Sebring: Season opener preview

Record Crowd Expected to See Historic Battles in Every Class at Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 19 Sebring, Fla. - With ticket sales at an all-time record pace, the American Le Mans Series rolls into its seventh season this weekend ...

Record Crowd Expected to See Historic Battles in Every Class at Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 19

Sebring, Fla. - With ticket sales at an all-time record pace, the American Le Mans Series rolls into its seventh season this weekend at Sebring International Raceway for the 53rd running of the Mobil 1Twelve Hours of Sebring. The historic race will be telecast live on SPEED Channel from 10:30 a.m Saturday, March 19 until 11:00 p.m. EST.

More than 100,000 are expected during race week, which has developed many monikers over the years including "Spring Brake," the "Woodstock of Motorsports" and "The Super Bowl of American Sports Car Racing." This year's field of the finest drivers, manufacturers and race cars from around the world is not expected to disappoint. With no lack for key matchups and challenges in each of the four classes, fans should witness some of the most intense battles seen in years at the storied race course.

In the LMP1 class, there is a two-team Champion Audi effort in its Audi R8s that is hoping to find the top spot of the podium after finishing as bridesmaid the last four Sebrings. With returning series champions JJ Lehto, Marco Werner and third driver Tom Kristensen piloting the No. 1 Audi, the chances have never been better. But the No. 2 Champion Audi, with Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Allan McNish has something to prove as well. Biela is going for a Sebring record fourth overall championship, and McNish won here last year in an Audi UK entry. Dyson Racing will provide the stiffest test to Champion Audi with a pair of Lola EX257s. James Weaver, Butch Leitzinger and Andy Wallace will pilot the No. 16 while Chris Dyson and Guy Smith guide the two-man No. 20 team.

The LMP2 class features returning Sebring and series champion Miracle Motorsports with new drivers Chris McMurry and Jeff Bucknum joining LMP2 ALMS Champion, Ian James to make their maiden run on Kumho tires, a new edition to the ALMS tire manufacturer battle this season. Miracle's stiffest test is likely to come from a two-car Telesis Intersport Racing team. John Field, Duncan Dayton and Gregor Fisken will push the pedal for the No. 37 Lola B05/40 with John's son Clint Field, Gareth Ridpath and Liz Haliday piloting the No. 30 Dyson.

The GT1 class may be the most competitive and closely watched of all the classes. Corvette Racing, which won all nine races a year ago (an ALMS record), marches out its new C6-R race car for the first official time here at Sebring. Returning ALMS champions Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell will pilot the No. 3 Corvette C6-R with third driver Max Papis while Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen take the helm of the No. 4 Corvette C6-R. A challenge looms however from a much-improved Saleen by ACEMCO Motorsports, a two-car factory effort by Aston Martin Racing and the emergence of Maserati Corse in its MC12.

Driving the Saleen S7R for ACEMCO is Terry Borcheller, Johnny Mowlem and Ralf Kelleners. Aston Martin's DBR9s have two teams with pedigree credentials. David Brabham, Darren Turner and Stephane Ortelli will pilot the No. 57 Aston Martin while Peter Kox, Pedro Lamy and Stephane Ortelli drive the No. 58 Aston Martin DBR9. Maserati Corse is guided by international racing stars Andrea Bertolini, Fabrio Babini and Fabrizio De Simone. Not to be overlooked is Care Racing-Labre's Ferrari 550 Maranello with Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, Christophe Bouchut and Fabricio Gollin behind the wheel.

The GT2 field is the largest of the four classes and is not lacking in talent or depth. Reigning class champion Alex Job Racing enters both a factory and privateer team to make a run at yet another championship in its Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Sasscha Maassen are behind the wheel of the No. 23 factory effort while Randy Pobst, Ian Baas and Brian Cunningham guide the privateer race car. The most serious challenges to AJR are likely to come from series runners-up Flying Lizard Motorsports, 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans GT2 class winners Petersen/White Lightning Racing and a revamped Panoz Motor Sports.

The surprising Flying Lizards sport a two-team Porsche 911 GT3 RSR privateer effort with Johannes van Overbeek, Jon Fogarty and Darren Law guiding its No. 45 Porsche and Lonnie Pechnik, Seth Neiman and David Murry driving the Flying Lizard No. 44. Petersen/White Lightning Racing will take to the Sebring course in its No. 31 Porsche GT3 RSR with Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister and four-time Sebring winner Lucas Luhr. Team Panoz (a.k.a. - Panoz Motor Sports) presents perhaps the most formidable test to the Porsches with a two-team factory effort of the Panoz Esperante GTLM. Driving the No. 50 Panoz is Bill Auberlen, Robin Liddell and Formula One and ALMS veteran Emanuele Naspetti. Young guns Gunnar Jeannette, Bryan Sellers and Scott Maxwell will pilot the No. 51.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Duncan Dayton , David Brabham , Tom Kristensen , Jan Magnussen , Allan McNish , Guy Smith , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Ralf Kelleners , Max Papis , Jon Fogarty , Darren Turner , Ron Fellows , Pedro Lamy , Bill Auberlen , Stéphane Ortelli , Randy Pobst , Lucas Luhr , Scott Maxwell , Ian James , Terry Borcheller , Oliver Gavin , Darren Law , Jörg Bergmeister , Peter Kox , Sébastien Bourdais , Gunnar Jeannette , Timo Bernhard , Patrick Long , Marco Werner , Johannes van Overbeek , Christophe Bouchut , Clint Field , Chris McMurry , Jeff Bucknum , Brian Cunningham , Emanuele Naspetti , Johnny Mowlem , Romain Dumas , Gregor Fisken , Seth Neiman , Lonnie Pechnik , Bryan Sellers , Olivier Beretta , Andrea Bertolini , Gareth Ridpath , Alex Job , Chris Dyson , Emanuele Pirro
Teams Corvette Racing , Dyson Racing , Alex Job Racing