Sebring wasn’t a classic race this year, rather than being exciting as some past years it was a case of being interesting in terms of who was fast, who was slow, who was reliable and who was not. I can’t say it was compelling enough to hold the attention for the twelve hours, or even for the ten hours I watched (there were a few long spells of simple lappery), but in this tough economic climate, and in a transition year before a major change to the race with the series merger you can’t really ask for big grids and close racing in each class.
The prototypes battle fell flat early on and in fairness that was expected before the race started. The focus fell on the two GT classes which did a good job of keeping things interesting, and there was a late battle in the PC class as well. With only an hour or two to go each of these three classes were led by something like 10 or 15 seconds! Tiny margins given the distances covered, a mistake on the track or by a pit crew would’ve turned it around.
I had other commitments in the afternoon and wasn’t able to join the coverage until 90 minutes into the race. I watched the rest, although I also dipped into the Red Bull Crashed Ice finale (I found myself unable to concentrate on that), and the delayed F1 qualifying.
I was watching the ALMS.com feed so their server problems were disappointing – I was happy they had the usual Hindhaugh & Shaw presentation and a solid pit crew. The ALMS Twitter feed claimed this race had 4x the viewers as last year, a statistic I find surprising considering last year’s race doubled as the inaugural WEC round, with a far deeper field. Compared to that race, with the ALMS struggling lately, this year’s race was always going to look a little weak in comparison to 2012’s so the increased viewership was interesting to see.
Through The Classes
Audi dominated as everybody expected they would. There was a little fight amongst themselves but it was nothing compared to a battle with another manufacturer team, there was the definite sense they were tiptoeing around each other whenever they were racing – the right thing to do under the circumstances.
The real race in P1 was among the four-car “petrol/independent class” but Dyson Racing encountered problems with their Lola-Mazda, and Muscle Milk Pickett’s HPD was penalised (stop and hold for 60 seconds) following “avoidable contact”, when Klaus Graf and a PC-car collided. This was a shame as they were fairly evenly matched with the two Rebellion Lola-Toyotas, perhaps the Pickett car had the edge (perhaps thanks to their drivers and their circuit knowledge).
So this race was spoiled by a couple of happenings but that doesn’t mean Rebellion didn’t earn it, they were fast and kept their nose clean. I’m glad they’re keeping a car in the ALMS in addition to their two in WEC this year.
The DeltaWing, run by a completely different team to last year and with completely different technical partners, failed to impress after running slower than the PC class pace before an engine failure ended their day early.
Five entries in this class, all top-drawer quality but sadly the race was effectively over by halfway. Level 5’s pair of HPDs were in control, it was always going to be tough to beat their star driver line-up of Marino Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud, and Ryans Hunter-Reay and Briscoe.
Extreme Speed did a good job learning their own pair of HPDs after moving from Ferraris in the GT class, although Ed Brown in particular seemed to struggle with his car with multiple spins and the other, faster car was delayed with mechanical issues. ESM will work on it, they’ll get there.
After splitting the HPDs right down the middle in qualifying, the lone Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan wasn’t able to keep up with Level 5 in the race – which surprised me I have to say. I’m not sure if they encountered any problems.
It was a hard-fought battle in the single-make class, the lead changing handle multiple times throughout the race. Most of this 7-car field was competitive and there wasn’t any way of picking a winner, even when it eventually distilled down to two cars you couldn’t call it, it was still a race as Ostella hunted down Marcelli for the win which is the opposite of what I would’ve predicted! This class is going to be a lot of fun this year.
As expected the GT class proved a dogfight, though I have to say it seemed much cleaner than the wheel-banging of past years, which is impressive given how hard they were all pushing.
The main race was between the Corvettes and the Risi Ferrari, that classic battle between marques. Interloping from time to time were the likes of the Viper, the new BMW Z4 and even the Falken Tire Porsche, which given the struggles of Porsche teams everywhere wasn’t supposed to be near the front. The variety bodes well for a very exciting season.
The Ferrari had better range, the ‘Vette perhaps the better speed over a stint. Despite electrical issues and a penalty for pitlane speeding (caused by temporarily having no limiter) the no.4 Corvette fought back to win by just 3 seconds from the Ferrari, however that was arguably only because Matteo Malucelli’s stellar drive faltered under intense pressure from the yellow ‘Vette.
The Vipers fell back after a while as did the promising new BMW Z4 which had an impressive debut – though as both are running with exemptions for engines that are way too big for the regs, I was quietly pleased they lost (even though they have very cool cars).
Feelgood result of the race was the Falken Porsche, I thought they were a way behind earlier on but they came back to finish 3rd.
Notable absentees were the Aston Martins which suffered car trouble fairly early on and were forced to treat the rest of the race as a test, a very rapid test in which they set the class fastest lap, hinting at what might’ve been.
It is a sign of these economic times that so many top quality drivers – and teams – are in the low-cost spec class supposedly for entry-level entrants. The benefit for the class is the ridiculously close race! When you have Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards, Damian Faulkner, Sascha Maassen, and Spencer Pumpelly you can’t say the class is lacking in talent. The result then depends how good the amateur, ‘gentlemen’ drivers are, and if they’re as evenly matched as they are here you have a race on your hands! Even deep into the race the top half dozen were split by 20 seconds or less. It was only in the very late stages that it got a bit split up. An under-reported, much-knocked class (and I’m fully guilty of that) which should continue to see some great racing this year.
Stars of the Race
I’d never heard of David Ostella or Matteo Malucelli so I was tremendously impressed by their performances. Malucelli put in a near-flawless performance for Risi Ferrari, whenever I looked at T&S he was in the car, his only fault being a little kind to the Corvette as it attacked him in the late stages of the race and that’s just down to inexperience of Sebring. Ostella on the other hand seemed to warm to the race the more it went on, culminating in a fantastic PC-class race-winning pass against Kyle Marcelli, who is no pushover.
If you weren’t paying attention to the laptimes of AMR after their long, long delays, you might’ve missed Bruno Senna’s speed in the car. Some suggested he wouldn’t be suited to GT racing. Wrong!
Kuba Giermaziak seems to be the real deal, too.
There were a few controversial stewarding decisions. Some of the faster guys were a little impatient when lapping slower cars. Some were racing incidents, others were the fault of the slower guy wandering all over the road, yet it was always the faster guy that would get the penalty. McNish was definitely unfairly penalised. Graf’s penalty was less clear cut and both opinions were flying around Twitter – I thought the PC car stayed wide and braked early to let Graf through, which Graf may have misread or not expected – a racing incident but under ALMS rules Graf got the penalty for braking too late, ‘avoidable contact’.
The ALMS moves on to the vastly different challenge of a 2-hour race on the short Long Beach street course, one month from now.
Next year’s 12 Hours of Sebring will be part of the brave new world of United SportsCar Racing.