The 12 Hours of Sebring is the oldest running Sports Car race in North America and this year is the 61st running. Taking place in Sebring, Florida on an old army airfield base that hasn't been repaved since the 1950s, this track is known for it's extremely bumpy surface and is a true test of a car's reliability. Many teams use the 12 Hours of Sebring as the ultimate test preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans as it is said that Sebring will break car parts that you never thought could be broken. The old adage about Sebring is that it is half as long as The 24 Hours of Le Mans, but twice as hard.
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The 12 Hours of Sebring is the opening around of the American Le Mans Series season. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Don Panoz, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) is an effort to bring high-powered, high down-force, European Exotic Sports Car racing to the United States.
Known as "The Global Leader of Green Racing", 5 types of green energy are being used in this race; E10, E85, biodiesel, hybrid electric, and isobutanol. The ALMS is the only racing league officially recognized by the EPA, DOE and SAE as a green racing league.
At the 24 Hours of Le Mans later this year, there is going to be a car that runs on hydrogen and at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nissan is going to build a zero-emissions car.
Like it's IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) predecessor, the ALMS and the 12 Hours of Sebring rely heavily on manufacturer involvement. Some of the iconic cars to win this race include:
Ford GT 40
Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo
Eagle MkIII Toyota
Ferrari 333 SP
Porsche RS Spyder
The ALMS features 5 classes of cars running at the same time, but the class that steals the show and garners world-wide attention is Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1). With by far the most open rulebook in racing and its heavy manufacturer involvement, LMP1 showcases the bleeding edge of automotive engineering technology. To get a sense of how fast these things are, the slowest class in ALMS (GTC) runs about the same lap times as a NASCAR would around the track and the LMP1s start lapping them after 4 or 5 laps, which translates to them being 20-25% faster than a NASCAR car. Stated differently, after 100 laps, a NASCAR would be over 20 laps behind a LMP1 car.
The 2 factory-backed Audi R18 E-Tron Quattros (pics below) are engineering works of art and are the heavy favorites to win this race. These masterpieces utilize hybrid technology, run on biodiesel, and light up the track with their bright LED headlights. Energy under breaking is stored in the flywheel, which gives 500KJ of energy to the front wheels under acceleration by an electric motor, which gives the car four (quattro) wheel drive. This is a huge advantage while working through lap traffic and when driving in wet weather.
Weighing in at only 1000 lbs (half as much as the other Prototypes) and with only 350HP, the revolutionary DeltaWing (pic below) will be entering its first race in LMP1. It's light weight and low horsepower allow it to go a lot further on fuel than the other cars. Last year when it ran unclassified in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was able to go more than 900 miles without changing tires. If it is able to do that again, it may be able to run the entire 12 Hours of Sebring only changing tires once or twice.
GTE is the 4th fastest class of cars out of 5 and often times has been called the best racing on the planet. Full-fledged factory efforts are the norm here and this class will feature entries by Corvette, Ferrari, Dodge Viper, BMW, Aston Martin, and Porsche (no factory efforts though for Porsche in this race). The rules for this class are much tighter and manufacturers must sell a certain amount of production cars in order to enter (although waivers are common).
So why is this important? Aside from the obvious green technology being developed, last year it was announced that Grand Am will buy out the ALMS and that the new series will be called United Sports Car Racing. Grand Am is literally NASCAR racing on road courses and NASCAR owns the series. There is no technology being developed in these cars since NASCAR won't allow any development. The cars are all performance balanced to run equal to each other. Sure you may get a Ford racing against a Corvette, but it doesn't mean anything as they are performance balanced to run equal, so there is no incentive to improve your car since 1.NASCAR won't allow it and 2.Even if they did, it will be performance balanced to run equal to the worst car in your class anyway. There is literally no reason to develop any new technology or aerodynamic advantages in Grand Am since any advantages will be taken away. You can forget about any green energy as NASCAR just got rid of leaded fuel a few years ago, which the rest of society did in the 1970s.
Grand Am cars are embarrassingly slow as they can BARELY beat the ALMS GTE cars (4th fastest class in ALMS) around the track. Hence after this year, there will be no more LMP1 cars regularly in North America. From 2014 on, people in the US will only be able to see LMP1 cars once a year in North America when the European cars come to Austin.
Contrast Grand Am cars to ALMS LMP1 with a wide open rulebook of different fuel types, different engine sizes and types, different aerodynamics, open or closed cockpit cars, manufacturers and privateers, and different tire developers. Even the cars all sound different from each other. In fact if you spend enough time at the track, you could close your eyes and tell what car is coming by since they all emit different sounds such as the rumbling of the Corvette or the "Whoosh" of the Audi. But the best part of LMP1 (also LMP2 and to a much lesser extent GTE) is that the cars are not performance balanced. If Audi built a car that is 5 seconds a lap faster than yours, don't whine to the series officials about it. If you want to beat Audi, you'll have to build a better car.
Here is the TV Coverage for this great race.
USA: Saturday Times are EST
SPEED Channel 10:30am-12pm LIVE
ALMS.com In Car Streaming 12pm-1pm LIVE
SPEED Channel 1pm-7:30pm LIVE
ALMS.com In Car Streaming 7:30pm-10:45pm (finish) LIVE
SPEED Channel 10:30pm-1:00am Sunday (Tape Delay of the last 3 hours compressed into 2.5 hours)
MotorsTV will be showing 10 out of the 12 hours LIVE.
Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro
Extreme Speed Motorsports LMP2
What NASCAR thinks Sports Cars should be