Wednesday, March 13, 2019

2019 1000 Miles of Sebring/12 Hours of Sebring Preview

This weekend marks the long-awaited Sebring weekend but this year for different reasons.

Not only will it be the 67th 12 Hours of Sebring but it will be the first edition of the 1000 Miles of Sebring for the FIA World Endurance Championship. This illustrious doubleheader will see the FIA World Endurance Championship hit the track for its race at 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday March 15th with the 12 Hours of Sebring starting at 10:40 a.m. ET on Saturday March 16th.

It has been six weeks since the IMSA season opener from Daytona but it has been four months since the FIA World Endurance Championship last contested a race. This preview aims to answer any questions heading into this weekend's dynamic duo of endurance events.

We start with the FIA WEC...

How many laps is 1000 miles at Sebring?
Either 267 or 268 laps, it all depends if the FIA wants to round up or round down but this race has a curfew of midnight so this race will take no longer than eight hours.

Where do we stand in this championship?
The #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima lead with 102 points, five points over the sister car, the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. The #7 Toyota has won the last two races after the #8 won the first two races and both cars were disqualified from Silverstone, gifting that victory to the #3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13 of Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche.

Do any other teams have a shot at the overall victory if the Toyotas aren't disqualified?
Probably not but it is Sebring and the track eats race cars. We have seen two Toyotas break down before and hand a victory to another team. You cannot rule it out. It is unlikely but it should not be surprising.

What about the other class? Let's start with LMP2.
Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi have won three of five races in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca and with 112 points holds a ten-point lead over the #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão. Because the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca has had an entire shift change with all three Malaysian drivers Weiron Tan, Jazeman Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri being dropped the LMP2 championship will be a two-horse race from here.

And GTE-Pro?
Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre are kind of running away with it in the #92 Porsche. They have 111 points, two victories and have been on the podium in all five races. The next closest competitions are the #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla and the #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, both 43 points back.

Finally, GTE-Am?
Team Project 1 of Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti lead with 20 points but they are scrambling to make the race after a testing accident preparing for Sebring. It is unclear the #56 Porsche will make the race.

Who is positioned to pounce in GTE-Am?
Our old friends, the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. The only way they can get the championship lead at Sebring is through a victory and they might not do that but if they can erase most of the deficit in this race it will set up for a nervy final two rounds at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans for the Team Project 1 Porsche.

With this being an American round, anyone making a cameo? 
Corvette will field an entry for Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Mike Rockenfeller. They will drive the #63 Corvette.

Ford will have Billy Johnson as a third driver in the #66 Ford GT and Jonathan Bomarito in the #67 Ford GT.

Gunnar Jeannette will be in the #50 Larbre Compétition Ligier with Edwin Creed and Romano Ricci.

What other changes since the last race?
With the previously mentioned shake up in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King and Will Stevens will be in that car.

Jenson Button is busy doing some off-road stuff and Brendon Hartley will take his place in the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1.

Where is André Lotterer?
Doing some Formula E simulator work that could not be scheduled for any other time but this weekend so for the first time in his career he will be absent from an FIA WEC round.

Mathias Beche will slide into the #1 Rebellion R13 and Nathanaël Berthon will fill the vacancy in the #3 Rebellion R13.

So has anyone still be in every FIA WEC round?
Yes. Christian Ried and he will be in the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.

Moving on to IMSA... Will Alonso be in the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac?
Nope. Toyota has strict orders and neither he nor Kobayashi will be competing in the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Who will join Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande then?
Matthieu Vaxivière.

How many drivers will be doing both races?
van der Zande
Hartley (More on him in moment)...
Harry Tincknell

Will it rain at Sebring?
There is a 90% chance of thunderstorms Saturday night. You have been warned. Go prepared!

Who is fighting uphill after Daytona?
Mazda. It lost both its cars due to fires within 20 minutes of each other and it started on pole position for that race. It can't get any worse for this team but it has not been getting any better. Add to it that the entire #55 Mazda lineup of Bomarito, Tincknell and Pla are running the night before. That mileage could catch up to them. The good news is Oliver Jarvis broke the Daytona track record, he won this race back in 2013 and he will be fresh for the 12 hours in the #77 Mazda with Tristan Nunez and 2008 12 Hours of Sebring winner Timo Bernhard.

