In my ceaselessly selfish endeavor to follow as many long endurance races in 2017 as possible, let’s take a look at an endurance doubleheader that includes one American icon and one relative newcomer to the game. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship hosts its second round of the season, the 12 Hours of Sebring, at Sebring International Raceway this weekend. That caps the two-race beginning to IMSA’s season in Florida after an exciting 24 Hours of Daytona. In Italy, the Hankook 24H Series holds its own second round, the 12 Hours of Mugello.
About the 12 Hours of Sebring
Sebring’s great race tradition dates back to a New Year’s Eve race in 1950, when the former B-17 training airfield in Sebring, Florida, hosted a six-hour race that Fritz Koster and Ralph Deshon won in a Crosley HotShot, somehow. Since then, the race has grown in importance from a large SCCA club race to one of the biggest dates on the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s annual schedule.
While the configuration of the track has changed from the first races, much of the original concrete from the World War II paving remains in place with all the warts that make this such a challenging race. Huge bumps and cracks litter the racing surface while patched sections change grip levels constantly throughout the course of the day even when there isn’t rain. If it does rain—as often is the case at Sebring—drainage is poor and driver face significant challenges keeping their cars out of the walls.
12 Hours of Sebring Mini-Preview
IMSA’s current championship includes four classes of racing, so we’ll take a brief look at each of those. See the entry list here for more info.
Prototype – The host of brand-new cars cut their teeth at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January. The trio of Cadillacs from Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing (two cars) were the class of the field, though IMSA has changed the Balance of Performance to slow them a bit. The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports car won at Sebring last year on the back of an electrifying performance by Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani so keep an eye on that team’s new Nissan GT-R-powered prototype. Rebellion Racing’s Oreca 07 still has the deepest driver lineup. The VisitFlorida Riley-Multimatic car and Mazda Prototypes could play spoilers here.
Prototype Challenge – In a four-car spec class, Performance Tech won at Daytona going away from the whole field with the second-youngest crew (by average age) ever to compete there. This one is all about who doesn’t break their car.
Grand Touring-Le Mans – These are the factory-backed cars that also race at Le Mans. Ford seems intent on winning all the big endurance races that the old GT40 won in the 1960s and will have three Ford GTs at Sebring to round out the trifecta (Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring). They’ll compete with solid factory-backed efforts that include the venerable Chevy Corvette, redesigned Porsche 911, BMW M6, and the not-factory Risi Competizione Ferrari 488. All these GTLM cars have tremendous driver lineups and picking a favorite is impossible, though Ford has numerical superiority on their side.
Grand Touring-Daytona – Comprised of 21 entries, GTD is by far the biggest class with a field full of GT3-spec cars. Alegra Motorsports came from nowhere to win at Daytona in their Porsche GT3, but Sebring is a different animal from Daytona. Porsches—of which there are three in the field—tend to do well at Sebring, but the field is so deep here, like GTLM, that it’s impossible to pick a frontrunner.
I’d suggest there are at least 10 teams easily in the hunt plus another five or so that could win with some luck. Here’s who I’d look for: #23 Alex Job Racing (Audi R8), #28 Alegra Motorsports (Porsche 911), #29 Land Motorsport (Audi R8), #33 Riley Technologies (Mercedes AMG GT), #48 Paul Miller Racing (Lamborghini Huracan), #54 CORE Autosport (Porsche 911), #57 Stevenson Motorsport (Audi R8), #63 Scuderia Corsa (Ferrari 488), #73 Park Place Motorsport (Porsche 911), and #86/#93 Michael Shank Racing (2x Acura NSX).
About the 12 Hours of Mugello
Lesser known than other Italian circuits, Mugello is best regarded as a motorcycle track, but it’s also a world-class facility for four-wheel racing. This race comes as part of the Hankook 24H Series, which is largely intended for high-end Pro-Am sports car racing. The machinery includes first-rate FIA GT3 cars but also includes car types down to moderately modified hot hatches.
Like several other events in the 24H Series, the race at Mugello will be divided into two race sessions over two days to make up 12 hours. Saturday will start with four hours of racing to be finished with an eight-hour day on Sunday.
12 Hours of Mugello Mini-Preview
As a season-long championship, the 24H Series has in the past failed to draw large numbers to their races. However, an entry list with nearly 20 GT3 cars is encouraging for the series as a championship unto itself. The GT3 cars compete in the “A6” class, which is subdivided into Pro and Am subcategories depending on the number of professional drivers. Diving further into this topic is off-putting to the casual fan so I’ll spare the details.
The depth of talent is surprising with a major GT race taking place across the Atlantic. Expect the Scuderia Praha (Ferrari 488), Konrad Motorsport (Lamborghini Huracan), HTP Motorsport (Mercedes AMG GT), and Ram Racing (Mercedes AMG GT) to have the hottest shoes. A number of teams have really figured out how to maximize the 24H Series’ ruleset and you can never count those teams, like 24 Hours of Dubai winners Herberth Racing (Porsche 911) and Hofor-Racing (Mercedes AMG GT), out of competition.
In the 991 class for Porsche Cup cars, look for the all-American driver lineup of PROsport Performance (Charles Putnam, Charles Espenlaub, and Joe Foster) to score big points while chasing the class championship. They finished second at Dubai but lead the points among full-season entries.
The remaining classes have some great stuff; the “SP2” class is kind of a catch-all for stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else, like the Australian-built, V8-powered tubeframe MARC Cars “Ford Focus.” Throw in a class (SP3-GT4) for GT4-spec cars, TCR for touring cars, and A2 for hatchbacks to keep things interesting.
How to watch
Both races will have commentary by Radio Le Mans teams; Sebring will be under IMSA Radio on Radio Le Mans’ radio player while Mugello should be under the Radio Le Mans channel. IMSA.tv will stream all of the support races, I believe, while Mugello will also have streaming coverage of the whole race on the series’ website.
12 HOURS OF SEBRING
12 Hours of Sebring
Race starts at 10:30 a.m. ET.
Live TV coverage – 12:30 p.m. ET to 11 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Check IMSA.tv for coverage before 12:30 p.m. ET.
12 Hours of Mugello
Race Session 1 – 9 a.m. ET, streaming on 24H Live page
Race Session 2 – 5 a.m. ET, streaming on 24H Live page
Upcoming Endurance Races
March 31 to April 1: Hankook 24H Touring Car Endurance Series – 24 Hours of Silverstone
April 7 to 8: Hankook 24H Series – 12 Hours of Austria
April 21 to 22: SCCA Devil in the Dark
May 6 to 7: April 7 to 8: Hankook 24H Series – 24 Hours of Paul Ricard
May 27 to 28: Nurburgring 24 Hours
[Photos: IMSA.com, Wayne Taylor Racing, 24H Series]