The latest installment of my series previewing this weekend’s iconic Sebring 12 Hours, the second round of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, previews the highly competitive GT Le Mans class for GTE Le Mans spec race cars. This class is swarming with big budget factory teams and all star casts of drivers, something which makes this class arguably the most competitive on the TUSC grid. Predicting a winner is almost impossible but here’s my best shot at it!
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Ryan Briscoe
This Corvette Racing entry are coming into Sebring full of confidence after an impressive class win at the opening Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona. The Corvette crew won out against a plethora of fellow factory entries, eventually finishing an outstanding 4th overall, which just shows how high the quality is in this GTLM class.
Corvette Racing have been a powerhouse in American GT racing for over a decade now and what their Pratt & Miller team doesn’t know about long distance sportscar racing, frankly isn’t worth knowing. This combination of experience and high quality is reflected in their driver line-up too.
Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are the full season drivers, both highly experienced and very fast Corvette drivers. Indycar star Ryan Briscoe completes the line up, bringing again both speed and experience with the Corvette C7.R race car. Corvette racing can never be discounted in GT racing, and this time out the team and this #3 entry will be hoping for yet another class win for Corvette Racing this weekend.
#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Simon Pagenaud
The Corvette Racing team started the year meaning business with an impressive run to first and third on the GTLM podium at the opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, unfortunately for the #4 crew it was their Corvette C7.R that had to complete the podium in third. Whilst this is still an amazing result, for a team used to winning third just won’t quite cut it for them. Therefore watch out for this #4 entry this weekend as the team look to reclaim the top step on the GTLM class podium come the end of the 12 Hours.
The Sebring 12 Hours is renowned for being a very difficult race to master, with some calling it the toughest sportscar race in the world. The #4 crew will be feeling up for the challenge however with the might of Corvette Racing behind them and a stellar driving cast.
Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner are both seriously quick and experienced GT drivers for Corvette Racing, whilst the hiring of Indycar rising star Simon Pagenaud for the long distance races was an inspired move by the team. Whilst he lacks GT experience, Pagenaud is seriously quick and could spring a surprise this weekend. Whilst the team will be looking for a good result to collect a haul of points for the championship, they will also be sniffing for victory should they have a clean run in the race.
#17 Team Falken Tires Porsche 911 991 RSR: Bryan Sellers/Wolf Henzler/Patrick Long
This Falken Tires outfit suffered at the Rolex 24, with a cruel engine blowup on Sunday morning forcing them out of the battle for the class lead with only a few hours remaining. Whilst it was desperately cruel luck for this team, they can take solace from their strong showing until the blowup.
This team will therefore be looking to avenge their late retirement and get back into the title fight with a strong showing this weekend. The team have spent several seasons now gaining experience and developing their unique Falken Tires, which could prove to either be an advantage or disadvantage on the rest of their competitiors depending on how they set up their car and the quality of their tyre allocation.
The team has a very strong driver line up with Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler being joined by Porsche factory GT driver Patrick Long for the long distance events. Long adds crucial speed and experience with in-depth knowledge of the 911 GT race car, which alongside Sellers and Henzler make this entry one to watch out. Whilst this class is full of factory GT outfits, don’t be at all surprised if this independent Falken Tire team spoil the party and claim class honors for themselves come the end of 12 hours of frantic GT action.
#24 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE: John Edwards/Lucas Luhr/Jens Klingmann
The BMW Team RLL team were the closest challengers to Corvette Racing in the final hours of the Rolex 24, which was slightly surprising considering the strength of the BMW Z4 GTE has always been it’s higher downforce, nimble agility rather than the out and out straight line speed that is primarily needed to run quickly on the Daytona track. This #24 entry suffered some small issues during the race, although still finished a respectable 4th in class.
For the works BMW team however and this #24 entry 4th won’t be enough to satisfy them, as they will look to improve this weekend at a circuit that should suit the strengths of their Z4 more than Daytona did. On the driving front the team has a very quick line up with two young GT charges John Edwards and Jens Klingmann providing blistering pace for the team whilst the very experienced sportscar racer Lucas Luhr provides the calm experience needed to complete the 12 hours without any major dramas.
This BMW RLL Team will be looking for the couple of tenths they appear to need to beat Corvette Racing in a straight fight, although the twistier nature of the track may be all they need to snatch a class win this weekend, with this #24 crew hoping it’s them and not the sister #25 entry that leads the BMW challenge in GTLM this weekend.
#25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE: Bill Auberlen/Dirk Werner/Augusto Farfus
The #25 entry from BMW Team RLL was tantalizingly close to claiming class honors at the Rolex 24, falling just 0.478 of a second behind the victorious #3 Chevrolet Corvette, after 24 hours of high octane racing. It’s impossible in a sportscar race 24 hours in length to get closer to a victory, with the team hoping to make the small improvement needed to claim class victory this weekend.
