Sun rose on quite a bit at Sebring, 2012. Photo: Tony DiZinno

It’s been five years since lone ALMS, WEC Sebring double in 2012

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Today marks five years since the first and only time the FIA World Endurance Championship and American Le Mans Series raced together, in the same race, but as separate series, in what was the 60th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2012.

The trajectories of the two championships since – and of the participants in that race – has been fascinating to document in world sports car racing history.

Consider in that race, you had nine total classes comprising 64 cars. The same designation of car, a Ferrari F458 Italia, was entered in three different classes. There was a No. 55, 055 and 155 in the race. There were 23 different car specifications and five different tire manufacturers (Michelin, Dunlop, Pirelli, Falken, Yokohama).

And then you had the winners. This meant there were nine pole winners, then nine class winners, and a total of 27 of 64 cars eligible to score podium finish. Since all cars had three drivers, that meant you had to be ready to have 81 trophies ready… and that was before you got to the separate Michelin Green X Challenge winners, with a separate trophy awarded both for ALMS and WEC participants.

Fittingly, it was run on March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day – a day where everything is done to excess.

If ever there was a race in recent times that lived up to the joke of “everyone gets a trophy,” 2012 Sebring was it.

THE CLASSES

Then-ACO President Jean-Claude Plassart with then-ALMS President (now IMSA President) Scott Atherton. Photo: Tony DiZinno
Then-ACO President Jean-Claude Plassart with then-ALMS President (now IMSA President) Scott Atherton. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Most sports car races over the last decade or so have had between two or five classes. So how, you might ask, did this Sebring end up with nine?

The logistics of launching a new FIA World Championship – the relaunched FIA WEC – meant that their race was treated as independent of the ALMS race happening at the same time, on the same track, with more or less the same cars. But, the classes could not be combined.

The FIA WEC launched with its four classes: LMP1, LMP2, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am, the same four that exist to this day, five years later.

Meanwhile ALMS carried on with its five classes: P1, P2, PC, GT and GTC. The P1, P2 and GT classes ran cars that could have been considered part of the LMP1, LMP2 and GTE-Pro classes but could not be combined. Meanwhile the spec PC and GTC classes added an extra 18 cars to the field – nine cars apiece – all of whom had mixed levels of talent behind the wheel.

The combination of cars also created a numbering issue where if there were duplicates, a 0 or 1 was added to ALMS numbers. The quirkiest situation here was that an FIA WEC car carried No. 55, and with Level 5’s ALMS P2 car carrying No. 055, the BMW Team RLL No. 55 BMW M3 had to add a 1 in front of it to be No. 155 in this race.

Another quirk came with the TV presentation, and this wasn’t anyone’s fault but added to the degree of difficulty from a presentation standpoint. The ALMS’ five classes had five “color codes” associated with them – red, blue, purple, green and orange, respectively – for P1, P2, PC, GT and GTC. But because additional color codes couldn’t be added in graphics, the classes did have to be combined on the “hat” – the running order across the top. So P1 and P2 included WEC LMP1 and LMP2, and GT included WEC GTE-Pro and GTE-Am.

THE POLESITTERS

Photo: Tony DiZinno
Photo: Tony DiZinno

The race had to begin with polesitters, and while in most races you have one, in this one, you had nine.

Andre Lotterer set the overall pole in the No. 1 Audi R18 TDI, which debuted in 2011 and ran at Sebring prior to Audi’s debut of the R18 e-tron quattro later that year. This was in LMP1, and a lap of 1:45.820 is still several seconds faster than what you’ll see for pole today in the new DPi/LMP2 cars.

Klaus Graf had the P1 pole – best of two new cars debuting in the ALMS’ top class – in what was the No. 6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a. Graf’s pole lap was stunning because it was fourth overall between all the combined P1 cars, and at a 1:47.536, was more than seven seconds quicker from the other debuting ALMS P1 car, the No. 16 Dyson Racing Lola B12/80 Mazda qualified by Chris Dyson, which was only good enough for 23rd overall.

