2011 ILMC SUPPORTED BY MAJOR MANUFACTURERS IN SEBRING
The first full season of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup will start this Saturday with the 59th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. A record 56 cars are entered here in five different race classes, four of which are ILMC classes with twenty cars expected to run the complete 2011 ILMC championship. As expected, the first practice session saw a tight battle in the LMP1 class between the Audi and Peugeot teams. The brand new Ferrari F458 Italia was fastest in the exciting GT class, in which the BMW’s unfortunately just fell short. This year will be the first full season for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, which was introduced last spring during a press conference at Le Mans. This exciting new worldwide series of sports car races is partnered with Rolex as the Official Watch and Timekeeper. After three races in 2010, Peugeot came out as champions after winning the final races on the calendar. For this season, the French manufacturer introduced a new V8-engined prototype car and team director Olivier Quesnel called Sebring a working session: “Although we tested extensively, we are not yet ready. Le Mans is our main goal but this 12-hour race is surely an important test.” The French manufacturer is a great supporter of this new series and Quesnel is hoping to continue racing in the years to come. “From a marketing point of view, seven races a year would be perfect for us,” he added.
Peugeot’s main competitor these last few years has been Audi and the German manufacturer surprised many by setting the fastest times in today’s morning practice session. “We’re running the 2010 cars and we rely on our experience and reliability,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, director of Motorsports for Audi AG. Two Audi R15+ Diesel-powered spyders are entered here in Sebring as the new 2011 R18 coupes are not yet fully developed. The successful R15 is updated and now called R15+. Audi had nine wins over the last eleven years at Sebring and has a strong line-up of drivers that includes record winner Tom Kristensen. The Danish Rolex Testimonee has won this race in Florida no less than five times. Kristensen said, “Although we are running last year’s car, we are optimistic about the race. With our experience and the car’s pedigree, we should have a good shot for another win.” It was Kristensen’s Audi teammates that were fastest in the first practice session in the car shared by Timo Bernhard (DEU), Romain Dumas (FRA) - both former winners at Sebring - and Mike Rockenfeller (DEU), who had a very successful 2010 season and won both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
But it is not only the Peugeot versus Audi battle that is attracting all the attention. The GT class will definitely be home to a fierce battle among the six manufacturers. BMW has entered two M3 GT cars, and although they were built in Germany, it is the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team that will run them here in Sebring. BMW too is excited about the ILMC, and Thomas Plucinsky of BMW North America emphasized the importance of the series for the German manufacturer: “We sell cars in 130 countries, so the worldwide ILMC series is important for us.” Chevrolet, who works closely with Labre Competition and their GT program, is also committed to the series: “We are back in full swing and since we sold more cars in China than in the US, we fully support this series which has its final race this year in China,” affirmed Doug Fehan, the Chevrolet program manager. In the GT class these two will face the new Ferrari F458 Italia. The bright red car from Maranello will have its maiden race this weekend and a total of four are entered in the race. One of the cars, run by Risi Competizione from Texas, surprised by setting the fastest GT time earlier today. In the GT class, seven cars set a time within a second and a half of one another, clear proof of the close racing in this class. With so many cars on the track, racing can even get a bit too close. “There are many cars and with the speed difference and surely the braking distance, there will be some exciting moments,” said Jeroen Bleekemolen in reaction to the prospects of a full field. The Dutch driver recently switched from a GT to a prototype car. “At the Rolex 24 At Daytona last month, I ran one of the Porsches but I got an invitation to race a Lola prototype in the ILMC.” His younger brother Sebastiaan now will drive the Black Swan Racing Porsche.
The twenty ILMC cars are part of the total field of 56 cars entered for this famous event. Other than racing for points in the new worldwide series, the 12 Hours of Sebring also represents the first round of the American Le Mans Series. This American sports car series was initiated by Dr. Don Panoz some 13 years ago and has attracted a large fan base. With the same rules and regulations, the same cars can run in both series. The 2011 ALMS season has its final race on October 1 at Road Atlanta, Georgia, and just like in Sebring, that race counts for the ILMC as well. The ILMC series will end a month later in November, in China.
The 59th edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring will wave its green flag on Saturday morning, March 19 at 10:30 local time. Some 150,000 spectators are expected to fill the race grounds from today until Saturday.