Sebring: Porsche Motorsports preview

Porsche teams compete in largest GT field in American Le Mans History as 51st annual Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring set for March 15. --All the Porsche ALMS regulars from 2002, plus new teams and cars from Europe will seek Porsche's 10th straight GT...

Porsche teams compete in largest GT field in American Le Mans History as 51st annual Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring set for March 15.

--All the Porsche ALMS regulars from 2002, plus new teams and cars from Europe will seek Porsche's 10th straight GT class win at America's oldest sports car event before more than 100,000 people and live on The Speed Channel TV--

ATLANTA -- March 12 -- Porsche race teams will try for their fourth straight GT class win and Porsche's tenth straight class win at Sebring this weekend at the 51st Annual Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring, Saturday, March 15.

At the close of entries deadline, 65 cars have entered the event, including 30 in the GT class, with 19 of those cars being Porsches. The strongest Porsche teams from North America will battle Le Mans contenders from Europe and a selection of Ferraris, La mborghinis, BMWs, Spykers and Morgans in the GT class in what should be the closest racing of the weekend.

>From North America, the defending ALMS GT champions, Tavaras, Florida-based Alex Job Racing; the Jupiter, Florida team of Orbit Racing; recent Rolex 24 and defending Le Mans champions The Racer's Group; Las Vegas' Petersen Motorsports; recent Grand-Am tran sfers Zip Racing; 2001 Le Mans champions Seikel Motorsport; RWS-Yukos Motorsport -- with Russian drivers; T2M Motorsport; and Hyper Sport will all have spots on the Sebring grid.

The European Porsche teams are lead by French-based Perspective Racing, and a two-car effort from the British-based P.K. Sport. Alex Job Racing, based inTavares, Florida, will be trying to win its third straight Sebring 12-hour event, once again joined by Porsche factory drivers Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen. Luhr, a German native now living in Monaco will be trying to set a Sebrin g record by winning his class for a fourth straight time.

Driving the #23 McKenna Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Luhr and co-driver Sascha Maassen, from Raeren, Belgium, won the ALMS GT title last year as co-champions -- the only pair to accomplish this feat in the history of the series. Maassen and Luhr won Sebring in 2001 and 2002, with Luhr winning the event in 2000 co-driving with Dirk Mueller in the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche.

David Loring, John Morton, Steve Millen and Johnny O'Connell all won their class three years in a row in the '80s and '90s, and are tied with Luhr for that achievement.

The other Alex Job McKenna Porsche will be driven by German Porsche factory drivers Jorg Bergmeister and Timo Bernhard, who were poised to finish second to their championship teammates at Sebring last year when their car failed in the pits with just 30 min utes remaining in the event. Their car will carry the #24 for 2003 rather than the #22 badge it had the last two years.

For most of the Porsche teams, the Sebring event is the first of the season as it signals the opening of the ALMS schedule, but three ALMS teams have already seen 2003 action as they took part in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The most successful of these was the Sonoma, Calif.-based The Racer's Group, which not only took the GT class at that endurance classic, but won the race overall -- the first time a GT-class car has won Daytona since 1977.

For the Sebring event, the team will have three Porsches, with team owner Kevin Buckler -- the 2002 Porsche Cup winner - leading a strong lineup of racers in an attempt to capture the team's first win at the 12-hour event.

Joining Buckler in car #66 are longtime IndyCar, F-1, IRL & and IMSA driver Eliseo Salazar, of Santiago, Chile and 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Daytona overall winner Jim Pace, of Monticello, MS.

In car #67, the winning car from the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans, are two familiar faces at The Racer's Group, and one new one. 2003 Overall Winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona and 2nd place finisher in the 2002 Porsche Cup Michael Schrom joins longtime Porsche racer Vic Rice, of Novato, CA and spa owner Pierre Ehret of Santa Ros a, CA. Rounding out The Racer's Group's lineup for the 12 Hours of Sebring is car #68, driven by Chris Gleason, of Johnstown, PA, Marc Bunting, of Monkton MD, and Allan Ziegelman, principal and owner of Black Forest Motorsports in DeLand, FL. Ziegelman d rove a Porsche 911 GT3 R in the 2001 12 Hours of Sebring, and was the driver last season for the #28 Riley & Scott WSC car.

