DEPTH, QUALITY HIGHLIGHT 2008 GT CLASSES It's appropriate that the 10th season of the American Le Mans Series begins with maybe the strongest contingent of GT cars ever present on a single Series grid. Looking at the list of manufacturers in GT1...
DEPTH, QUALITY HIGHLIGHT 2008 GT CLASSES
It's appropriate that the 10th season of the American Le Mans Series begins with maybe the strongest contingent of GT cars ever present on a single Series grid. Looking at the list of manufacturers in GT1 and GT2 for next week's 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, it would be hard to argue against it.
Aston Martin, Corvette, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Panoz and Porsche all will have representation at Sebring. Two of those marques - Aston Martin and Corvette - will have entries in both production-based classes for the full 2008 season. Is this as good as it gets? Maybe not. BMW has said it will enter two M3s for the 2009 season.
But regardless of that, this year's roster of GT-class entries is indeed mouth-watering. On the competition side, the Corvette-Aston Martin rivalry will crank up again for the full season. Bell Motorsports will field an Aston Martin DBR9 against Corvette Racing's two factory Corvette C6.Rs. The DBR9 was the last car to beat the Corvettes - at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2006 - and team owner Jim Bell has had more than his fair share of fortune in GT1 over the years.
"We enjoyed competing in the American Le Mans Series with the ACEMCO Saleen S7R against Corvette Racing in 2005 and at Le Mans in 2006," Bell said. "I think we have developed a mutual, competitive respect for one another, and having the chance to rekindle that in 2008 makes me proud and eager with anticipation. We hope we can make things interesting this year for the Corvettes and especially the fans. They have clamored for competition, and we intend to give it our best shot."
The Corvette-Aston Martin rivalry also will extend to GT2. Among the new entries for 2008 are a Corvette C6 from Lou Gigliotti's LG Motorsports and an Aston Martin Vantage V8 from Drayson-Barwell Motorsport. The British team will field an Aston Martin DBRS9 until it takes delivery of its new car. Drayson-Barwell also features former British Minister of Defense Lord Drayson as a team principal and driver. He resigned his spot in Great Britain's House of Lords to compete in the 2008 American Le Mans Series season with an eye toward driving at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Drayson-Barwell also will introduce cellulosic E85 as its fuel of choice at Sebring and for the full 2008 season.
The other new class entry is the Ford GT-R with one being entered at Sebring by second-year team Robertson Racing. Team owners Dave and Andrea Robertson ran three races last year in a Panoz Esperante GTLM before deciding to cast their lot with the Ford GT-R, built by Doran Enterprises.
The new entries will have to contend with a strong group of returning entries representing a collection of sports car racing's most renowned manufacturers. It all starts with defending class champion Risi Competizione and its two Ferrari F430 GTs. Mika Salo and Jaime Melo won eight times in class last year including a 0.202-second win at Sebring with third driver Johnny Mowlem over the Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Jorg Bergmeister, Johannes van Overbeek and Marc Lieb. The finish recently was voted as the Series' Greatest Moment by fans.
The Flying Lizard squad will take a step up in 2008 with a trio of updated Porsches aimed at capturing its first GT2 championship as well as bringing the manufacturer title back to the German marque. Six Porsches are entered for Sebring: three from Flying Lizard Motorsports and one each for Farnbacher Loles Racing, Vici Racing and Autoracing Club Bratslavia.
"We're pleased with the test results so far," said Flying Lizard crew chief and co-technical director Tommy Sadler. "With the first run of a new car, there are always some challenges. Having track time prior to the Sebring race to do a shakedown and let the drivers get used to the cars will definitely help us keep our focus on setup during race week."
Ferrari counters with five F430 GTs. In addition to the two for Risi Competizione (which will enter one with Krohn Racing), Tafel Racing will field two Ferraris with a single entry from Corsa Motorsports.
For the second consecutive season, Tom Milner's Prototype Technology group will represent Panoz with a Panoz Esperante GTLM. Panoz was the GT2 winner at Sebring in 2006, the same year in which it also won at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Joel Feinberg's Primetime Race Group will enter the full-season fray with its Dodge Viper Competition Coupe; the team entered three races in 2007 as a preparation for its full-season assault in 2008.
The 2008 American Le Mans Series season opens with the 56th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, March 15. The race will start at 10 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live by SPEED, which will begin its coverage at 9:30 a.m. MotorsTV, Fox Latin America and Greenlight Television will provide international coverage as well. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA's Live Timing & Scoring will be available at americanlemans.com.