Friday featured qualifying and Dempsey Racing's P2 announcement, so here are some of the other stories emerging on the eve of the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
SEBRING CLASS SIMPLIFICATION ATTEMPT – One of the major talking points going into this weekend's 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is the number of classes, or as some have said, the rather large number of classes that has made the race somewhat complicated to follow.
The initial issue stems from the fact the entry lists have been split into the corresponding FIA World Endurance Championship and American Le Mans Series entries, and their respective classes. In the WEC, that's LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am, while the ALMS' five-class structure is P1, P2, GT, PC and GTC - no LM for its prototype categories as was dropped before the start of the year.
In trying to simplify or at least make it easier to follow for everyone involved, given the fact all 64 cars are combined on the timing & scoring sheets, the ALMS website has put all P1 and all P2 cars from both championships into the same P1 and P2 classes. For example, as the three Audi WEC cars led qualifying ahead of the ALMS-entered No. 6 Muscle Milk HPD, both teams were classified as P1, and not in the separate LMP1 and P1.
Similarly, in GT, the ALMS GT and WEC GTE Pro cars have been categorized under just GT. So here, say an ALMS Porsche from Flying Lizard led an AF Corse Ferrari from the WEC, and they'd both be classified in GT on the timing & scoring monitors. GTE Am is still listed separately, as it is only represented in the WEC.
To help make the process similar and hopefully easier for viewers, ABC's Sunday afternoon TV broadcast will have the race split into just the usual five ALMS classes – P1, P2, GT, PC and GTC class. WEC cars will be integrated into the P1, P2 and GT classes.The TV coverage will combine all cars from the GT, GTE Pro and GTE Am classes into one GT category at the top of the screen, while GTC will be listed separately. Broadcasts from the track today have implemented the process for practice and qualifying, and the plan for the live ESPN3.com broadcast on Saturday is that the running order at the top of the screen will just have those five classes – P1, P2, GT, PC and GTC – atop the screen.
So, put this way, the complicated process of sorting out the nine classes will really only take place after the race. The WEC entries will be scored according to its championship and classes, and the ALMS in its – so the fun part for onlookers, media members, and whoever else cares to investigate will be figuring out who finished where in which championship, after the podium ceremonies, late Saturday night into early Sunday morning.
NEW FRONTS FOR MICHELIN GT TEAMS – Not only are a number of the GT teams getting new cars this year, but one of the class's tire partners is introducing a new 1.2-inch taller front tire. Michelin's new taller tires should handle more energy, lengthen the contact patch under braking and help extend tire wear by spreading the load over a greater area. The taller tires also help broaden the range for car set-ups, according to Michelin.
Michelin North America technical team leader Karl Koenigstein explained that the new GT regulations this year were enough for the company to invest in the new front tire.
“The cars here are new because the rules allow a wider track width,” he said. “As part of the ongoing development for the GT cars now, the front was really the limit. We can get more load capacity by going with more tire. It should be better everywhere, and it's a way to more effectively deal with all the stress. It's a little bit compounded because everything changed at once. But it's a nice step, and enough of a step to make it well worth the effort.”
Michelin supplies tires for Flying Lizard Porsche, Extreme Speed Ferrari and Corvette Racing within the ALMS GT class, while the RLL BMWs and Paul Miller Porsche race on Dunlops, and the singular Team Falken Tire Porsche is working to master its setup as well.
“NO-FIN FINALE” FOR THREE CARS – It's a safety enhancement that began taking off last year, and really came to the forefront onboard last year's new Audi R18 TDI and Peugeot 908. It's also, in this writer's opinion, not exactly enhanced the visual and aesthetic appeal of the current P1 and P2 cars from a side-on view. “It” is the shark fin, the mandatory aero device that splits the roll hoop and is fully in place for 2012.
That is, of course, except for three cars here in the P1 category which are “fin-less.” Rebellion Racing's two Lola B11/60 Toyotas (ABOVE) and Pescarolo Team's Pescarolo 01 Judd are both older chassis, and have been granted special exemptions by the ACO to run without the fin this race, although as a result, both carry a 15kg weight penalty. The Lola coupes are still fully 2011-spec, while the Pescarolo, a Spyder, is a 2010-spec car already grandfathered and given a final race exemption (RIGHT).
As both teams will be upgrading to their new cars for the second round of the WEC at Spa-Francorchamps in May, this marks their last race without the fin. It's a less heralded note this week but an end of an era, for the moment, in prototype racing. An example of what Rebellion's cars might look like from Spa onward is on display this weekend, with the Kodewa Lotus team in a similar black-and-gold livery but with a fin, as it's a 2012 Lola chassis (BELOW).
However, those fans still wanting to see prototypes without the fin still can from Long Beach onwards with the PC class's Oreca FLM09 chassis, in its third year in the series.
BUSY BELL – Justin Bell joins the ABC broadcast team this weekend, as a temporary fill-in for Bill Adam and alongside returnees Brian Till and Johnny O'Connell. Bell, who raced this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona with Magnus Racing in partnership with Racing4Research, is confirmed for at least two and possibly up to four races. Besides Sebring, it's Petit Le Mans in October and likely Mid-Ohio and Mazda Raceway.
“Driving, I realized I never could be the Jeff Gordon or Tom Kristensen I quite wanted to be, but hosting, I feel like I can be the Tom Kristensen of that,” Bell joked. As he'll be in the booth, ABC's broadcast team also includes pit reporters Jamie Howe, Kelli Stavast and Rick DeBruhl. John Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw will again anchor the commentary on the live ESPN3.com telecast.
Also, Justin Bell is not the only Bell in attendance this weekend. Townsend Bell – who will also be busy this year between splitting his duties from racing in ALMS in Alex Job's new Lotus Evora and pit reporting for the NBC Sports Network's IndyCar coverage – worked in collaboration with Justin Bell on SPEED's program “Shut Up and Drive.” Townsend Bell will be in a GTC Porsche for Job this race (RIGHT), as the team's Evora will premiere at Long Beach.
ALSO OF NOTE – Porsche legend Hans Hermann was one of several inductees into the Sebring Hall of Fame. Twice the overall winner at Sebring, Hermann has over 80 career wins to his name.
Two former Grand Prix drivers make their major sports car debuts this week as Nick Heidfeld and Karun Chandhok run in separate LMP1 prototypes in the WEC. Heidfeld's debut comes in the Rebellion Racing Lola B11/60 Toyota, one of the 2011-spec cars, and Chandhok's in JRM's new HPD ARX-03a.
Lastly, Friday marked the 11-year anniversary of the passing of Bob Wollek, who was struck on a bicycle in the paddock in 2001.
The race goes green Saturday at 10:30 a.m. ET, with live coverage on ESPN3.com beginning at 10:15 a.m. ET. Sunday's race telecast will be at noon ET on Sunday on ABC.