Leaving Dempsey Racing out of the top tier was rather difficult considering they podiumed last year. However, repeating will be a substantially difficult task, given the more than a dozen additional GT class entries in 2012 feature some very strong packages. Put this way, if either one of the team's No. 40 or No. 41 Mazda RX-8s score a podium in 2012, it will be a much greater accomplishment than a year ago.
Fellow Mazda squad Team Sahlen has added Dane Cameron to its driving lineup. Although Cameron was able to lift two other gentlemen drivers to a class win at last year's 12 Hours of Sebring, doing likewise with three or four semi-pros in this deep a class would be nothing short of a herculean effort. The team has three cars entered, but has withdrawn one in previous years, which should leave either its No. 42 or 43 car to go the distance.
A late entrant to the field comes from Yellow Dragon Motorsports, which struggled in its debut Rolex 24 appearance a year ago. In year two, its No. 36 Mazda RX-8 should feature slightly more prominently with a lineup including the father-and-son pairing of John and Jarett Andretti, along with ex-Star Mazda racers Anders Krohn and Taylor Hacquard.
Of the remaining two Ferraris, Extreme Speed Motorsports (No. 03 Ferrari 458) should run stronger than the AF Waltrip entry. Scott Sharp's ALMS team managed a runner-up finish at the 2010 Petit Le Mans, and features the underrated Johannes van Overbeek and Guy Cosmo driving together rather than apart as they usually do in ALMS.
APR Motorsport (No. 51 Audi R8, RIGHT) is probably the stronger of the first two announced Audis, although its reliability may be its sore point. The driver lineup features an Audi legend (Emanuele Pirro), two young chargers (Dion von Moltke, Ian Baas), and two gentlemen drivers (Dr. Jim Norman, Nelson Canache).
Second entries from Magnus Racing (No. 4 Porsche GT3 Cup) and Stevenson Motorsports (No. 75 Camaro GT.R) should hover around the top 10 with potential of running better. Magnus's car is run in partnership with the Children's Tumor Foundation and Racing for Research, and has SPEED in-race reporter Justin Bell and Continental Tire Challenge ST runner-up Ryan Eversley in its driver lineup. That's among the strongest “tier two” entries.
Two intriguing Porsche lineups (LEFT) come from FOAMETIX/Burtin Racing with Goldcrest Motorsports (No. 17 Porsche GT3 Cup) and NGT Motorsport (No. 26 Porsche GT3 Cup). While Burtin has Daytona legend Jack Baldwin and young chargers Bryan Sellers and Martin Ragginger aboard its lineup, keep an eye on Nick Tandy and Sean Edwards in their stints in the MOMO-liveried NGT Porsche. Edwards snuck up on the ALMS scene a year ago with one pole and a near-class win in GTC, and a YouTube search for him at the Nurburgring might leave one breathless.
Both Alex Job Racing and TRG have one of their Porsches that could fall into any of the three categories. Cort Wagner (Job No. 24) and Damien Faulkner (TRG No. 68) have the potential to lift their cars higher than they otherwise should be given their respective co-drivers. If neither lives up to par, these two cars could fall to the depths of the class.
TRG ran a car in partnership with GMG last year, but California-based GMG has branched off into two Porsches run with Orbit (Nos. 32 and 34) in 2012. They are the latest entries into the field and among the hardest cars to project, but should be more than just bottom-feeders. The team's lineup hasn't been confirmed but is rumored to include Madison Snow. If he drives, he'd be the field's youngest driver, having won IMSA's GT3 Challenge Gold Cup title at age 15 last year.