Orbit Racing, based in Jupiter, Fl., also ran at Daytona, with Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb putting the #43 YES Network Porsche 911 GT3 RS on the pole in the GT class. During the race, numerous mechanical problems relegated the car to a fourth-place fi nish -- something team owner Rodger Hawley wants to improve on for Sebring.

Orbit will field two Porsche 911 GT3 RS cars in the March 15 endurance race at Sebring, with the #43 YES Network entry driven by Leo Hindery of New York, Peter Baron of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Marc Lieb of Germany sharing the chores.  Mike Fitzgerald of
 Fountain Hills, Ariz. -- the 2000 Porsche Cup winner, will join Jay and Joe Policastro of Latrobe, Pa., in the #42 Classic Industries Porsche.  The Policatros also ran well at Daytona -- as high as fifth during the event -- but several long pit stops set the
m back to the ninth finishing position.  Both Jay and father Joe are veterans of Grand-Am as well as historic sports car racers.
The third team that ran at Daytona -- and, like Orbit -- did not have a good weekend, was the German and U.S.-based Seikel Motorsport.  Italians Gabrio Rosa and Alex Caffi -- who have won the GT class both at Daytona and Le Mans, will join forces with Andrea
Chiesa to try to add Sebring to their trophy case in the #53 Seikel Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RS.  In the #52 Seikel Porsche, veterans Philip Collin, from Park Ridge, IL, David Shep, from Toronto, and John Lloyd from Chicago will share the driving duties.

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing will field its Porsche 911 GT3 RS with one returning driver and two top GT pilots. Sweden's Nic Jonsson and Long Beach, California's Craig Stanton will join Great Britain's Johnny Mowlem in the #31 Westward Ho C asino/MMPIE/PAWS/Justice Brothers Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Mowlem, who finished second overall at Daytona last month in a Ferrari, has an ALMS GT-class victory and several podium finishes to his credit and has been the lead driver for Petersen Motorsports/Whit e Lightning Racing since 2001. Mowlem has three starts at Sebring including a second-place in 2000.

Jonsson, of Bankeryd, Sweden and now living in Buford, Georgia, comes to the #31 team having driven for two seasons with a BMW supported GT team in the ALMS. Stanton joins the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing after three previous seasons racing select GT-class races in the ALMS for other teams.

Fresh from two successful years in the Grand-Am series, Chicago-based ZIP Racing has committed to a full year of American Le Mans Series events in two Porsche 911 GT3 RS racers. ZIP's primary sponsor, Hazardous Sports, has been designated the official spo rtswear sponsor of the ALMS, and plans to be one of the most active and visible sponsors in all of motorsports. The team has technical, engineering and race support from Pratt & Miller's Aletheon division, which also supports and designed the Le Mans-clas s-winning Corvette.

Team chief executive officer and driver Steve Ivankovich of Chicago leads the driver line-up that includes Andy Lally of Northport, N.Y. and Spencer Pumpelly of Mason Neck, Va., in the #33 Porsche for Sebring. In addition, Brent Sherman of Barrington, Ill .; Emil Assentato of Locust Valley, N.Y. and Nick Longhi of Nyack, N.Y. will be the drivers of a similar #39 ZIP Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

A returning ALMS Porsche competitor is Atlanta's Justin Jackson, who is again paired with former World Challenge champion David Murry -- also from Atlanta -- in the J-3 Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS.  Joining them will be Brian Cunningham, winner at Mosport last
 year and former BMW factory driver.  Murry finished third overall in a Porsche at the recent Rolex 24 at Daytona, while Cunningham has five podium finishes including his Mosport win with Kevin Buckler.