This BMW Team RLL has become a very professional and well drilled outfit, ran by Bobby Rahal, and their BMW Z4 GTE should be on form again this weekend at Sebring. The driving talent in this #25 BMW entry is impressive with the vastly experienced and fast Bill Auberlen anchoring the line up, alongside team mate Dirk Werner and BMW factory DTM driver Augusto Farfus to complete the trio. With the team coming so close at Daytona, you can be sure they will be doing everything in their power to finish the job this weekend and claim class honors.
#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia: Pierre Kaffer/Giancarlo Fisichella/Andrea Bertolini
The #62 Risi Ferrari team were running strongly in the opening hours of the Rolex 24, before a serious engine problem ruined their race and forced the team into retirement. This was not the start to the 2015 Tudor United Sportscar Championship season this team was expecting, and they will be looking to bounce back to the rightful spot at the front of the GTLM class battle this weekend.
The Risi team is one of the strongest Ferrari GT teams in the world, with Ferrari factory assistance adding to the highly professional and long standing team. In terms of driving talent the team has three stars with factory Ferrari GT driver Giancarlo Fisichella leading the line up, with Pierre Kaffer and Andrea Bertolini providing a wealth of experience and consistent speed, which will be crucial in their fight for class victory. This team is looking to bounce back after Daytona, and don’t be surprised if they do so in resounding fashion with a class win this weekend at Sebring.
#98 Gulf Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE: Pedro Lamy/Paul Dalla Lana/Darren Turner/Mathias Lauda
The Aston Martin Racing factory team suffered a difficult start to their return to American GT racing at the Rolex 24, suffering several problems which left the team on the fringes of the top five in GTLM come the finish. The team will therefore be hoping to have unlocked some extra speed from their Vantage GTE car this weekend at Sebring, as it hopes for a much stronger showing this time out.
On the driving front the team also suffered slightly compared to the rest, with long time Aston Martin factory drivers Darren Turner and Pedro Lamy leading the line up, although the car’s overall pace dropped off slightly when new Aston Martin factory driver Mathias Lauda and the only amateur in the GTLM class in Paul Dalla Lana.
Whilst both Lauda and Dalla Lana were still quick, their pace couldn’t quite match the rest of the very fast professional GT drivers in their class, which is to expected considering the experience compared to the rest.This weekend the team will be hoping for an upturn in their fortunes, although they may struggle to fight for class honors a podium is a definite possibility for this very well run Aston Martin Racing team.
#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 991 RSR: Nick Tandy/Patrick Pilet/Richard Lietz
For the Porsche North America factory racing team it was not a happy return to the Rolex 24 after a class victory on their debut in 2014, this year the race dealt them some cruel luck and the team stumbled through the 24 hours, although the #911 entry did well in it’s recovery drive as they soldiered through the field to an eventual 4th in class. Embarrassingly both cars collided with each other during the late evening at Daytona, something the team will be hoping does not derail their run at Sebring.
Porsche are always professional and highly organised in their running of a team, and they always manage to find a bevy of drivers with both blinding pace and the consistency that make a great sportscar driver. On this front the team has a brilliant line up of their latest recruit Nick Tandy, alongside long standing Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Richard Lietz.
Whilst the Porsche factory team suffered a difficult opening Rolex 24, the fact this #911 entry still finished 4th in class despite it’s problems shows that when this team has a clean run, they will be right there with the contenders fighting for the victory, something they hope to achieve starting this weekend.
#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 991 RSR: Jorg Bergmeister/Earl Bamber/Frederic Makowiecki
The #912 Porsche entry suffered even more bad luck than their sister #911 entry at Daytona, with the crew surely hoping that’s their lot in terms of bad luck for the next few races. The team struggled at the Rolex, although when the car was running healthy it showed a lot of pace and could well had challenged for the class win had they not suffered their issues.
The Porsche North America team is highly organised and they would have rectified any mistakes made at Daytona, with an all star driver line up adding to their professionalism. Jorg Bergmeister is the experienced hand in this entry, although still has a wicked turn of pace in a Porsche 911, with the highly rated duo of Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber alongside him. Both have established themselves as seriously quick GT drivers and this car has a great chance of class victory at Sebring if they can get the car dialed in with the tricky airfield circuit.
That wraps up my preview of the highly competitive GT Le Mans class of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, as for predicting a winner that is simply too hard to predict. I will be tuning in this weekend for sure to see who comes out on top in this titanic GTLM class battle. A final word of thanks has to go to the amazing Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which one again feature in this article. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest motorsport news and high quality photos from across the motorsport globe. Thank you and any comments would be appreciated both good and bad. Enjoy!