the only 2012 North American stop of the new FIA World Endurance Championship.

Heading the field will be a trio of Audi R18 diesel prototypes headed by legendary eight-time Le Mans race winner Tom Kristensen, joined by Allan McNish and Dindo Capello.  Each of the three Audi squads includes a pair of Audi Le Mans winning drivers including 2011 Le Mans winners Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and 2010 winners Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas join them.

Audi has been the dominant force in the sports car world for the past dozen years, claiming 10 wins at Le Mans and nine overall wins at Sebring.

Audi’s main competition here at Sebring is expected to come from a pair of Rebellion Toyotas featuring Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld and Harold Primat, Andrea Belicchi and Jeroen Bleekemolen; and a trio of HPD ARX 03a-Hondas in the hands of Strakka Racing (Nick Leventis, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane), JRM Racing (David Brabham, Peter Dumbreck, Karun Chandhok), and the American-based Muscle Milk Pickett Racing squad featuring Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf and Simon Pagenaud.

Also making its debut at Sebring is a new Dyson Racing Lola Mazda for ALMS champions Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, now joined by Steven Kane.

In the GTE-Pro ranks, the competition should be exceptionally fierce with the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup champion AF Corse Ferrari drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni taking on ALMS champions Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller from BMW Team RLL.

Corvette stirs the mix of the 2011 Le Mans GT winning Corvette combo of Antonio Garcia and Tommy Milner, by pairing Oliver Gavin and Richard Westbrook with Milner and placing Jan Magnussen and newcomer Jordan Taylor with Garcia.

The Extreme Speed Motorsports team of Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek expects to be the top ALMS-based Ferrari along with Patron’s Ed Brown and Guy Cosmo.

Weapons-grade cars and top teammates do not stop there as AF Corse tosses Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta into the mix. BMW goes with Joerg Muller and Bill Auberlen.

Porsche looks to retake the top spot with new cars and a taller MICHELIN® front tire for the Team Felbermayr-Proton with factory shoes Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb and the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche of multi-time ALMS champions Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long with Marco Holzer. They are joined by Lizard leader Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Andy Lally.

Porsche presents an interesting tire battle with Team Falken’s Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers and the Dunlop-fitted Paul Miller Racing Porsche with Bryce Miller and Sascha Maassen.

Aston Martin presents the Aston Martin Vantage V8 with stalwarts Adrian Fernandez, Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner.

The GTE-Am lineup includes the defending Intercontinental and Le Mans champion Corvettes of Larbre Competition led by Pedro Lamy, with Krohn Racing’s Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson, and AF-Corse Waltrip Ferrari with NASCAR star Michael Waltrip.

Look for a Nissan – Honda – Lotus battle in the LMP2 class, as a half dozen Nissans, led by Signatech, ADR-Delta, Gulf Racing Middle East and Pecom Racing take on Lotus, the Morgans of Oak Racing and Conquest, and the Honda powered Starworks and Level 5 squads.

Top shoes to watch here include Stephane Sarrazin, Soheil Ayari, Ryan Dalziel, Robbie Kerr, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz.

The LMP Challenge class includes aces Memo Gidley, Bruno Junqueira, Butch Leitzinger, Colin Braun and Duncan Ende in identical Chevy powered Oreca prototypes. The GT Challenge class matches identical Porsche 911s.

With great cars, teams, drivers and the kickoff to both WEC and ALMS seasons, the 60th anniversary of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring should be a classic. After all, the rest of the world is watching, too.

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