For the first time in nearly 15 years, the overall winner in this weekend’s 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring won’t be an Audi, Peugeot or Porsche.
While the launch of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has resulted in the elimination of the LMP1 class, it has opened up the floodgates for a mix of new manufacturers to make their mark on America’s oldest endurance race.
Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and Nissan are among the engine manufacturers in the new-look Prototype class that will be vying for top honors on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, Live! FOX Sports 1) in what will likely be the most competitive field in more than two decades.
Eighteen cars are set for action in the combined DP/P2 class, including the revolutionary DeltaWing DWC13, while eleven identical Oreca FLM09s will do battle in the Prototype Challenge class, which has always produced close racing on the 3.7-mile airfield circuit.
Action Express Racing heads to Sebring with plenty of momentum, having won the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and topping the time charts in February’s official test at the Florida circuit.
The No. 5 Corvette DP of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais could be tough to beat again, although Chevy-powered DPs have been given reduction in power ahead of this weekend’s race.
Action Express’ second entry, which finished third at Daytona, sees brothers Burt and Brian Frisselle being joined by GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing refugee Jon Fogarty, who along with Alex Gurney and Darren Law, were left without a ride following the team’s withdrawal due to Memo Gidley’s massive accident in January.
The question on everyone’s mind is if P2 cars could fight for the overall win after being at a performance defect on the Florida high banks. Early indications show that very well could be possible, with OAK Racing’s Morgan-Nissan of Gustavo Yacaman coming within seven-tenths of the AXR car at the test.
Yacaman is joined this weekend by Olivier Pla and Alex Brundle, who makes his first start of the season with the French squad after starting the year in Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Oreca 03 Nissan. Playstation GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough has been drafted in to partner Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr in the Nissan-backed Pickett effort.
Other lineup changes include Chip Ganassi Racing, which moves Marino Franchitti to the No. 01 Riley-Ford of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, with Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and 19-year-old Sage Karam piloting the Ford EcoBoost-powered No. 02 machine. Ganassi will be looking to rebound after failing to get both of its cars to the checkered flag at Daytona.
The Ganassi entries along with the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford of Ozz Negri, John Pew and Justin Wilson, will have a slight increase in horsepower, thanks to IMSA’s Balance of Performance adjustment imposed late last week.
Other contenders with DP-based machinery include the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette of Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiante and Mike Rockenfeller, along with defending Rolex Series champion Jordan Taylor and co-drivers Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette, which finished a strong second in the season-opener.
Extreme Speed Motorsports should be back on form with its pair of HPD ARX-03bs, particularly the No. 01 car driven by Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Brabham.
Sebring will also mark the debut of HPD’s new 3.5-liter V6 turbo for DP competition, with Starworks Motorsport set to field the P2-based engine in its Gen-3 Riley. The Peter Baron-led squad is also represented in the PC class with a Oreca FLM09 that is among the nearly dozen cars that will fight for top class honors on Saturday.
After scoring top honors at Daytona, CORE autosport’s Jon Bennett, Colin Braun and James Gue will be looking for back-to-back endurance race victories but will face stiff competition from the likes of Starworks, 8Star Motorsports, RSR Racing and defending race winners PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports.
The Bobby Oergel-led PR1 team will be debuting a brand-new chassis for drivers Gunnar Jeannette, Frankie Montecalvo and Mike Guasch, who seeks his third consecutive PC class win at Sebring.
Another strong lineup comes from 8Star, which has yet to finish off the PC podium in its two races completed to date. Tom Kimber-Smith and Mike Marsal are joined by Eric Lux and Sean Rayhall, the latter two drivers having started the season with Starworks and BAR1, respectively.
Both of Paul Gentilozzi’s RSR entries are expected to play a factor as well, particularly the No. 09 car of Bruno Junqueira, Duncan Ende and David Heinemeier Hansson, which led early at Daytona before suffering engine issues.
BAR1 will return to a two-car operation for Sebring with 2013 FIA WEC LMP2 champion Martin Plowman spearheading the driving strength, while Rolex 24 podium finishers Performance Tech shouldn’t be ruled out either, with the new full-season driver pairing of Charlie Shears and David Ostella, who also won here last year.
The PC class sees the arrival of Mazda Road to Indy squad JDC Miller MotorSports, which fields the ex-PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca for Chris Miller, Gerry Kraut and Stephen Simpson.IMSA, Sebring, Sports Cars, TUSC