The two P2 polesitters were Olivier Pla (WEC LMP2, No. 24 OAK Racing Morgan Judd, 1:50.467) and Christophe Bouchut (ALMS P2, No. 055 Level 5 HPD ARX-03b, 1:52.129). Bruno Junqueira took the PC pole for RSR Racing at 1:54.510 in the No. 9 Oreca FLM09.

The FIA WEC got ahead of the ALMS in the GT qualifying ranks, too. Gianmaria Bruni took the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari to a lap of 1:58.427 for the WEC GTE-Pro pole, while Jan Magnussen had the ALMS GT pole in his No. 03 Corvette C6.R at 1:58.996.

Remaining polesitters were Dominik Farnbacher (WEC GTE-Am, No. 58 Luxury Ferrari, 2:00.184) and the late Sean Edwards (ALMS GTC, No. 30 MOMO NGT Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, 2:06.674).

THE RACE ITSELF

Race start. Photo: Tony DiZinno
Race start. Photo: Tony DiZinno

Although there were 64 cars, a number reduced by one when one of two Gulf Middle East Lolas in LMP2 was excluded before the race because it didn’t meet a minimum pace standard, the race was remembered for a high amount of cautions (11 for 55 laps, for several hours of the 12)  and a bit of drama and heartbreak towards the end of the race.

Audi cruised to the overall victory with the veteran trio of Allan McNish, Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen in the No. 2 R18 TDI. Audi led all but two laps of the 325 completed overall between its three cars.

But two other class wins were less certain. Muscle Milk Pickett, poised for an overall podium finish to go along with the LMP1 win, slowed in the final hour with a fueling issue on its final stop. It was a gut-wrenching loss for the trio of Graf, Lucas Luhr and Simon Pagenaud, and opened the door for Dyson, Guy Smith and Steven Kane to score the class victory despite the pace deficit.

It was the GT classes where the drama took center stage towards the end. Joey Hand beat Olivier Beretta after a door-banging battle to be top GT car, and Hand’s No. 56 BMW M3 he shared with Dirk Mueller and Jonathan Summerton finished ahead of Beretta’s Ferrari. Yet because this was a race of two series, Beretta’s No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari he shared with Marco Cioci and Andrea Bertolini actually won the WEC GTE-Pro class… yet dropped to third on the road among GT cars behind the Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor Corvette. Taylor was making his debut as a Corvette Racing driver this race.

HPD, which lost the ALMS P1 win it deserved, then won both ALMS P2 and WEC P2 in the same race with the P2-spec HPD ARX-03b. It was Peter Baron’s Starworks Motorsport, in the team’s WEC debut ahead of an eventual world championship-winning season, that won Sebring with Ryan Dalziel, Stephane Sarrazin and Enzo Potolicchio and came third overall. Level 5 came fourth with Bouchut, Scott Tucker and Joao Barbosa.

The other class winners were CORE autosport (ALMS PC) with an abnormal lineup of Alex Popow, Burt Frisselle and then-IndyCar driver E.J. Viso, Team Felbermayr-Proton (WEC GTE-Am) with Christian Ried, Paolo Ruberti and Gianluca Roda and Alex Job Racing (ALMS GTC) with Dion von Moltke, Bill Sweedler, and sports car debutante Townsend Bell. Bell and Sweedler have been paired together continuously through various teams, cars and series in the years since.

