A look at the stories of the 2014 12 Hour of Sebring
Sebring might be one of the most difficult race courses in the world.
The 3.74-mile former airport road circuit takes no prisoners. With less than three hours into the 62nd Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, that’s been the nature of the race. We’ve had cars beached after running off a turn into the sand-filled runoffs, we’ve had a massive fire engulf a race car, there have been accidents galore with this 63-car field trying to handle one another and the elements of dirt, sand, bumps and debris.
You name it; it’s happened.
And to no one has “it” happened more than the Risi Competizione team, Although they had a good testing day on Thursday, even leading the first session in the factory-backed GTLM class of the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, the captains of calamity had traffic issues in the first Friday practice that caused them to nearly miss qualifying. As it was, they did qualify, but certainly not to the expectations of drivers Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Matteo Malucelli, the latter fully recovered from being rammed by Memo Gidley’s No. 99 Daytona Prototype Corvette DP during the early hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
They’re not the only ones to have problems. The No. 33 SRT Viper GT3-R, a Viper racing version introduced last year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, erupted in flames between turns 6 and 7 only half an hour into the race after its first service. The team isn’t exactly sure what happened to the GTD entry, but suffice to say, it won’t be seeing action again, unless the tub itself is revivable.
The new Honda DP, which uses a third-generation Riley chassis for the HR35TT engine that’s based on the same engine platform A the HR28TT powering the two ESM ARX-03b LMP2 entries, turned its first competitive laps when the green flags flew just after 10:15 EDT this morning. The engine has been to NASCAR’s dyno for its homologation and participated in last week’s pre-race test, but it’s having overheating problems related to its installation.
As we know, Honda has ties to Wirth Research, who are technical partners with the firm. Together, they’ve designed and produced all the ARX sports car chassis and bodies. Honda also worked carefully with Dallara on the installation of its engines in order to secure proper cooling. Here they are working with a basic DP chassis that is available to all comers that wish to use it. So there have been problems as there are no cooling ducts on the basic Riley tub that work with the Honda engine. The Starworks entry’s crew have gone so far as to weld two radiators together in order to help the engine, which has been exceeding its temperature range since it began running. On the bright side, Honda have gained about five seconds/lap since last Saturday…
On the other hand, the Ford/Riley cars from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates are doing very well. After a challenging Daytona race, they’ve come back with a vengeance. Mike Hull reminded me that it takes quite a while to understand a new car and engine combination; the team ran a normally aspirated Dinan BMW last year in its Riley chassis and switched to a Ford EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6, and certainly, each engine has its own attributes and fitment concerns. It’s taken this team a while to understand what the car needs and now the No. 01 is in 2nd place to the No. 90 Corvette DP.
Of course there’s still plenty of time remaining in this race, more than four hours, in fact. What’s good to see, so far, is that IMSA’s desire for parity appears to be working in the Prototype class, comprised of Daytona Prototype coupes and open LMP2 racers. As Richard Westbrook in the leading car put it, “There is so much traffic that the No. 1 priority is to stay out of trouble.” With so many cars on such a difficult and unforgiving track, what in the world will happen next?