Thursday, March 18, 2010

ALMS for 2010 Starting with 12-Hour of Sebring

Formulated from an World War 2-era US Army Air Force B-17 training base, 3.7 mile Sebring International Raceway on southern Florida is the holy grail site of sports car racing in the United States. As a race which has run once around the clock 57 times, past winners of America's most prestigious sports car event includes racing legends Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Sir Sterling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. Coinciding with the reputed all-stars of auto racing, equally as memorable is the cars which have triumphed after the 12 hour distance with names plates Ferrari, Porsche and most recently Audi being sprayed with the champagne of victory. For the 12th full season, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) will act as the sanctioning body to the 2010 12-Hour of Sebring supplying a 34 car field of International sports car contenders.

The fastest P1 class group only consists of 5 cars for the 2010 Sebring 12-hour race with two of those vehicles visiting from across the Atlantic Ocean. Two Peugeot 908 HDI FAP prototype cars return for the 3rd time in order to capture the win in the 12-Hour of Sebring (the last remaining sports car racing crown jewel left for the Peugeot 908 to capture). In Wednesday testing and Thursday practice both Peugeot 908s, the #07 and #08, have been easily finding top speed around the Sebring track.

For the first time since 1998, an Audi will not be present among prototype contender at the 2010 12-Hour of Sebring. Winning the event 9 of the past 10 times, Audi Sport has decided to further condense their 2010 race schedule for the Audi R15 prototype race car to just the 24-hour of Le Mans in France and the Petit Le Mans race to run September in Road Atlanta.

Left with the chore of providing a fight against the powerhouse French sports cars will be 4 Lolas (running Mazda, Aston Martin and Judd V-10 powerplants), a Porsche RS Spyder, as well as a Honda-powered ARX-01C car campaigned by 2009 ALMS overall champion team Patron Highcroft Racing. On Thursday, the #8 Lola-Judd of Drayson Racing ran 6/10th of a second slower than the fastest Peugeot but has a serious chance at victory with a strong driving pairing which includes long-time Audi prototype driver Emanuelle Pirro. While three prototype cars are registered as smaller-engined P2 entries, increased air restrictors sizes will allow the P2 cars to favourably compete for overall victory through 2010.

The 2010 12-Hour of Sebring, a new class of prototype race cars will be debuting with a cost-friendlier model for ALMS racing. The Le Mans Prototype Challenge class features common race chassis from Oreca, engine power from a LS3 Chevrolet V8 and a Xtrac transmission. In this first competition for the class will consist of a 6 Oreca-Chevy racers. In practice, these spec prototype racers performed best laps 10 seconds slower than the lead Peugeot.

Two classes will also be running under the GT banner for the Sebring 12 hour race. In GT2, a rich flavour of cars features the two-car General Motors factory-support Chevrolet Corvette C6Rs , the Rahal-Letterman BMW M3s, and a four-car Ferrari 430 GT grouping consisting of 2 cars each from Risi Competizione as well as the new Scott Sharp-owned Extreme Speed Motorsports along with highly competitive Porsche 911 RSRs. Making its first Sebring start in GT2, the Jaguar XJRS will be put through its paces.

In the first practice for the GT2 cars, the BMW M3s had an edge over the Extreme Speed Motorsport Ferrari. However, with the top-6 GT2 teams separated by 0.7 seconds, the GT2 battle is likely to be the hottest contended category through qualifying on Friday and through Saturday's main event.

Much like the newly-devised Prototype Challenge class, the GT Challenge category has also been an attempt by the American Le Mans Series to increase the overall field with a less-expensive class of vehicle. The GT Challenge or GTC is exclusive to Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racers this year but talks surround the possible expansion as Audi has expressed interest for the 2011 season.

With Qualifying set to run Friday, the 58th annual 12-Hour of Sebring coverage is set to start on television at Saturday morning 10 AM on Speed. Announced today, XM Radio subscribers will also be able to follow the 12-Hour of Sebring as well as the entire ALMS schedule on Channel 245. Sirius satellite radio customers can listen on channel 127 .

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