The first of nine races that comprise the 2010 American Le Mans Series is now in the history books, as the 12 Hours of Sebring came to a conclusion under the cover of darkness Saturday night. For those of you who still have the race on your DVRs, you can come back here later. For the rest of you, read on to find out who got a jump on the rest of the ALMS field.
For the first time in a decade, there were no Audis in contention for the overall victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Audi has been in Florida for the past week, but for reasons that remain unclear, the Germans opted not to participate in the opening round of the ALMS season. Instead, the team tested the revised R15+ TDI in South Florida at Homestead Speedway. On Monday, Audi will join Peugeot in a private test at Sebring.
That left Peugeot largely unchallenged in terms of outright speed for the past week and it showed as the French team topped the timing charts with its diesel-powered prototypes. As the 908 HDi begins it final season of competition (at least for the factory team) the Peugeots grabbed the top two qualifying spots over the only other LMP1 entrants, Aston Martin and Drayson racing.
The Peugeots have always been fast in their previous Sebring runs, but the bumpy track has taken its toll in terms of reliability. This time, however, the progress that the team made to win Le Mans in 2009 showed, as the 908s ran trouble-free for the full 12 hours. The only real challenge came early on when the Drayson Lola-Judd briefly ran second in the hands of former Audi pilot Emanuele Pirro. Ultimately, the E85-fueled Lola slipped back as a result of cooling problems.
The #07 Peugeot of Marc Gene, Alex Wurz and Anthony Davidson led the way home ahead of its sister car, with the Aston Martin finishing three laps down in third overall.
In LMP2, the race was primarily between defending LMP1 champs Highcroft and the Cytosport Porsche RS Spyder. Highcroft has reverted back to an updated P2 Acura and qualified fastest in class. The Acura ran away from the Porsche for the first seven hours, building a five lap-lead. An electrical problem caused an extended stay in pit-lane for the ARX-01c, however, and the RS Spyder kept circulating in the meantime.
Ultimately, the Acura got back in the race seven laps down from the Porsche. David Brabham, Marino Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud whittled away that lead over the last three hours, eventually recovering three laps but finishing fifth overall behind the Porsche. Third place went to the butanol-fueled Dyson Lola-Mazda after it also experienced early electrical problems.
Perhaps the biggest drama of the race unfolded in the highly-competitive GT2 class, where 13 cars started. The #90 BMW M3 had a tough start; its qualifying time was disallowed and it subsequently crashed during the morning warmup. The Bimmer's driver, Dirk Müller, started from the pit lane and made his way up to fourth in class in the first hour. Meanwhile, the new factory-backed Jaguar XKR cracked a cylinder head and dropped out of the race after completing just 11 laps.
The most disappointing result probably went to the Corvette Racing crew. After dominating the old GT1 class for years, the C6.R is now a full-time GT2 competitor. After qualifying fourth and fifth, the Vettes got up to second and third before their troubles began. The #3 car was parked for an extended period of time to replace a damaged power steering hose, dropping it eight laps back. The worst was yet to come, though.
Corvette Racing has been together for over a decade, and the outfit takes pride in its professionalism. That makes what happened just past the three-hour mark even more shocking. A radio miscommunication resulted in Jan Magnussen being allowed to pull out of his pit just as Emmanuel Collard pulled in to the next pit. Collard nailed the #3 Corvette right behind the left front wheel and a crew member was almost run over.
Collard's #4 Vette spent several laps behind the pit wall getting its front bodywork and stabilizer bar replaced while Magnussen came back to replace a punctured tire after only one slow lap. After the repairs were completed on #4, the #3 car also pitted for some new bodywork. Thankfully, no one was injured but both cars dropped to the back of the class. The Corvettes ultimately finished in eighth and ninth positions, 11 laps behind the GT2 winner.
