It's a whole new world this season in sportscar racing, as the former racers of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series joined together in 2014 to form the TUDOR United SportsCar Series. After the first endurance race of the season, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the teams are headed back to the sunshine state this weekend for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
Since the opening round of the TUDOR Championship, the P2 prototypes have undergone a few changes. For Sebring and the remainder season, they will be running a high-downforce configuration, with front dive planes and rear wicker. Additional small modifications have been made to the louvers on the front fenders. The sanctioning body, International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), has increased the amount of fuel by three liters for a total fuel capacity of 75 liters. The team will also have a slightly larger restrictor in the fueling hose.
Taking part in their fifth 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 15, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing is hoping to be able to take advantage of its experience at the 3.74-mile, 17-turn road course to fight for the win against the Daytona Prototype teams, and others, in the P class. In order to do so, the team will also have to turn its luck around after some unfortunate incidents at Sebring the last few years. One positive element, however, is the fact that the last time the team took to the track in a P2 car at the historic circuit they scored their first class win in 2010.
"We didn't have the best of luck at Sebring in the past years and I really hope that changes this year," commented Lucas Luhr.
With 60-plus cars entered into the event, 18 of which are in the P class, staying out of trouble will be the key to success as will reliability at what is a very bumpy, demanding Sebring track.
"As a team, we've been many times to Sebring and maybe we can take advantage of this situation," added Klaus Graf. "However, testing has shown that the P class will be very close. Traffic will also be a major factor at this year's race as there are 60 plus cars entered in the event. I think this is the most I've ever seen at Sebring."
Regular drivers, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr, will be joined by Nissan GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough who made his unofficial debut with the team at last month's test.
"It will be my first time racing at Sebring and with that many cars, and so many great teams and drivers, it's going to be great for my experience," Mardenborough added. "Sebring is one of the old-school circuits where if you make a mistake, there isn't tens of miles of runoff. There's grass and then there's tire barriers and concrete barriers as well."
Another team looking for a Sebring win and valuable points in the TUDOR Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup (NAEC) is Stuart baded Extreme Speed Motorsports. It would be fitting to see Sebring’s home team stand atop the podium, especially since event this marks the second race of the four-race Tequila Patrón-sponsored NAEC.
One year ago, ESM raced the Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD) machines for the first time at the 3.74-mile track. This March, the team has one year of prototype competition under its belts and is confident in the machinery, the ability of the drivers and crew, and optimistic about its chances in the 12-hour event.
“It has been a year since our switch to the HPDs and that year of racing and development should prove to be a big advantage," added owner/driver Scott Sharp. "Our testing sessions went well and everyone on the team has worked so hard to get us prepared.”
As a former Sebring 12 Hours winner, Ryan Dalziel knows what it takes to race to victory at Sebring. Following a mid-race mechanical issue at the Rolex 24, the trio piloting the No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD – Dalziel, ESM owner/driver Scott Sharp and Australian sports car star David Brabham – expect a better result at Sebring.
“Looking back at Daytona, especially with it being the first race of the new series, there were things we did well and some things that didn’t go as planned," Dalziel added. "Since then, we have worked hard as a team to make big improvements and I can’t wait to get to the track and show what we’ve done since January."
Finishing fourth at the 2012 Sebring race makes No. 2 Tequila Patrón HPD racers Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek even more determined to finish on the podium this weekend. IndyCar star Simon Pagenaud makes his second appearance with ESM and Tequila Patrón this season with Brown and van Overbeek. During the Rolex 24, Pagenaud was the final driver to pilot the No. 2 machine on Sunday afternoon and finish in seventh place.
“We have a great lineup of drivers with Johannes and Simon. I’m looking forward to the race this weekend. We’re more than prepared," Brown interjected. "We’re ready to win. The 12 Hours of Sebring is our race.”
Carrying some race-winning momentum with him this weekend is Pagenaud. Last weekend, Pagenaud raced to victory in the 22nd Rally de la Vienne in France, a race he considers his hometown event. Pagenaud and co-driver Emmanuel Dechatre dominated the eight stage, day-long national event in an European Championship Peugeot 207 Super 2000.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to racing with ESM and Tequila Patrón. Since our race in Daytona, I’ve spent plenty of time in other race cars to keep my skills sharp. Over the weekend, I raced in the national championship race in my home state in France – the Rally de la Vienne," Pagenaud remarked. "Rally is a huge passion of mine and I try to compete in it as often as I can. It was a rewarding weekend racing in front of my hometown and winning the event. I’m bringing that winning mentality with me because I want to be part of the team that helps ESM win at its home track."
In the GT LeMans class, Bryan Sellers will become the first non-factory Porsche driver in the world to turn a race lap in a Porsche 911 RSR. Having missed the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona because of the car's build schedule, Sellers, Henzler and Holzer each had a run in the car they dubbed "Valentina" at the TUDOR Championship official test here in Sebring in late February.
"We called the new Porsche 911 RSR Valentina because she was born on Valentine's Day," answered Sellers. "The name came from Wolf because it was the first day she was ever driven."
By the end of the two-day, four-session test, the car, the team, the drivers and the tire all proved up to the daunting task. The No. 17 ended the final practice fourth in the GT Le Mans (GT LM) class against the two Porsche North America factory cars and other manufacturer programs from BMW and SRT.
"It may sound lofty, but my goal for Sebring is a win! We are coming into a race that we were successful at last year with a new car that has already won two of the biggest endurance races in the world: Le Mans and the Rolex 24 At Daytona," Sellers stated. "I would like to contribute to and continue Porsche's success and have the Falken Tire 911 RSR win a third!"
Teams will be will be on track starting Thursday, March 13 for official practice ahead of Friday's qualifying session. On Friday, fans have the opportunity to meet the racers during the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Autograph Session beginning at 11:15 a.m. Following the autograph session Extreme Speed Motorsports will be holding a live auction in the paddock area benefiting the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, with many exclusive team items for bid. The auction starts at 11:45 a.m. (ET).
The 62nd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida goes green at 10:15 am on Saturday, March 15 and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm ET with the remainder of the race being streamed live on IMSA.com.
Stay tuned to this column for more updates leading up to the second endurance race on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship calendar, as well as post race reviews, interviews, and more!
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