Sebring 12 Hours
SEBRING ILMC OPENER TURNING INTO FOUR-WAY BATTLE
Halfway into the 12-hour endurance race at Sebring raceway in Florida, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup is turning into a four-way battle. Not only are the favourite Audi and Peugeot works cars fighting for the lead, but also the Oreca Matmut Peugeot and the Highcroft Honda had their moment to lead this classic race. The first round of the ILMC series has already had its share of drama in all classes. The large crowd not only saw close battles in the LMP1 class, but also in the popular GT class. In that category too there were many lead changes in the first half of the race.
Run in perfect Florida weather, the 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring soon became a close fight between the Audis and the Peugeots. However within the first hours the number one Audi, with Rockenfeller behind the wheel, suffered from two punctures. Last year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner lost many laps, but after repairs was able to continue. Then there was more drama for the German manufacturer when Peugeot driver Marc Gene ran into Dindo Capello while braking going into Turn 17. Both cars were slightly damaged and had to go to the garage for repairs. The overall lead became a battle between the Peugeot of Sarrazin – who started from the pole – and the American Highcroft Honda. Surprisingly the American car, with an international trio of drivers, showed a lot of speed. The Honda engine is fuelled by E-10 gasoline, versus the Diesel fuel used by the Peugeots. The overall battle became more intense when the Oreca Matmut Peugeot, a works car from last year, took the lead for a while. At exactly halfway through the race, the 70,000-strong race crowd around the historic raceway was delighted to find Franck Montagny’s Peugeot in the lead. He had a 23-second advantage over the Highcroft Honda with Marino Franchitti – the younger brother of Indy 500 champion Dario – behind the wheel at the time.
In the LMP2 class, the Honda Lola Coupe had a three-lap margin over the second placed spider version while early class leader Oreca Nissan, retired with gearbox problems after 87 laps. The popular GT Class had its share of action as well with the Aston Martin out after only five laps and the exotic Lamborghini only completing ten laps. After two hours of racing, American driver Patrick Long slid his Porsche into the Corvette driven by Jan Magnussen. Both cars spun coming out of Turn 17 and in trying to avoid these cars, Johannes van Overbeek crashed his new Ferrari F458 Italia into the tyrewall. Although there were no casualties, damage was severe. At the halfway mark the other Ferrari F458 Italia, belonging to Risi Competizione, had a narrow lead over the BMW’s. Five GT cars, representing four manufacturers, are running in the same lap, proof of the true excitement in this class.
To promote ‘green racing’ the American Le Mans Series has created a special trophy in conjunction with tyre manufacturer Michelin: the Michelin Green X Challenge. The winner will be the team that is fastest, cleanest and most efficient. This program is now running in its third year and has seen 12 different cars from 14 different teams and nine manufacturers as previous winners. Winners of the 2011 Challenge will receive automatic invitations for entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012.
The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, of which Rolex is a proud supporter, will have its second race on May 8 at the Belgian Spa-Francorchamps racetrack. In total there will be seven races in the cup, including the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race in June.