More weirdness came to GT2 when when the Falken Tires 911 lost a right rear wheel that ended up clipping the left rear tire of one of the Flying Lizard Porsches. That caused a bent wheel and loss of tire pressure. Both cars eventually continued and finished the race. Late in the race, a full-course yellow was triggered when Scott Sharp's new Ferrari F430 caught fire, dropping it out of the competition.
Both GT2 BMWs moved steadily up the field to recover from pre-race woes and crossed the finish line in second and third place, with the #92 car of Bill Auberlen, Tommy Milner and Dirk Werner leading the way. Overall GT2 honors, however, went yet again to the Risi Competizione Ferrari F430 GT driven by Jaime Melo, Gimmi Bruni Pierre Kaffer. The Sebring win follows a 2009 hat trick when the same team won at Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans. Double hat-trick, anyone?
In the new LMP Challenge class, six of the Oreca FLM09 cars started but none of the teams had extensive testing time going in. As the clock rolled around to 10:30 pm for the finish, the Level 5 Motorsports' trio of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Mark Wilkins won handily as their ORECA FLM09 prototype held a 16 lap advantage over the Gunnar Racing squad for the victory. The Gunnar team was eventually disqualified and the Genoa Racing Oreca was classified second in class some 46 laps behind the winner.
The second new class is GT Challenge, which this year includes only Porsche 911 GT3s - something that'll hopefully change in 2011. Of the six GTC cars at Sebring, three were fielded by ex-Porsche factory GT2 squad Alex Job Racing. Veteran Butch Leitzinger was joined by Juan Gonzalez and Leh Keen at the top of the podium.
ALMS races also include a second competition in which efficiency and alternative fuels come to the fore. The Michelin Green X Challenge rewards the cars that exhibit the best combination of on-track performance, fuel efficiency and overall carbon footprint. In the prototype class, this was an easy victory for the same #07 Peugeot that took the overall victory on the track. Among the GT competitors, the #44 Porsche 911 RSR of Flying Lizard Motorsports took the honors. The Flying Lizard cars run the same cellulosic E85 blend used by the Corvettes; the fuel itself is made from wood chips.
The American Le Mans Series resumes in four weeks time on the streets of Long Beach, California.
CytoSport wins P2 as does Risi in GT2, Level 5 in LMPC and AJR in GTC
Alexander Wurz's outlap after his final stop was quick enough for an overall victory for himself and Team Peugeot Total teammates Marc Gene and Anthony Davidson. Wurz drove his diesel-powered Peugeot 908 HDi FAP to a 13.817-second win at the 58th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, a first in the event for the famed French marque.
Sebastien Bourdais, Nic Minassian and Pedro Lamy were second, putting an exclamation point on the weekend for the French Lions. The Peugeots were 1-2 in every official session this week.
Gene and Wurz were teammates for Peugeot's historic victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June 2009. The 908 HDi now holds trophies from all of the major endurance races with a win at Petit Le Mans in September.
"We pushed, everyone was 100 percent," said Wurz, who won at Le Mans last year with Gene. The strategy people had smoke coming out of their ears. It was down to three seconds (the margin) for the last stop. It came down to Sebastian and myself."
The factory Peugeot team used the race as a warmup for Le Mans. Aston Martin Racing with its Lola B09/60-Aston Martin and Drayson Racing's Lola B09/60-Judd provided the biggest challenges early. The Drayson Lola proved tough early on with Emanuele Pirro running second between the two Peugeots in the early going before it fell back with cooling and radiator issues.
"With Peugeot we came here as a team and wanted to accomplish a goal and we did," said Davidson, who finished second in GTS during the 2003 race. "This was a big challenge to get through the traffic efficiently. That was where we excelled today. It's a big challenge for the cars. We know the circuit will throw up all kinds of issues for reliability. It's important to win the race, but also for preparations for Le Mans later in the year."
Adrian Fernandez, Harold Primat and Stefan Mücke placed third in the Lola-Aston Martin, making its first start in the 12 Hours. It will go up against Peugeot at Le Mans, as will Audi. Gene is convinced the trip to Sebring will be worth it come the 24 Hours.
