Although the prototype classes will look decidedly different at Sebring in 2014, fans of the ALMS GT category can breathe a sigh of relief. The wildly popular class will go forward unchanged, but there are questions regarding whether every manufacturer will stay in GT or switch to one of the Rolex Series categories.
For now, the 12 Hours represents a guaranteed opportunity to witness reigning class winners BMW duel with factory entries from Aston Martin, Corvette, and SRT Viper. Works-supported Ferrari and Porsche privateers bring the count to 12 cars.
BMW, with its partners at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has parked the proven M3 V8 platform in favor of the stunning Z4 V8. The Z4 isn't new to endurance racing, and RLLR put the Nos. 55 and 56 through the paces in preseason testing at Sebring, but there are always concerns about reliability when a car like the Z4 debuts at a concussive circuit like Sebring.
If one of the Z4s can race without interruption, back-to-back victories for BMW is within the realm of possibilities, but the increased speed and zombie-like constitution of the Corvette Racing team makes me believe a C6.R will be the first to reach the checkered flag. The C6.Rs are always there or thereabouts, always moving forward, and with the wider suspension and higher rear wing mounting that transformed them into 2012 ALMS champions, the title-winning team of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook in the No. 4 should open their season in grand style.
Risi Competizione is back with essentially the same team that earned the 2011 ALMS GT championship, and with Gimmi Bruni leading the No. 62 Ferrari F458 effort, a podium finish is more than possible. Two separate Porsche entries have plenty of talent to draw upon, but with 2013 serving as a transition year for the brand as it readies the GT version of its new 991, Sebring could be a forgettable experience.
Aston Martin and SRT Viper rank as the two major wild cards in the entire event. In terms of year-to-year development progress, the Vipers made the biggest leap in the GT paddock. SRT also revised its driver lineup, adding 2012 FIA WEC P2 champ Ryan Dalziel and 2010 Rolex GT title-winner Jonathan Bomarito to the program for the entire season. All of the tweaks and upgrades should result in a strong return to the 12 Hours for the Riley Technologies-run Vipers. The potential is certainly there for the V10-powered Nos. 91 and 93 to race inside the top 5, and with their debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans set for June, getting to the finish will be the most important goal to achieve on Saturday. First comes reliability, then reliability and speed…
Depending on the track, AMR's Vantage V8s can be blindingly fast, and of its two entries, the No. 97 of Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Bruno Senna can be expected to live on or above the limit throughout the race. Newcomer Senna is the car's personnel wildcard, and if the ex-Williams F1 driver and his co-drivers can avoid getting caught up in accidents, the British marque could be a handful to deal with.
The identical Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars will be absorbed into the Rolex GT class for 2014, giving the ALMS GTC competitors one last dogfight at Sebring in their own category. Multiple ALMS GT champions Flying Lizard Motorsports has dropped down to GTC this season, making them a Sebring and title favorite based on history alone, but the class is overflowing with stellar drivers and teams that have no intention of letting that happen.
Frankly, I could offer suggestions on which car might win, but when the two Lizard cars have possibly the weakest driver lineups in GTC, there's no need to bother. The class receives the least amount of coverage during the race, but for those in attendance, it's the only one that guarantees a 12-hour slugfest that will defy any predictions that are made!
Qualifying will be streamed live on Friday, March 15, at 1:05 p.m. ET on SPEED.com. Race coverage begins Saturday, March 16, at 10:30 a.m. ET on SPEED.