Among other quirky or notable moments from this race:

  • FIA President Jean Todt was present at this race for the launch of the FIA WEC, notable because the Australian Grand Prix was taking place in Melbourne on the same weekend.
  • Conquest Racing made a pre-race driver change, race morning, swapping in Jan Heylen for Francesco Dracone. Heylen’s only pre-race running came in the morning warmup; the car eventually finished third in ALMS P2 with Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier Hansson.
  • Team Falken Tire lost an engine of its Porsche 911 GT3 RSR in the pre-race morning warmup, but the Derrick Walker-led team got the car back out with mere seconds to spare before the green flag after an engine change.
  • A Dempsey Racing-entered PC car completed a pirouette at Cunningham corner where the car went airborne with Henri Richard driving after colliding with another PC car. Richard was OK but the car he shared with Duncan Ende and Dane Cameron was out.
  • The original Nissan DeltaWing was revealed during race week, ahead of its race debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. By the next year, all of the original partners – Michelin, Nissan, Ben Bowlby, All American Racers and Highcroft Racing – all moved on from the program and ALMS founder Dr. Don Panoz pressed on with the effort on his own!
Nissan DeltaWing 1.0. Photo: Tony DiZinno
Nissan DeltaWing 1.0. Photo: Tony DiZinno

HOW SPORTS CAR RACING HAS MOVED ON SINCE

The 64 cars entered for that year’s Sebring were split 30 FIA WEC entries and 34 ALMS entries.

Here are the teams still active five years later as full-season entrants within the FIA WEC or the ALMS’ successor, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship:

  • FIA WEC: Rebellion Racing, Signatech (as Signatech Alpine), AF Corse, Team Felbermayr-Proton (as Proton), Aston Martin Racing, Larbre Competition*
  • IMSA: CORE autosport, Starworks Motorsport, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, Performance Tech Motorsports, Merchant Services Racing (as BAR1 Motorsports), RSR Racing (as 3GT Racing), BMW Team RLL, Corvette Racing, Paul Miller Racing, Extreme Speed Motorsports (as Tequila Patron ESM), Alex Job Racing*, TRG

There are other teams from that race still active in other series, such as Black Swan Racing and GMG, for instance. Starworks and ESM have both made WEC trips but now are focused solely Stateside in IMSA. Larbre and Job have not confirmed their 2017 race schedules beyond a handful of endurance races.

Because of the rate of development, the only cars still active in 2017 that were active in 2012 are the Ferrari F458 Italia, Aston Martin Vantage and Oreca FLM09. The Aston has been heavily revised over five years. The Ferrari is in the hands of privateer JMW Motorsport, who race in the European Le Mans Series and will race at Le Mans. The Oreca, the PC class stalwart, will be retired along with the PC class from IMSA at year’s end.

The FIA WEC enters its sixth year overall in 2017 with a reduced full-season entry (at least for this year, although it figures to spring back in 2018) while IMSA is in its fourth year as a combined entity following the ALMS/GRAND-AM Rolex Series merger.

Audi’s absence will be felt within the WEC but two LMP1 manufacturers that weren’t at the first WEC race – Toyota and Porsche – will battle between themselves. The remaining privateer teams from that Sebring race have either moved on or dropped out entirely.

OAK Racing was only a team back then but Jacques Nicolet’s emerging business presence in racing has since his company grow into a new overall parent company, Everspeed, with the Onroak Automotive line of chassis a key part of that business. Nicolet’s team ran open-top Morgan chassis at the time; the Ligier JS P2 hadn’t even been conceived yet and now the new-for-2017 Ligier JS P217 is Onroak’s latest LMP2 offering.

Six of nine LMP2 cars in the FIA WEC were open-top cars, with the new Lola B12/80 chassis the lone coupes. Now, all DPis and LMP2s are coupes.

The FIA WEC’s GTE-Pro class has grown from humble beginnings. The series has eight full-season entries in class now, two cars apiece from Porsche, Ferrari, Ford and Aston Martin. The GTE-Am class has a slight dip for 2017.

In IMSA, it’s crazy to think exactly zero P1 and P2 teams from that race are left. Pickett and Level 5 dropped out in early 2014, Dyson didn’t continue into the merger, and Conquest didn’t last past 2012. It’s only Black Swan, which made its P2 debut that race, that still stands today, and that’s after Tim Pappas has raced multiple GT cars in the years since. But it’s the PC teams that have endured, all but Dempsey Racing and Pickett again still active today.