"We really think and after driving, this is the best prep for Le Mans," he said. "In those corners especially the last one, you find the right places to over take, in Turn 17 you can overtake in the outside but a few times I picked up a lot of rubber. It's a tough track but perfect practice for overtaking. The bumps are more perfect for Le Mans than maybe Paul Ricard, where it is more smooth. There isn't any other corner in the world like that."
Greg Pickett, Klaus Graf and Sascha Maassen won in LMP2 for Muscle Milk Team CytoSport. Their Porsche RS Spyder won by three laps over the Patrón Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01c, which led until an electrical problem inside four hours to go set them back.
It marked Porsche's second Sebring class victory for the RS Spyder, which made its first 12 Hours start in 2006. Penske Racing won overall in 2008, and Saturday's win by CytoSport was the first time an independent team won in North America with the prototype.
"I really like this magnificent machine," said an enthused Pickett. "You expect that from Porsche. We were glad to run with the Michelin tires this year, and I'm tickled we could double and triple stint them. I'm 63 now; to do this at this level of competition... my teammates did the heavy lifting. They let me get in a little bit. It was a wonderful adventure. We do this for fun, the better we do it, the more fun we have."
The Patrón Highcroft car of David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti had dominated the opening two-thirds of the race and led by five laps when the electrical malady reared its head. Graf kept ticking off lap after lap while the helpless Highcroft car sat still in pitlane.
"I have to say that I have tried to win here with the Spyder quite a few times, but this time I was successful," said Maassen, who won in class at Sebring for the fifth time but first in a prototype. "We had luck, that's for sure. We had our plan, we did exactly what we wanted to do. We drive safe and steady and stay out of the pits. That is the key to an endurance race."
"It was quiet on the radio. Bringing it home was special for me," Graf said. "You had to keep your concentration up to not make a mistake especially in the dark.
I can't thank Greg enough to put this team together. He has a great appreciation for this sport, and everyone one in this room knows what it takes to put something like this together."
Chris Dyson, Guy Smith and Andy Meyrick placed third in class with their isobutanol-powered Lola B09/86-Mazda. The car experienced electrical sensor issues early.
Risi Competizione won in GT2, the team's sixth straight victory in a major endurance race. Jaime Melo, Gimmi Bruni and Pierre Kaffer took a one-lap victory in their Ferrari F430 GT over BMW Rahal Letterman Racing's two BMW M3s, which swapped positions on the last turn of the last lap.
Risi now has won consecutively at Sebring, Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, etching even more history in the F430 GT.
"I think it's everything together," said Melo, who won for the third time at the 12 Hours. "The team is a very, very good team. With three drivers who are very consistent like Gimmi and Pierre... that's the way to win this kind of race. The Michelin tires are very consistent and work well for us. The preparation of the car is the key to this race. I know the F430 from when we started developing the car. We want to put it in the history books, so we want to win this year so bad. We can send it off in a good way."
The fight in GT2 was a fantastic scrap before attrition started to take its toll. Team Falken Tire led early on in its Porsche and had two wheels come off on consecutive laps. The second hit the then-second-place Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche, which lost three laps in the pits. Corvette Racing's two Corvettes collided in pit lane when one Corvette C6.R tried to leave its pit box and another came in simultaneously.
That left the Risi Ferrari and two BMWs to duke it out. All totaled, the winning Risi Ferrari led for approximately 10 hours. It led from nearly the 90-minute mark until a caution period just past the halfway point when the Lizard Porsche beat the Ferrari out of the pits. It took Bruni all of a half lap to retake the lead.
"We showed the three of us, Risi, and Michelin worked really well together," said Bruni, who won for the first time in the Series. "This really helps. (with momentum). We've known each other a while. Jaime has been with this car for a good long time."
In the new LMPC class, Level 5 Motorsports' trio of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Mark Wilkins won handily with their ORECA FLM09 prototype. They won by 16 laps over the Green Earth Team Gunnar trio of Gunnar Jeannette, Christian Zugel and Elton Julian.