Other Porsche entries include the French Perspective Racing team of Thierry Perrier/France, Angelo Barretto/Philippines, and Michael Neugarten/Monaco; two cars from the British P.K. Sport team, including Piers Maserati/David Warnock/Robin Liddell and Bart Hayden/Gregor Fisken/Ian Donaldson -- all from the U.K.; Ayrton Intermotor from Spain with Madrid's Jesus Diaz Villaroel (other drivers to be announced);RWS-Yukos Motorsport with two drivers from Moscow -- Nikolay Formenko and Alexey Vassiliev along with Aus tria's Walter Lechner, Jr.; T2M Motorsport with Howard Vance/Ohio and Georges Forgeois/New York; and Hyper Sport with Rick Skelton/Brad Nyberg/Joe Foster.

Since the Porsche 911 GT3 RS family of race cars was introduced in 1999, the car has been constantly updated and improved, but race fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 1999 and 2000 GT3 R, and the 2001 - 2003 GT3 RS. The 2003 vers ion of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS features minor modifications with its engine now delivering 435 horsepower at 8,250 RPM. The weight distribution was improved thanks to a lighter engine and engine periphery that take about 30 pounds off the car's rear end.

Built at Porsche Motorsport in the Research and Development Department at Weissach, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS finished 1-2 in class at Le Mans in its first year of competition, and has won its class in both the Grand Am and American Le Mans Series two years i n a row. The car has also won its class four years in a row at the Daytona 24 Hours and years running at the 12 Hours of Sebring as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

More than 180 Porsche 911 GT3 R/RS race cars have been sold so far worldwide, with almost half of those cars having raced in the U.S.

The 51st Annual 12 Hours of Sebring will be televised live - flag to flag - on The Speed Channel starting at 10:00 PM Eastern time on Saturday, March 15. The Speed Channel will telecast a 30-minute pre-race show followed by the green flag at 10:30 AM, and will stay with the race through the checkered flag at 10:30 PM - plus the victory circle and post-race celebration. Eurosport will carry the race on the Continent on a tape-delay basis on Sunday, March 23 at 20:00 Central European time.

The cars will see their first official track practice time on Wednesday, March 12 when practice opens at 9:20 AM. Qualifying will take place Thursday afternoon, followed by a night practice Thursday night. Final practice will take place on Friday, with the race starting Saturday at 10:30 AM Eastern time.

The official Porsche media web site - www.press.porsche.com - will have qualifying information for the Sebring event for the Porsches entered, and will post stories and photos during and after the race. Porsche media web site users enter the word "carrera " for both user name and password, then choose "motorsports news" and "ALMS" to find the Sebring updates. The same information is posted for consumers on Porsche's main site www.porsche.com/motorsport (click on Porsche Motorsports North America and "race reports").

The official race notes and results for all the classes at the Sebring 12-hour can be found on the official site for the American Le Mans Series (www.americanlemans.com), where fans can follow the qualifying sessions and the race with live timing and scor ing on-line as well as American Le Mans Radio Web, a live radio broadcast of all qualifying sessions as well as the entire 12-hour race.

Other Web sites that will follow the 12 Hours of Sebring include Daily Sports Car (www.dailysportscar.com), The Race Site (www.theracesite.com), the Speed Channel site (www.speedTV.com), Motorsport.com (www.motorsport.com) , AutoSport magazine's site (www. autosport.com), AutoRacingDaily.com (www.autoracingdaily.com), Motorsport-news.com (www.motorsport-news.com), Crash.net (www.crash.net), racinglines.com (www.racinglines.com), EnduranceSportsCar.com (www.endurancesportscar.com), pitstop.com (www.pitstop. com); and AmericanRaceFan.com (www.americanracefan.com).

-porsche-

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Series ALMS
Teams Alex Job Racing