While having served as the kickoff to the American Le Mans Series season for the last decade-and-a-half, America’s oldest endurance race takes on new heights this year by playing host to the second round of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
The 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Live! FOX Sports 1), sees new and returning manufacturers, teams and drivers to the famed 3.7-mile Florida airfield circuit, including one of the largest fields of GT machinery for the once-around-the-clock endurance classic.
Eleven GT Le Mans cars and 27 GT Daytona entries are set to do battle on Saturday, with most picking up where they left off on the high banks of Daytona, following the historic, yet controversial first round of the TUDOR Championship.
Porsche North America’s new factory GT program got off to a flying start at the Rolex 24, with the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet scoring a dominant win in the GTLM ranks.
The CORE autosport-run works squad head into this weekend as favorites again after topping the time charts in testing at Sebring last month, but will face an increasingly competitive field of ACO GTE-spec machinery, including factory entries from BMW, SRT and Corvette.
While not having been the quickest car at Daytona, BMW’s Z4 GT3 was among the most reliable following an attrition-filled race. The No. 55 BMW Team RLL entry of Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx, Joey Hand and Maxime Martin finished a surprise second in class at Daytona, while a double-podium finish could have been in the cards if for not late-race suspension issues for the team’s No. 56 entry.
Trouble also hit both of the brand-new Corvette C7.Rs at Daytona after showing impressive pace. The defending class champions, along with arch rivals SRT Motorsports are likely to be in the mix of things as well. Driver lineups for both Corvette and SRT remain unchanged from the season-opener, which includes IndyCar stars Ryan Briscoe (No. 3 Corvette) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 91 Viper GTS-R).
Team Falken Tire makes its series debut after skipping Daytona. The Petit Le Mans class-winning squad fields the first customer Porsche 911 RSR in the world for drivers Bryan Sellers and Porsche works drivers Wolf Henzler and Marco Holzer, in what could be a dark horse pick, depending on how things play out.
Ferrari is also represented in GTLM with two entries, including the return of Risi Competizione following a devastating accident at Daytona that destroyed the Houston-based squad’s F458 Italia. Matteo Malucelli is back at the wheel and joined by Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni.
Krohn Racing’s Ferrari completes the 11-car entry, and the only car unlikely to contend for top class honors in the manufacturer-heavy category.
The GTD field, strangely enough, is without the Rolex 24 class-winning team, as Level 5 Motorsports withdrew its two-car Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 effort from the TUDOR Championship late last month partly due to inconsistencies in the rules and officiating.
The No. 555 Ferrari of Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal , Alessandro Pier Guidi and team owner Scott Tucker was initially penalized for late-race avoidable contact with the No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 LMS and initially lost the win until a reversal from IMSA some four hours after the race.
As a result of Level 5’s withdrawal, Sweedler and Bell have moved their effort over to AIM Autosport for the rest of the season, which sees the former GRAND-AM champions resurrecting its team after being lack of funding initially forced them out of the TUDOR Championship.
The car will have a familiar look to it this weekend, with it remaining in Level 5’s black and silver livery and carrying the No. 555. AIM will switch to its own Ferrari chassis and car number beginning with the next GTD round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May.
Other changes in the GTD class for Sebring include the third-place finishing Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America being run under the Rum Bum Racing banner with the addition of brothers Matt and Hugh Plumb to the driving force with Jan Heylen and 18-year-old Madison Snow.
Marco Seefried, meanwhile, moves to the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche with Andy Lally and John Potter with rising Swiss Porsche star Philipp Frommenwiler set to make his debut in the No. 22 Alex Job Racing entry, which celebrates the team’s 25th anniversary tackling the 12-hour classic.
Among the other expected favorites in class is the Daytona runner-up finishing No. 45 Flying Lizard Audi of Spencer Pumpelly, Nelson Canache, Markus Winkelhock and Tim Pappas and the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, which sees its newly appointed sporting director, Silver-rated Stefan Johansson, join the driving force alongside Jeff Westphal, Lorenzo Case and 2013 Rolex Series GT champion Alessandro Balzan.
Each GTD car is required to have two Bronze or Silver-rated drivers in their lineup, with only one Gold or Platinum pilot allowed in three-driver lineups. A second professional driver, however, is permitted in the case of squads with four drivers.