"I took the start and the car was working really well, even if we had a small problem in warmup, a problem with the engine," Bouchut said. "We thought maybe it wouldn't work like we expected, but not at all. The mechanics really did a great job putting it together."
This was the first race for the ORECA-built machines, which are helping develop future prototype drivers and teams for the American Le Mans Series competition. Tucker and Wilkins made their first start in the Series, and Bouchut made just his 13th start.
"We haven't had a lot of time in the car but it's a really nice package," Tucker said. "It's sophisticated but simple. It was no problem running a triple stint in it. I really like the car."
Genoa Racing's Andy Wallace, JR Hildebrand and Tom Sutherland placed second in class.
Alex Job Racing made a triumphant return to the Series with a sweep of the GT Challenge podium. Butch Leitzinger, Juan Gonzalez and Leh Keen won by three laps over the sister car of Bill Sweedler, Romeo Kapudija and Jan-Dirk Lueders.
Keen put the car on the class pole position Friday, and the No. 81 entry ran a clean race on a day when that wasn't too easy. The only blemish was a speeding violation in pit lane but the winning AJR car held up well over the course of the 12 hours.
"By the time I got in it, these two had done such a good job," said Leitzinger, who won in GTU at Sebring in 1990. "The prep was really showing through; people were having problems and we weren't. It was about as easy as a Sebring gets. We didn't have to pull out these huge laps to catch anyone."
AJR, based in nearly Tavares, Fla., won at Sebring for the sixth time. All of Alex Job's victories in the famed race have come with Porsches. Ricardo Gonzalez, Luis Diaz and Patrick Kelly drove the third AJR car.
"The last 12 hours have been really intense," Keen said. "I have to give it to Alex. He really knows what he's doing. He put together some great GTC cars for us. There was not a mark on the car. All the guys did an awesome job."
The Peugeot prototype of Bourdais, Minassian and Lamy were prototype winners in the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge, with the Flying Lizard Motorsports' trio of Seth Neiman, Darren Law and Richard Lietz the GT winners. The award goes to the prototype and GT entry in each class that goes the farthest, the fastest and with the smallest amount of environmental impact.
Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida
Sebring International Raceway, Sebring, Fla.
1. (1) Alexander Wurz; Marc Gene, Spain; Anthony Davidson, England; Peugeot 908 HDI FAP (1, P1), 367.
2. (2) Sebastien Bourdais, France; Nicolas Minassian, England; Pedro Lamy, Lisbon Portugal; Peugeot 908 HDI FAP (2, P1), 367.
3. (3) Adrian Fernandez, Mexico; Stefan Mucke, Germany; Harold Primat, Switzerland; Lola B09 60/Aston Martin (3, P1), 364.
4. (6) Greg Pickett, Alamo, CA; Klaus Graf, Germany; Sascha Maassen, Germany; Porsche RS Spyder (1, P2), 353.
5. (5) Simon Pagenaud, France; Marino Franchitti, Scotland; David Brabham, Australia; HPD ARX-01c (2, P2), 349.
6. (15) Jaime Melo, Brazil; Gianmaria Bruni, Italy; Pierre Kaffer, Germany; Ferrari 430 GT (1, GT2), 331.
7. (19) Dirk Werner, Germany; Bill Auberlen, Hermosa Beach, CA; Tom Milner, Leesburg, VA; BMW E92 M3 (2, GT2), 330.
8. (34) Dirk Mueller, Germany; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; Andy Priaulx, Germany; BMW E92 M3 (3, GT2), 330.
9. (13) Jorg Bergmeister, Germany; Patrick Long, Oak Park, CA; Marc Lieb, Germany; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (4, GT2), 329.
10. (11) Christophe Bouchut, France; Mark Wilkins, Canada; Scott Tucker; Oreca FLM09 (1, LMPC), 327.
