Friday, March 15, 2013

Formula One and Sebring, The Racing Season Is Underway

With all the IndyCar testing this week, it is hard to believe I am almost forgot about the opening rounds for the 2013 Formula One and American Le Mans Series seasons.

Formula One Australian Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel returns and looks to add a fourth straight title to his résumé. He and his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber were one-two in Friday second practice, ahead of Nico Rosberg and the Lotuses of Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean. The Ferrari's of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were split by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, as the Germans Adrian Sutil and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten.

The McLaren's of Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez were 11th and 13rd respectively.

The Formula One field is deep this year with five past champions (Vettel, Alonso, Button, Räikkönen and Hamitlon) and is full of young drivers looking for first career wins (Pérez, Grosjean, Hülkenberg).

Is 2013 the year Mercedes become an actual contender? After three seasons of the Rosberg/Michael Schumacher era, the German manufacture could only get one victory. Their new driver Lewis Hamilton won 10 races during that time frame as he looks to become a double World Champion.

Ferrari finished second in the constructor's champions last year, after many thought the car would have been below average. Fernando Alonso's impressive season got Ferrari ahead of McLaren and Lotus and put him only three points back of Vettel for the World Driver's Championship. With a better car in 2013, Alonso looks to be the clear contender against Vettel, while Felipe Massa looks for his first victory since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.

12 Hours of Sebring
This will be the final 12 Hours of Sebring to feature the monster LMP1 cars before the merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am in 2014. More on that below.

Audi makes one final appearance at Sebring with the teams of Fässler/Tréluyer/Jarvis and Kristensen/McNish/di Grassi. The underdogs to Audi are Rebellion Racing (Prost/Jani/Heidfeld and Beche/Belicchi/Cheng), Pickett Racing (Graf/Luhr/Dumas), Dyson Racing (Dyson/Smith/Leitzinger) and the DeltaWing (Meyrick/Pla).

The LMP2 class features four Hondas and one Nissan. Scott Sharp's Extreme Speed Motorsports moves from GT to LMP2 to go head-to-head with Level 5 Motorsports. Sharp teams with Guy Cosmo and David Brabham, while the second car will be driven by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Anthony Lazzaro. Scott Tucker is listed for both Level 5 entries at Sebring, with 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2012 IndyCar Rookie of The Year Simon Pagenaud in the #551 and Marino Franchitti and Ryan Briscoe in the #552. Briscoe is looking for a full season with Level 5 in 2013. The lone Nissan has been entered by the British Greaves Motorsport and drivers Tom Kimber-Smith, Eric Lux and Christian Zugel.

The GT class should be a old school, dog fight to the checkers between Corvette, Aston Martin, BMW, Viper, Ferrari and Porsche. The Rahal BMW's look to win a third in a row at Sebring with Bill Auberlen, Maxime Martin and Jörg Müller in the #55 and Joey Hand, John Edwards and Dirk Müller in the #56. Aston Martin has returned to Sebring with an All-World driver lineups featuring Stefan Mücke, Bruno Senna, Darren Turner, Pedro Lamy, Billy Johnson and Paul Dalla Lana. Corvette has not won at Sebring since they were in the GT1 class in 2009. Viper returns to Sebring after a decade away as the manufacture prepares for their return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June. The Ferraris of Risi Competizione and Alex Job Racing look to start off the weekend well for the Italian manufacture while the underdog Team Falken Tire and Paul Miller Racing look to get a win for Porsche.

United SportsCar Racing
Come 2014, the USCR is what sports car racing will be in the United States. The unified series will feature the Prototype class (LMP2 cars and Daytona Prototypes), Prototype Challenge class (current ALMS PC class), GT Le Mans (ALMS GT), GT Daytona (Grand-Am GT) and the GX class. Gone will be the powerful LMP1 machines of Audi and Toyota at Sebring and Road Atlanta.

The new series has not announced a schedule but I believe the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans will carry over, as will tracks both Grand-Am and ALMS currently race at (Austin, Road America, Laguna Seca and Lime Rock Park) and finally the two races apart of the North American Endurance Championship (Watkins Glen and Indianapolis). That is nine races with probably two to three more to be added.