Next up in my series previewing next weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours is the Prototype Challenge class. Whilst the class consists of spec Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet cars, the class provides great racing with the spec Oreca meaning the teams and drivers are very closely matched. Let’s take a look at the runners and riders for next weekend’s Sebring 12 Hour enduro.
#8 Martini Starworks Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Renger Van Der Zande/Mike Hedlund/Mirco Schultis
The Starworks motorsport teams Prototype Challenge class entry virtually mirrored their Daytona Prototype entry in that both cars showed impressive pace when running cleanly, although a series of issues hampered the team and ultimately led to the retirement of both cars. In the case of this #8 PC entry an alternator faliure forced the team out during the night.
For this weekend’s next round at Sebring the team will be hoping for a more comfortable run for the #8 entry as they look to recover from their first round retirement during the gruelling 12 Hours of Sebring. The team has retained the majority of it’s stellar driving line up from the Rolex 24 with the very fast Dutch driver Renger Van Der Zande leading the line up alongside the added pace from Mike Hedland, with the trio being completed by the very experienced German Mirco Schultis.
If this teams #8 Martini entry can remain reliable throughout the 12 Hours and avoid an on track drama’s, expect this team to be right at the front of the highly competitive Prototype Challenge class with Van Der Zande leading the charge for class honors.
#11 AutoMaxUSA RSR Racing Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Bruno Junqueira/Chris Cumming/Gustavo Menezes/TBA
The #11 RSR Racing entry was another Prototype Challenge car to face difficulty in the opening Rolex 24, the team forced to retire on the Sunday with an engine faliure. The team will therefore be hoping for much better this weekend at Sebring, although the 12 Hour race on the airfield circuit is another stern test for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship grid.
The RSR Racing has a wealth of American sportscar racing experience to count on, something even more important in a class where the car and engine package are the same for everyone, as is with the Prototype Challenge grid. On the driving front the team has former F3000 champion and Champ Car title contender Bruno Junqueira, a stunning signing for the RSR team.
Partnering him will be the young American driver Gustavo Menezes. He is climbing the single seater ladder in Europe and will be another fast driver for this team. The final piece of their line up is the amateur driver Chris Cumming, another fast Canadian who is a former PC class champion in the old American Le Mans Series. With the experience of the RSR Racing team and the very fast driver line up they have the team will be certain to challenge for class victory if they can have a clean run during the 12 Hours.
#16 Spongebob Movie BAR1 Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Martin Plowman/Tom Papadopoulos
The BAR1 Motorsport team were another team to show their pace during the Rolex 24, and will be hoping to continue this good start to the season this weekend at Sebring. Whilst things went well for the team on the track at Daytona, unfortunately the team were disqualified after the race for a drive time violation. Whilst this is rightly a huge blow for the promising young team, they can at least take solace from their strong run to pole position and a close second in class.
The team will be hoping to show similar pace this weekend, whilst keeping in line with the rules so they can keep their finishing position points. The team’s line up of very fast British drivers Johnny Mowlem and Martin Plowman are joined by the amateur driver Tom Papadopoulos, who is a good addition for the team. This line up is one of the best in the class and the team will be disappointed if they have a clean run during the 12 Hours and don’t come away with at least a podium place. Watch out for this team this weekend.
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Jerome Mee/James French/Conor Daly
The Performance Tech Motorsport team suffered a difficult Rolex 24 at Daytona, an accident eliminating them early on in the race. The team will therefore be looking for a smoother run in this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, although this race is another punishing event for everyone on the grid. The team will hope for a clean run throughout the race, something which should land the team a respectable result if they can achieve this.
On the driving front the team has the relatively experience James French to lead the line up alongside Jerome Mee, someone stepping up to the Prototype Challenge class of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship after competing for the last few years in the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights category. The team created a stir amongst the TUSC grid by announcing this week that the very fast young American Conor Daly will complete their line up for this weekend. Daly is inexperienced with sportscar racing although should impress at his first attempt. With this line up the team can definitely challenge for a class podium.
#52 Cuttwood PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Tom Kimber-Smith/Mike Guasch/Andrew Palmer
For the PR1/Mathiasen team started the year in the perfect manner with class victory in the opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, a result the team will hope to repeat at this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours. The team got lucky in some cases during the race at Daytona, a key ingredient to all long distance sportscar victories. Whilst every team hopes before the start of a faultless run during the race, for this team this applies even more as they know if they can stay reliable they will be fighting to class victory come the end of the 12 Hours.
The team have retained their Daytona driver line up, with the very experienced and fast Brit Tom Kimber-Smith now partnering team mate Mike Guasch full time after Andrew Novich stepped down from the team after Daytona to focus on his college studies. Guasch is a very experienced a solid amateur driver to anchor the line up and will provide consistent stints whilst staying out of trouble, vital to any sportscar victory. Completing the teams line up is the fast young American Andrew Palmer, who steps up to the PC class of the Tudor series for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races. Palmer impressed in the competitive Pirelli World Challenge series last year,finishing 5th overall, and will look to continue his upward career momentum with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport. Coming off a Rolex 24 class victory, this team goes into Sebring as one of the favourites for class honours.
#54 FlexBox CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/James Gue
This CORE Autosport team have quickly established themselves as the leading team in the competitive Prototype Challenge class, as they dominated last year to taking the class title with numerous wins including at the Rolex 24. The team looked set for another class victory at Daytona this year, until a late accident in the final hour forced the team to settle for second in class. This team is used to winning in PC and will look to return to winning ways this weekend at Sebring. The team is highly professional and will surely go into the race as the favourite for PC class honours come the end of the 12 Hours.
The team’s driver line up looks solid on paper, although this underestimates the speed of Colin Braun or the steady and reliable team owner Jon Bennett and James Gue. Both can provide stints with a high average speed across their stint, whilst also remaining consistent and keeping out of any on track trouble that is inevitable with grids of over 40 cars. This team will go into the race as favourites for PC class honours and will surely be disappointed with anything but a class win.
#85 La Moderna JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Mikhail Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Rusty Mitchell/Gerry Kraut
The JDC/Miller Motorsport team will go into Sebring this weekend hoping to build on their class podium in Januaries Rolex 24 at Daytona. The team will have been happy to complete the podium in third although this was tinged slightly with the news that it only came about because of the exclusion of the #16 BAR1 Motorsport car.
The team have lost some of their star name drivers from the Rolex 24, although the line up they have retained is a very respectable one and can compete for competitive class honours in the race if they can avoid any major dramas. Mikhail Goikhberg has stepped up to the Tudor United Sportscar Championship this year after winning the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights series last year. This shows his pace and he will likely lead the teams line up throughout the race. Rusty Mitchell is another fast driver from this line up, and with plenty of sportscar racing experience he will help the team massively during the race. Chris Miller and Gerry Kraut will both be a safe pair of hands during the race and will hopefully keep the team out of trouble so that Mitchell and Goikhberg can push the team towards a top placing. If this team can stay out of trouble, they could very well spring a surprise come the end of the race. Watch out for this JDC/Miler entry and discount them at your peril.
That concludes my preview of the Prototype Challenge class ahead of this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours. If I had to chose one car to put money on it would be the #54 CORE Autosport entry, although the likes of the #16 BAR1 Motorsport, #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport and #85 JDC/Miller Motorsport cars will all be fighting at the front for class victory. As with every class in the highly competitive Tudor United Sportscar Championship, it’s impossible to predict a clear favourite for victory, which only means the action on track will be even more exciting come Saturday. A final comment I have to make is a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality images in this preview. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for the latest news and photos from across the motorsport world. Also feel free to comment any will be appreciated both good and bad. Enjoy!