NEW CARS IN NEW PLACES HIGHLIGHT PROTOTYPE STORYLINES AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING Sebring, Fla. - Years from now, sports car fans around the world may look back at the 54th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and remember that...
NEW CARS IN NEW PLACES HIGHLIGHT PROTOTYPE STORYLINES AT MOBIL 1 TWELVE HOURS OF SEBRING
Sebring, Fla. - Years from now, sports car fans around the world may look back at the 54th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and remember that it all started here.
The annual 12-hour endurance classic has all the ingredients to go down as one of the most memorable races certainly in the history of the American Le Mans Series, but also in professional sports car annals. It all starts with the Series' two prototype classes, both of which have entries that stand to rewrite history. Will they? The world will find out just after 10:30 p.m. Saturday night.
LMP1: New cars galore The new season sees all American Le Mans Series' LMP1 teams in different cars than at the Monterey Sports Car Championships in October.
The most talked about, of course, is Audi Sport North America's two diesel-powered Audi R10s. Announced in December, Audi is attempting to become the first manufacturer to win the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans with a diesel-powered car. Even more promising for North American fans is that two R10s will compete in the second half of the American Le Mans Series season, starting with the Grand Prix of Utah in July.
The R10 is powered by a 5.5-liter, V12 diesel engine that produces more than 650 hp and 1,100 Newton-meters of torque. It is the most powerful diesel engine in the world, said Ulrich Baretzky, head of engine technology at Audi Sport. The diesel package will provide better fuel economy and a longer life, key qualities at races as demanding as Sebring and Le Mans. The R10 succeeds the Audi R8, which won 61 times in 77 races worldwide including 47 in the American Le Mans Series.
"It's a completely new challenge, especially as nobody has ever attempted to build such a powerful diesel racing-engine," said Emanuele Pirro, who won the 2005 class championship with teammate Frank Biela. "It seems like only yesterday that we started the R8 adventure, which actually finished up being much more successful that any of us ever dreamed. I hope that we'll have just as much success with the R10. And as with the R8 I'd again like to be the first driver to win with this car."
Pirro and Biela will team with Marco Werner at Sebring and Le Mans in the No. 1 R10. Seven-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello will drive the No. 2 car.
Despite the hype, Series regulars aren't backing down from Audi. Leading the charge is Dyson Racing, armed with two AER-powered Lola B06/10s. The new prototype made its debut at the American Le Mans Series Winter Test in January and also has tested at Road Atlanta.
"A beautiful piece of engineering. Lola and AER have done us proud," said James Weaver, driver of the No. 16 entry with Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace. "It is a quality piece of equipment. Compared to the old car, it changes directions much better, it is easier to drive, the aerodynamics are much more benign and it is not as sensitive to ride height as the old car. Straight out of the box, it is easier to drive and doesn't have any vices. The engine makes good power at the top end and the car is good over the bumps."
Aside from the new chassis from Lola, the two Dyson cars will feature a 3.8-liter, twin turbo V8 powerplant from AER. The new engine was designed from a clean sheet of paper specifically for the ACO's LMP1 regulations. Designed with the focus on durability, the engine is more compact than any existing V8 in the series.
During a recent test at Road Atlanta with the No. 20 car of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, chassis and engine were working together in harmony with laps near 1:12 mark in a shakedown of the No. 20 car. The New York team has proven up to the task of challenging Audi with three overall wins the past two seasons with their Lola EX257-AERs.
Speaking of which, those cars will be back in the Series - albeit in different hands. Autocon Motorsports and Highcroft Racing each bought one Lola from Dyson Racing and will campaign them during the full Series season, including Sebring.
Leitzinger assisted Autocon during its first test in California last month, and Andy Wallace was with the Highcroft team at Sebring offering advice and laps.
"Hearing Butch's insights on what the car likes and wants was super-beneficial," said Autocon's Chris McMurry, who's moving up to P1 after finishing second in P2 last year for Miracle Motorsports. "We all picked up some useful pointers we'll use all season. As everyone knows, he's a great personality and consummate pro."
McMurry will team with Bryan Willman and team owner Michael Lewis at Sebring. The trio will rotate rides throughout the season.
Duncan Dayton's Highcroft Racing is making its American Le Mans Series debut with a car that has proved its worth in the past. Dayton, Rick Knoop and Gregor Fisken will drive Dyson Racing's former No. 16 car, which won twice last year in the American Le Mans Series.
"Purchasing the Dyson car was an opportunity to jump-start the team with a proven package, and we're hoping to get a new P1 car for 2007," Dayton said of his plans going forward. "We plan to continue where Dyson left off. There are some new developments (from AER) that will allow us to be even more competitive."
LMP2: Wide open for 12 hours Both the defending Series and Sebring champions are back for 2006, but there is a long list of challengers that is headed by two of the most successful and storied names in sports car racing: Roger Penske and Porsche.
Sebring marks the full season debut of Penske Racing and its two Porsche RS Spyders, the first Porsche prototypes since 1998. The team scored a class victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last year and features a lineup that rivals any other in the Series.
Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, winners at Laguna Seca, will team with Emmanuel Collard in the No. 6 car. Former Alex Job Racing standouts Timo Bernard and Romain Dumas, who won four times with AJR in 2005, will team with American Porsche factory driver Patrick Long in the No. 7 entry.
"Our organization is really looking forward to competing with the RS Spyder once again," said Tim Cindric, President, Penske Performance, Inc. "Our test race in Laguna Seca provided invaluable experience for our Team as we continue on our learning curve in the Series.
"We have continued to work toward our goals of combining the efforts of two successful racing cultures to create a winning combination with a clean sheet of paper design," he added. "The two-car effort will add another dimension to our race weekend regiment and we hope the return of Penske and Porsche to Sebring will be as rewarding for the fans as it has been for our Team."
Intersport Racing, however, will have something to say about that. The Ohio-based team won five times last season in its new Lola B05/40-AER as driver Clint Field won his first drivers championship. For Sebring, he'll be back with father Jon Field and Liz Halliday in the No. 37 entry.
The Intersport team was only slightly off the pace of the Porsches at the American Le Mans Series' Winter Test, setting the stage for what should be a classic 12-hour fight.
"We're definitely going to want to beat them more because they are such a prestigious team," Clint Field said. "In other series, that's the team to beat. It'll be the same in the American Le Mans Series. We always try our hardest, but it will be more fun now because we have a benchmark to go up against."
Miracle Motorsports and B-K Motorsports are two teams that look to make an impact in 2006 after winning races last year. Miracle has won the last two Sebring races including a win last year in the team's Courage C65 and the first with KUMHO tires. Miracle is back, this time with James Gue and Andy Lally joining team owner John Macaluso.
B-K Motorsports brings its Mazda-powered Courage C65 to Sebring for the first time. The team announced at last year's 12 Hours that it would bring Mazda back to the highest level of professional sports car racing in North America. The team placed second at its debut at Road Atlanta in April, then posted its first class victory at Mid-Ohio. Guy Cosmo, Jamie Bach and Raphael Matos will share duties at Sebring.
Other class entries this week include Barazi Epsilon's AER-powered Courage C65. Binnie Motorsports' Lola B05/40 will race for the first time with its new Zytek engine.