SPANISH DRIVERS AMONG FAVOURITES IN LMP AND GT CLASSES AT SEBRING ILMC OPENER

For Saturday's 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, Spanish drivers are among the top favourites in the LMP and GT classes. Marc Gene, living in Barcelona, is the defending champion and is back with the same team and car, the Peugeot 908. In the LMP2 class, rising young star Lucas Ordonez was fastest in practice and, along with Antonio Garcia, driving a Chevrolet Corvette in the GT class, is among the hot favourites.

There has been a relatively new, successful generation of Spanish race car drivers over the past few years, both in sports cars as well as in Formula One. Marc Gene, who is one of the works drivers for Peugeot, is among these. He has driven many a Formula One Grand Prix and was a test driver for Ferrari for a number of years. But it is truly with Peugeot that he has had his greatest successes. In addition to acting as the defending champion of this year's 12 Hours of Sebring, Gene also won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009. "But we are not the favourites here in Sebring," said the 36-year-old driver. "Our car is new and not yet fully developed, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans is our main goal. Although our car with Stephane Sarrazin is on pole, the race is 12 hours long, so we will have to see." The track layout and structure is a challenge for every driver, as Antonio Garcia noted: "This is a historical track and has hardly changed over the years. It is narrow and very bumpy, especially the concrete sections. But my Corvette is a strong car and is well suited to these kinds of conditions." Garcia started racing karts and ran against Fernando Alonso in the Spanish championships. "I now choose sports cars and I am really enjoying it." Garcia won the GT class both in the ALMS races and - in 2008 - at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He has additionally won races in the Rolex GRAND-AM Sports Car Series, as he was part of the Brumos team that won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2009. This year he will once again compete in the series as part of his Chevrolet program.

New to Sebring is Lucas Ordonez, a 25-year-old driver who will make his debut in the new Oreca Nissan in the LMP2 class. The new car showed its potential by setting the fastest time in the Friday practice. "Although it is a very difficult track, I love to be here," said Ordonez. "Both Turn 1 and Turn 17 are a real challenge." The young Spaniard won the Nissan/PlayStation GT Academy competition out of 25,000 participants and was offered a racing scholarship in England. "I stayed with Nissan and ran the GT4 championship winning races and now they got me in the LMP2 program for 2011. I really look forward to going to Le Mans, that is a dream for every race car driver." Ordonez' teammate, Soheil Ayari, placed the new car on pole in the LMP2 class Qualifying.

These three Spanish drivers are part of the strong 56-car field that will participate in the 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring. In addition to being the opening round of the American Le Mans Series, this historic event is also the first race in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, a series of seven races that will take place on three continents. The battle for the overall win in LMP1 is expected to be between Peugeot - as defending champions - and Audi, who are famous for their reliability. Among the drivers for the German manufacturer is Tom Kristensen, the Rolex Testimonee who is a record five-time winner here in Sebring.

He may hold a record number of wins on this track, but the Danish driver has not raced here since 2009 and still finds the Sebring Raceway challenging: "I agree with the young drivers, Turn 1 and 17 are not easy. Especially Turn 1 is so bumpy that you have a hard time to stay on track. And there is no place to relax, no long straight like for example in Le Mans." The changes in the regulations for the 2011 ILMC season made the prototype cars slower and the GT's faster. The rules will impact Kristensen's race: "Last year you could overtake a group of GT cars, but with the new rules you can only overtake one car. I look forward to a challenging comeback race."

The 12 Hours of Sebring will start at 10:30 tomorrow morning, 19 March.

-source: rolex