Doesn't all signs point to Penske winning this race?
Let's see...

Two NASCAR Cup series victories, swept the opening weekend of the Supercars season, won the IndyCar season opener, was third in the 24 Hours of Daytona but who knows what happens if the race stays dry...

Yes, yes all signs point to another Penske victory.

If we have learned anything from 2019 it is Penske is going to win every race everywhere. Alexander Rossi was strong at Daytona and he returns in the #7 Acura with Ricky Taylor and Hélio Castroneves. The #6 Acura of Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud is capable of winning as well.

What about the other Cadillacs?
Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani were both strong at Daytona in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. Derani has won this race two of the last three years.

Its sister car had a bit of an off day at Daytona but Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa will be back at Sebring expect they will not have a Lusophone third driver because Brendon Hartley will be in the #5 Cadillac.

As for Juncos Racing and JDC-Miller Motorsports, it is not their times yet.

Could Nissan repeat?
Absolutely. It is a new team but CORE Autosport has done a standout job. This team fourth at Daytona and after very little time with the race car. This team does a great job with driver strategy and in all likelihood Jon Bennett will start the race, keep the car on the road and hand it off for Colin Braun and Romain Dumas to charge to victory and if they don't win they will likely come damn close.

Any LMP2 teams show up?
Performance Tech Motorsports with the #38 Oreca for Kyle Masson and Cameron Cassels and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports with the #52 Oreca for Matthew McMurry and Gabriel Aubry. Both entries have a TBA as third drivers.

Is Alex Zanardi here?
Nope. Back to your boring GTLM line ups of Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Philipp Eng in the #24 BMW and Connor De Phillippi, Tom Blomqvist and Colton Herta in the #25 BMW.

Is Blomqvist going to make it this time?
.... Yes.

I guess we should have asked the same question for Conway as well above?
Conway was already in Sebring for testing last weekend so unless he left the country for some reason in the last four days I think he will be in this race.

Which IndyCar driver needs the GTLM class victory the most?
Scott Dixon finished second at St. Petersburg while Herta has already won the 24 Hours of Daytona and he finished eighth in the IndyCar season opener. Sébastien Bourdais has finished seventh at Daytona and retired after a smattering of laps at St. Petersburg. I think he is going to want this a little more than the other two.

This appears to be the one endurance race eluding Ford.
Kind of. Since 2014, the GTLM class winners at Sebring have been Porsche, Corvette, Corvette, Corvette and Porsche. Ford has only one podium finish in its three 12 Hours of Sebring attempts.

With the #3 Corvette drivers also running the WEC race, is it up to the #4 Corvette to carry the weight?
Yes and no. The #3 Corvette has won the GTLM class every odd year since 2015. This is an odd year. Oliver Gavin has the most class victories at Sebring among active drivers and that sixth victory was in 2016, however, in the other four Sebring races since the merger he and Tommy Milner have not finished better than sixth.

Porsche is going to win GTLM, isn't it?
It has the deepest line up. None of its six IMSA drivers are running the WEC race. Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki won last year and all three are back in the #911 Porsche and the other car is Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Mathieu Jaminet. Any one want to bet against either of these two entries?

Is GT Daytona a toss up between 17 cars representing eight manufactures?
You know it.

I have no clue who to pick. Grasser Racing Team is sticking around for Daytona this year but it will have only Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers and Rolf Ineichen in the #11 Lamborghini. Montaplast by Land Motorsport is still here with the #29 Audi and it has another Daytona penalty to avenge after it was disqualified from second place.

Add to those two mercenaries from Europe the regular characters of Mercedes-AMG Team Riley, two Meyer Shank Racing Acuras, two AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexuses, Lamborghinis from Magnus Racing and Paul Miller Racing, Scuderia Corsa's Ferrari, the Park Place Motorsports Porsche, a Starworks Audi, a Pfaff Motorsports Audi and the Turner Motorsports BMW and your guess is as good as mine in this class.

Four different manufactures have won this class the last four years and no team has repeated in this class since the merger.

Eventually that streak will have to end but I might put money on it continuing for just one more year.

And there you have it. Two races, one preview and 20 hours of racing are ahead of us this weekend. This weekend will be a first and hopefully the first of many co-dependent weekends to come.