Factory participation in the GT classes have persisted while GTC’s loss is lamented a bit because of some of the dynamite battles that took place between professionals in the spec-Porsche class.

We could get to the drivers in this race, but we’re already pushing 2,000 words.

Suffice to say Sebring, 2012, was memorable. And long. And confusing. And a catalyst for the change that’s followed in both championships in their respective trajectories.

Lauda: Halo decision has ‘destroyed’ push to bring fans to F1

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Niki Lauda believes the decision to introduce the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection to Formula 1 for 2018 has “destroyed” efforts to make the sport more appealing to fans.

The FIA announced on Wednesday that all cars would be fitted with the Halo from next season as part of its push to improve safety standards and prevent head injuries.

The Halo was extensively tested through 2016, but has not featured since last year’s finale in Abu Dhabi, with the ‘Shield’ concept being trialled – albeit unsuccessfully – at Silverstone.

There was a large amount of outcry online from fans following the Halo announcement, and three-time F1 world champion Lauda has also condemned the decision.

“We tested the Halo, the Red Bull ‘Aeroscreen’ and Ferrari’s Shield as cockpit protection. None has convinced me 100 per cent,” Lauda told Auto Motor und Sport in Germany.

“You have to make the right decision in such a situation. The Halo is the wrong one.

“The FIA has made Formula 1 as safe as it gets. Also the danger of flying wheels is largely eliminated, because the wheels are always more firmly attached.

“The risk to the drivers has become minimal.”

Lauda stressed that introducing Halo would only serve to turn fans away from F1, despite the sport’s best efforts in recent years to try and draw them back in.

“We are just trying hard to get new fans for the sport with fast cars and getting closer to the spectators,” Lauda said.

“Now this is destroyed by an overreaction.”

Hamilton plans to see out Mercedes F1 contract to end of 2018

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Lewis Hamilton is planning to see out his Mercedes Formula 1 contract until at least the end of the 2018 season despite reports suggesting that he may consider quitting the sport at the end of the year.

Hamilton clinched his fifth British Grand Prix victory at Silverstone last weekend, drawing to within one point of F1 drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel in the process.

Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of next season, but speculation had emerged suggesting that a move to Ferrari could be of interest for the Briton as he nears the end of his career, or that he could even opt to retire from racing.

Hamilton said in a press conference after the race that he “can’t really say what’s going to happen six months from now”, as per Reuters, but he was quick to clarify that he expected to see out his contract with Mercedes.

“I just think in life you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hamilton said.

“Right now I love driving and then in six months I might… it’s very unlikely because I think I’m always going to like driving, I’m always going to like doing crazy stuff.

“I’m still enjoying it and I still have a contract with the team for at least a year so I plan to see that out at the moment.

“Even in getting another championship, it will never be: ‘OK, now it’s time to hang up the gloves’. I’ll always want to win more.

“Even when I do stop, something inside me will say I still want to get more.”

Q&A: Andy Meyrick on McLaren GT4, Ligier LMP3 European balance

Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing
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As the international sports car season rolls on, occasionally we’ll check in with drivers who have raced largely in North America but have since set up shop with European programs (Sean Rayhall and Will Owen, who race with United Autosports, are two good examples).

Today we’ll check in with Andy Meyrick, who was with the DeltaWing outfit from 2013 through 2016.

The Englishman is balancing a dual role this year with a McLaren 570S GT4 with the new Bullitt Racing team, established in Spain, run by veteran team manager David Price and co-driving with Stephen Pattrick in the GT4 Series Northern Cup, and also with a Ligier JS P3 in the Michelin Le Mans Cup with Motorsport 98 and co-driver Eric De Doncker, a Belgian sports car veteran who is that team’s owner.

Meyrick helmet. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Thus far there’s been four races in the McLaren with five to go – three more in the Northern Cup and two in the south – and more races to come in the Ligier after late start for races in Monza and Le Mans, the latter as part of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race week. Meyrick heads to the Red Bull Ring this weekend for the next round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup season.

