After looking at the two prototype classes in the past few days, now it’s the turn of the GT classes to be previewed with the iconic Sebring 12 Hours coming up very soon on Saturday. This GTLM class is arguably the most competitive class in the field, filled with factory run efforts piloted by some of the best GT drivers in the world. But can anyone distance themselves from the pack? Let’s look at the contenders in this class.
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller/Jan Magnussen
The #3 Corvette racing were merely inches away from being the winners of their intra-Corvette battle at the Rolex 24. After 24 hours of flat out racing this must of been heart breaking for the #3 team, but than can be confident that the Chevrolet Corvette is the stand out car in this class, based on their showing at Daytona.
This weekend however, is a very different prospect as the Sebring circuit is very different from Daytona. This airfield circuit favors aerodynamic grip over outright straight line speed, although this is unlikely to serious worry the Corvette racing team.
They have over a decade’s worth of experience of racing here, and will know every secret and tip which are needed to win. Predicting a winner is this class is impossible, but if you had to choose you would be hard pressed to find a better contender than the Corvette racing team.
#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Marcel Fassler/Tommy Milner
The #4 car ended it’s previous barren spell with the closest possible victory after 24 hours of racing at Daytona, and will be hoping to continue their good form this weekend.
No one in this class has more experience than this Corvette racing team, and both cars have the highest quality drivers in both cars. The team pulled off a huge fillip with the loaning of Audi factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler for these opening two long distance races. The #4 team has a slight advantage going into the weekend thanks to their victory last time out, although it’s unlikely that advantage will last long.
#25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Bill Auberlen/Bruno Spengler/Dirk Werner
The BMW team had a solid if not spectacular debut with their new M6 GTLM contender, with this #25 having the better of the reliability issues within the team. The car was a contender for most of the race but ultimately slipped away in the final hours.
For this weekend the team may be slightly concerned with the usual reliability issues associated with this hugely demanding race. They have plenty of testing miles with the much larger M6 however, and also have everything gained from racing at Daytona to help them. The M6 will likely suit Sebring better than Daytona, therefore this team may well spring a surprise and end up standing on the top step of the podium come Saturday evening.
#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Giancarlo Fisichella/Davide Rigon/Toni Vilander
Ferrari are another manufacture with a new car for this year, and the new 488 GTE showed plenty of potential at Daytona. The car lacked significant testing but was battling at the front of the class when reliability issues struck around halfway through and derailed their race.
The car was still able to finish however, and this amazing result is one they will look to improve on this weekend. With some more testing of the car the factory backed Risi team will be understanding this car better with every passing day, and this will bring them to the front of the class on a consistent basis this year.
With a driver line up of all Ferrari factory drivers, this team is a formidable proposition and it appears only reliability issues can hinder this team from being right in the mix for the class victory throughout the 12 Hours.
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais/Dirk Muller
The new factory Ford GT race programmed suffered a baptism of fire in Daytona, where both cars struggled with reliability issues at various points across the 24 hours. After extensive pre-race testing this was something the team hoped to avoid.
When running the car showed it has the pace to match their competitors. This is encouraging for everyone connected with the Chip Ganassi racing effort, and with further testing the team can feel more confident going into this weekend. The rough nature of the track will be a stern test for the new GT, and if this car can survive Sebring it can survive any race.
#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Scott Dixon/Richard Westbrook
The #67 car was similarly afflicted with reliability issues at Daytona, although this was no great surprise considering it was the cars debut. The ferocious GTLM pace would have also played a factor.
Everyone on this programme will have been working hard since Daytona to improve the car for this weekend’s race. It will be a very tough test for both cars, but with the experience and talent around this team don’t expect this team to be struggling for long. Once this car is fully sorted expect this team to be fighting right at the front of this highly competitive class.
#68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Alessandro Pier Guidi/Andrea Bertolini/Daniel Serra
The only non-factory effort in this class is this #68 Scuderia Corsa entry. The team ordered the new 488 GTE and stepped up from the GTD class for this year, and were impressive on their debut at Daytona.
The team were fighting for the class victory almost until the end, and put everyone in no doubt they can hold their own against the multitude of works entries. They have assembled a very good driver line up with two very experienced GT racers in Pier Guidi and Bertolini, who will looking to mix it at the front of the class once again this weekend.
#100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM: John Edwards/Kuno Wittmer/Lucas Luhr
The #100 suffered from a spectacular exit at the Rolex 24, when brake failure heading into turn one plunged the car into the wall and out of the race during the night. Until this moment the new M6 GTLM was in contention for victory, and this is potential is something the team will be hoping to fully realise this weekend.
On the driving front the team have assembled a factory line up mixed with youth and experience, and who will be very eager to make up for their Daytona retirement and earn some decent points towards their championship campaign. This team will be hoping for at least a class podium this weekend.
#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Kevin Estre/Nick Tandy
The US factory Porsche effort is their only works GT programme this year, ensuring they will be 100% focused on this GT effort. The team have quickly established a enviable record in the series, and for this team anything less than a class podium will be considered a disappointment.
Whilst a solid haul of points towards the championship will be a good result, in reality if the team are not fighting for the class victory there will be cause for concern for this team. The driver line up is top notch as always and with the experience Porsche has in sportscar racing they have everything needed to win this class this weekend.
#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Michael Christensen/Frederic Makowiecki
The #912 car is in a similar position to the #911 entry, in that the team has everything at it’s disposable to succeed in this GTLM class. The team have stand out factory driver Earl Bamber to support his two fellow factory racers.
The team were at the pre-race test and will feel confident with the reliability of their 911 on the notorious bumps of Sebring. Choosing which Porsche is most likely to be fighting for the win is impossible, either one or both could very well find themselves fighting for the class lead in the final hours come Saturday evening. Never discount a factory Porsche effort in sportscar racing.
That wraps up my preview of this GTLM class. The competition between the different manufactures is ferocious, and will provide an entertaining battle for the lead throughout the entire 12 Hours. Every car in this class has a realistic chance of victory, the winner will likely only be decided by good strategy and a dose of good luck in this race. It should be thrilling to watch.
As a final comment I would like to give thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their information and high quality photos which grace this article. For any information regarding the race I urge everyone to visit both sites. I would like to say a final thank you for reading this preview and any comments would be hugely appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.