ALMS Winter Tests Concluded At Sebring

Sebring, Fla. – The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will be flagged off on March 17 and to prepare for the grueling event, the American LeMans Series conducted a two-day test this week at the 17-turn, 3.74-mile course. Twenty-five teams were on hand for the test and they were provided with 15 hours of track time. The 2012 event will mark the 60th anniversary edition of the famed race.

On the first day, the Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b of Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz led the way with a top speed of 117.830 miles per hour. Level 5 competes in the LMP2 class.

The Level 5 car advanced to 119.438 mph on day two before yielding to a faster LMP1 car.

On the second test day, Greg Pickett’s Muscle Milk team rolled out its new HPD ARX-03a and although untested, the LMP1 machine quickly raced to the top of the speed charts with a speed of 123.114 miles per hour. Pickett took the initial laps but regular drivers Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf and Simon Pagenaud were responsible for the fast laps.

Said Pickett about the car’s debut, “It is a F1 car with fenders. It is not an inexpensive car, but the quality and fun will long be remembered after the price has been forgotten. It is doing everything right and we are only a half second off what we qualified, even though we are just shaking it down. It feels just right, stops right and the little motor pulls like crazy. The biggest compliment came when Lucas (Luhr) said, ‘It feels like a Porsche.'”

Trailing the LMP1 and LMP2 entries was Dempsey Racing’s new LMPC Oreca FLM09 driven by Henri Richard, Duncan Ende and Dane Cameron. They registered a fast lap of 115.936 mph.

Ferrari swept the top-three spots in the GT class with a pair of Extreme Motorsports entries leading the way. Topping the chart was the Ferrari F458 Italia of Olivier Beretta, Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni at 110.510 mph with a similar entry with Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek close behind. They were followed by the Ferrari F458 GT of Tracy Krohn.

Also in the GT mix was a pair of factory Corvettes with Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ricky Taylor in one and Oliver Gavin, Tom Milner and Paul Westbrook in the other.

In the slower GTC class, the Green Hornet Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Peter LeSafre and Damien Faulkner was the speed leader.

NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip will make his Sebring debut next month and he will be co-driving a TRG Porsche GT3 Cup entry along with Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas.

“It was my first time at Sebring,” Waltrip said. “It has been a fun track to drive but 17 turns is on the outside edge of my brain capacity. Learning the track and getting comfortable with what was next was the goal for the day. Rui (Aguas) looked at the data and told me where I was off, so it has been a good morning. Race car drivers like bumps and dips, and this is fun. On my first lap, I thought I was off the track, but I was on the track.”

Kauffman crashed the car on day two, ending the team’s test.

During the mid-day break on Wednesday, ALMS officials, representatives from each ALMS class and other notables met with the media to discuss the Sebring race, the ALMS season and other relevant items.

Scott Atherton, ALMS president and CEO, led off the press conference, giving an overview of the 2011 season and a preview of the season ahead. “We are starting our 14th ALMS season and the first-event of the FIA World Endurance Championship,” he said. “Without question, this means the convergence of quite possibly the most impressive list of competitors, drivers, manufacturers, sponsors, TV networks and fans that has ever occurred on American soil.”

Regarding the 12-hour race, Atherton said there will be more than 60 entries and he believes it will be the most competitive field ever. “The caliber of the grid is unprecedented,” he said, adding that 30 of the cars will be competing as part of the WEC.

Addressing pre-race events for Sebring, he noted that drivers Geoff Brabham, Hans Hermann, Johnny O’Connell, Denise McCluggage, Jim Downing and manufacturer Corvette will be inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame and the accomplished drivers along with some two dozen former winners will sign autographs the day preceding the race.

In addition, 20 winning cars will be on display on race weekend. Also, the new Delta-wing car is expected to take demonstration laps prior to the race.

According to Atherton, the 2011 television package was a success, even though some fans were not happy with it. “It was a learning experience for us with people learning a new way (to view races),” he said. “Last season more people and more households tuned in to ALMS races than in any year before. On a percentage basis, there was a 67 per cent increase over the previous year.”

For 2012, ABC and ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3 will continue to provide coverage and four races will be telecast live. ESPN3 will carry 13 hours of live coverage of the upcoming Sebring event and ABC will carry a delayed two-hour race coverage broadcast.

ALMS officials are projecting more prototypes will compete in the season ahead and new entries are expected in the LMP2, LMPC and the GTC classes. The high-profile LMP1 series will not expand in number but new cars are expected from the entrants. On a race-by-race basis, some 36 entries are expected.

Jens Walther, president of Porsche Motorsports North America, gave an overview of the German company’s plans for 2012 and beyond. At Sebring, the popular manufacturer has scored 15 manufacturer titles and the company hopes to add to the total next month. “Porsche stands for competition, and our objective is to focus on GT racing,” he said.

He also indicated Porsche’s expansion into prototype racing requires an increase in staffing and new buildings to house its motorsports efforts. Porsche expects to increase its staff from 130 to around 500.

CORE Autosport’s Jon Bennett introduced new co-driver Colin Braun. “It is great to have a top-notch driver for our team,” Bennett said. Added Braun, “It was an easy decision for me (to accept the offer), as I want to win races.”

Braun said he resides close to the team’s shop and has spent many hours there learning the intricacies of the car and getting accustomed to the LMPC entry. “It is different both inside and outside the car,” Braun indicated. “The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have a roof over my head, and I have never driven a car with carbon-fiber brakes. The first time out there was an amazing experience, and it takes a little bit of adjustment.”

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