For what might be the last time in its 61-year history, the Twelve Hours of Sebring will feature the best sports cars and drivers from around the world.
Teams from North America and Europe, including the World Endurance champion Audi, WEC privateer winner Rebellion, the American Le Mans Series champion Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, ALMS GT champion Corvette Racing, and Aston Martin Racing will compete on the bumpy airport runways of the historic Sebring Raceway.
In all 42 cars in five classes will take the green flag at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 16, giving sports car fans one last chance to see the world’s fastest sports cars in action in the oldest endurance race on the continent.
Audi has entered a pair of P1 R18 e-trons, Rebellion a pair of Lola-Toyotas. Dyson and Muscle Milk have each brought a single car, and the fan-favorite delta Wing is back, this time with a bespoke racing engine and entered in the P1 class.
Extreme Speed Motorsports is debuting in the P2 class, facing off against the 2012 P2 champion Level 5, and also European team Greaves Motorsport.
GTE is as rich in variety as ever: two Corvettes, two SRT Vipers, two Porsches, two Ferraris, and the two brand new BMW Team RLL Z4s in their first race outing.
Added to this roster are seven PC prototypes and 11 GTC Porsches, making tremendously deep field which should offer a very entertaining race. Fans are certainly encouraged to visit the Sebring Raceway website to buy tickets at once.
Merger Brings (Temporary) Isolation
Fans should consider going to Sebring not just because it will be a great race, as it always is, but because this is the last year that the Sebring 12 Hours will be ACO-complaint; the last year when sports cars sanctioned by the ACO (Automobile Club de L’Oueste) which race in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship, this will be the last year that the best and fastest sports cars will be on the grid.
Starting in 2014, the American Le Mans Series, which has sanctioned Sebring since 1999, will be absorbed into Grand American Road Racing Association, and the new merged series (the name of which will be released on Thursday, March 14) will not permit the LMP1 class, and might require P2 cars to accept certain modifications to make them competitive with the much slower Daytona Prototypes which are currently the top class in Grand Am, and which do not meet ACO safety standards.
This means that the world’s very best sports cars will only visit North America once, and will not race against the best of North America—the new series will be cut off from the rest (and best) of the sports car world.
A similar loss has already occurred with the Daytona 24-hour race, which was an important international event from 1962 until Grand Am took over in 1999. Once Grand Am moved in, the new rules excluded the ACO and FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) sports car championship teams. The 24 Hours of Daytona went from an essential part of the endurance racing season to a local event with pathetic attendance.
This does not mean that the 2014 Sebring race will not be worth the visit. The GT field will be essentially unchanged—according to ALMS and Grand Am officials, the GTE class rules will not be changed, so the awesome Corvette-BMW-Ferrari-Porsche battles (augmented by cars like the Vipers, the occasional Lamborghini and possibly Audi) should continue. Nothing printed has been released yet, but officials from both series continue to claim that GTE will not be altered.
There is hope even beyond that. As IMSA COO Scot Elkins and ALMS CEO and president Scott Atherton took great pains to point out in an interview in February, the new rules for the new series are very much transitional. 2017 will bring a completely new set of regulations, which will be drawn up after examining the ACO/FIA’s latest rules.
If the ACO rules seem to fit with the budget of the new series—and if fans of the merged series complain loudly enough that they want to see the best cars in the world, not merely the best cars in North America—then starting in 2017, both Sebring and Daytona could once again be important international sports car events, attracting the biggest, best, fastest, most talented teams and drivers on the planet.
As a fan, this is promising, but also uncertain. What is absolutely certain is that this weekend’s 61st Mobil 1 Sebring Twelve Hours is going to be a fantastic race featuring the absolute best cars and drivers from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The Twelve Hours of Sebring is always a huge event, with three days of practice, qualifying, and support races and the Twelve Hour on Saturday. It is always worth seeing for any race fan. This year’s event, which also includes a display of some of the famous Audis which dominated the race since the turn of the century, will be no different.
Add in the fact that this will be the last truly international Sebring 12 Hours for at least a couple of years, and this year’s race is definitely worth a couple sick days and a couple of tanks of gas.
Tickets are available at the gate or via Sebring Raceway.com.
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