While 49 cars is far from the largest field ever to contest the annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring endurance sports car event, the grid size represents a noticeable increase for the 2015 race when only 43 cars took the green flag. In addition to the field reveal, the sanctioning body for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has made further changes to its Balance of Performance settings following the series’ open test last week at the 3.7 mile layout, which was attended by a majority of those who will be track side next weekend.
The most noticeable division where adjustments to BoP are prevalent is in the showcase Prototype class, which will draw a grid of 12 cars at Sebring. While Rolex 24 at Daytona participants Chip Ganassi Racing and SMP Racing will bid adieu after competing in the top IMSA division two months ago, the Sebring round features two new challengers to fill their roles. One is Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed outfit, whose effort will mark the North American debut for the ORECA 05 coupe, which coupled with Nissan V-8 power handily won the LMP-2 division last summer at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Also among the newcomer list is Alegra Motorsports, who will add a second BMW-powered Riley Daytona Prototype to the grid, next to Fifty Plus Racing’s entry. The Carlos de Quesada-led operation had hoped to make their IMSA debut at Daytona, but will instead do so next weekend.
Rolex 24 at Daytona overall winners Tequila Patron ESM return with their Ligier-Honda coupe, the last race in which the Florida-based squad will feature the V-6 turbo engine. Following Sebring, ESM will switch to Nissan power for the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. The task for Scott Sharp’s squad to back-up its win from two months ago could be much more difficult here however. On Wednesday, IMSA elected to reduce the boost power produced by the Honda turbo for Sebring, a move that will also effect fellow Ligier-Honda runners Michael Shank Racing, who with Olivier Pla at the controls set the fastest time during the open test last week.
DragonSpeed’s ORECA coupe will also face an uphill climb in its first American effort as IMSA has cut the size of its air restrictor by over two millimeters in size. The adjustments would appear to tilt the performance edge in favor of those using the Daytona Prototype-style of car in IMSA’s top division, most notably the Chevrolet Corvette DPs which won last year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in the hands of Action Express Racing.
After making an impressive early run two months ago at Daytona, Dr. Don Panoz’s DeltaWing operation could make another strong showing at Sebring, as series officials have repealed its initial weight increase and boost pressure cut to the team’s Elan-powered coupe that were added before the open test was run.
In Prototype Challenge, only the second BAR 1 Motorsports entry will be missing from the Sebring paddock next weekend. The Chevrolet-powered ORECA FLM09s used by all PC entrants will feature major upgrades to the electronics and engine as opposed to their form seen at Daytona. Engine builder Katech, has provided a more powerful V-8 engine for Sebring as part of a smaller and lighter design, and Motec will offer a new electronics package geared more towards the new traction control system in PC, as opposed to the car’s original Magnetti Marelli-based unit. Reigning PC division champions CORE autosport initially tested the new Motec package during the off season and Rolex 24 class winners JDC-Miller Motorsports ran with the package fully operational during the open test last week. The remaining PC teams on the grid will also have access to the new equipment in time for the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Despite everyone appearing to be on equal footing, the extra legwork could provide an advantage for the two test teams in relation to the remainder of the Prototype Challenge fleet, which could be lead by Starworks Motorsport’s two-car assault.
In GT Le Mans, only SMP Racing’s Ferrari 488 GTE will be absent from the ten-car lineup set for the WeatherTech Championship’s second stanza. After a myriad of adjustments were made to the entrants in the division prior to the Sebring open test, only small adjustments in terms of fuel capacity were made by IMSA following it. The pre-test maneuvers sought to bring the field closer to Corvette Racing’s pair of C7.Rs, which in photo finish fashion placed first and second at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. The changes made for Sebring should boost the potential for victory for the trio of BMW, Porsche, and Ford, the latter of which suffered through a series of mechanical failures during its debut run at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Finally in GT Daytona, 20 cars are ready to contest the second leg of the North American Endurance Cup. The event will be without the Frikadelli Racing Porsche GT3-R as the team returns to its native Germany in preparation for the upcoming Nurburgring 24 Hours. However, in their place is the addition of the Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, along with a second Lamborghini being entered by Change Racing. As reported yesterday by OnPitRoad.com, the driving duo of Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell have joined Change’s squad for the remainder of the 2016 WeatherTech Championship after their initial employer O’Gara Motorsports ceased operations after Daytona. A new car also enters the foray in GTD at Sebring as Scuderia Corsa debuts its Ferrari 488 GT3 next weekend.
Stay tuned next week to OnPitRoad.com for a further in-depth preview of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.