11. (28) Seth Neiman, Burlingame, CA; Richard Lietz, Austria; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (5, GT2), 325.
12. (4) Emanuele Pirro, Italy; Paul Drayson, London, UK; Jonny Cocker, UK; Lola B09 60/Judd (4, P1), 324.
13. (20) Guy Cosmo, Long Island, NY; Joao Barbosa, Portugal; Ed Brown, Las Vegas, NV; Ferrari 430 GT (6, GT2), 323.
14. (23) Nic Jonsson, Sweden; Eric van de Poele, Belgium; Tracy Krohn, Houston, TX; Ferrari 430 GT (7, GT2), 321.
15. (16) Jan Magnussen, Denmark; Johnny O`Connell, Flowery Branch, GA; Antonio Garcia, Spain; Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (8, GT2), 320.
16. (17) Oliver Gavin, England; Emmanuel Collard, France; Olivier Beretta, Monaco; Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 (9, GT2), 320.
17. 18. (22) Leh Keen, Dublin, GA; Juan Gonzalez, Mexico; Butch Leitzinger, State College, PA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (1, GTC), 308.
18. (25) Romeo Kapudija, Lincolnwood, IL; Jan-Dirk Lueders; Bill Sweedler, Westport, CT; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (2, GTC), 305.
19. (24) Luis Diaz, Mexico; Patrick Kelly, Minnestrista,MN; Ricardo Gonzalez, Mexico; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (3, GTC), 304.
20. (7) Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, England; Andy Meyrick; Lola B09 86/Mazda (3, P2), 303.
21. (32) Robert Rodriguez, Zephyr Cove, NV; Galen Bieker, Burbank, CA; Cory Friedman; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (4, GTC), 302.
22. (21) David Murry, Cumming, GA; Andrea Robertson, Ray, MI; David Robertson, Ray, MI; Doran Design Ford GT (10, GT2), 300.
23. (26) Shane Lewis, Jupiter, FL; Jerry Vento, Palm Beach, FL; Lawson Aschenbach, West Palm Beach, FL; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (5, GTC), 299.
24. (29) Henri Richard, Los Altos Hills; Andy Lally, New York, NY; Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, CA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (6, GTC), 282.
25. (33) Andy Wallace, England; Tom Sutherland, Los Gatos, CA; JR Hildebrand; Oreca FLM09 (2, LMPC), 281.
26. (27) Andy Pilgrim, Del Ray Beach, FL; Brett Curtis, Valencia, CA; James Sofronas, Newport Beach, CA; Porsche 911 GT3 Cup (7, GTC), 280.
27. (18) Scott Sharp, Jupiter; Johannes van Overbeek, San Francisco, CA; Dominik Farnbacher, Germany; Ferrari 430 GT (11, GT2), 271.
28. (14) Wolf Henzler, Germany; Patrick Pilet, France; Bryan Sellers, Centerville, OH; Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (12, GT2), 255.
29. (30) Joel Feinberg, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Kyle Marcelli; Tom Weickardt, Whitefish Bay, WI; Oreca FLM09 (3, LMPC), 234.
30. (12) Mitch Pagery, Deerfield Beach, FL; Brian Wong; David Ducote; Oreca FLM09 (4, LMPC), 232.
31. (31) Paul Gentilozzi, Lansing, MI; Marc Goosens, Belgium; Ryan Dalziel, Scotland; Jaguar XKRS (13, GT2), 11, Cooling.
32. (8) Bryan Willman, Kirkland, WA; Tony Burgess, Canada; Pierre Ehret, Santa Rosa, CA; Lola B06 10/AER (5, P1), 0, Excluded.
33. (9) Gunnar Jeannette, Palm Beach Gardens, FL; Elton Julian, Los Angeles, CA; Christian Zugel; Oreca FLM09 (6, LMPC), Excluded
34. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Boca Raton, FL; Scott Tucker; James Gue, Athens, GA; Oreca FLM09 (7, LMPC), 224.