For a driver who hasn’t too regularly been in pro-am lineups, Meyrick is now balancing two pro-am roles simultaneously and loving going back and forth between prototypes and GT cars in two of the emerging categories on a worldwide stage.

MST: It’s certainly been a change for you this year with a hectic schedule and two programs. How has it all come together?

Andy Meyrick: “To be honest, it’s been fantastic. There’s no restriction on testing in either series, so with multiple programs, we’re out all the time, especially in the McLaren.

“For me, it’s a completely new arena really. I’ve very done little pro-am racing to be honest. I’d been with Aston, Bentley and DeltaWing with pro-pro lineups. It was a new experience to do the pro-am stuff. I was a bit unsure of how to approach it in the first place. I’d done a bit with Gulf in a McLaren.

“But I love it as both programs are growing. When I sat down with the team that I’d do the GT4 program with them, they hinted GT4 is gonna explode, it’ll be the next GT3… and I wasn’t too sure it’d be the case. But I’m gobsmacked at the level GT4 is at, with how often you can go racing, how good the championship is and how well it’s run. It’s good to be in this market.”

Meyrick and Pattrick’s No. 33 Bullitt Racing McLaren 570S GT4. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: With a guy like Stephen in the McLaren, how have you helped and aided his development?

AM: “It’s been pretty amazing. Stephen, before the season, I’d known him since he was a guest in 2011 when I was with Aston Martin. He’d done track days but hadn’t really never done anything else. At the Red Bull Ring, he led outright and a double podium for us, so he’s shown flashes of really fantastic speed, not just for gentlemen but for anybody!

“Sometimes you have to stop and tell yourself, look this is only your third or fourth race weekend! We can go racing, but we also have to accept he has a lack of experience, the speed he’s shown so far, the ability to absorb the information! He’s been thrown deep into the program but he’s shown he’s enjoying and learning it all.”

Bobby Rahal with Dave Price at 2016 Petit Le Mans. Photo courtesy of IMSA

MST: You and ‘Pricey’ have a great relationship. Has it been a natural with him running the McLaren program?

AM: “This one here we entered with a turnkey car, but the team was brand new at the end of 2016. ‘Pricey’ was a huge motivation to want to be there, because I’ve been a big fan of him and with the two of us, it just clicks. He doesn’t need to say what he’s thinking – I just know what he wants. We have such a good relationship. He was a big thing for me to want to be involved with it. But it’s great to build something from scratch.

“The team are based near Ascari in south of Spain, so at least once or twice a month we’re there testing. It’s an easy flight from Manchester. It’s easy to forget we’re only a handful of weekends into the team between Misano, Brands Hatch, Red Bull Ring and Slovakiaring. There’s a fair way to go but we’re accomplishing our goals for the team and the races thus far have been phenomenal.”

The No. 98 Motorsport 98 Ligier JS P3 of Meyrick and De Doncker at Le Mans. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: Of course you also have the LMP3 program as well, also a new outfit…

AM: “Yeah and this one was a bit of a surprise to be honest! I’d known Eric from his driving a Group C car I’d driven a few years back. We talked about LMP3 and I said yeah let’s do something for 2018 after testing this year… and Eric wanted to do it now! We tested April 18-19, he bought the car April 21 and our first race was 12-13 of May! So it put us at Monza and we rolled it straight out of the truck from Ligier and finished fifth! Save for a drive through we would have been on the podium the first race. Eric’s very experienced and it’s been a pleasure.

“We went to Le Mans and we’d started the second race from the back owing to a probelm, but went from 49th to 9th in the second race at Le Mans. We’ve shown tremendous pace given how little we’ve done with the car. We have the Red Bull Ring this weekend, and it’s coming back to where I got two podiums in the GT4 a few weeks ago.

“The DeltaWing’s a prototype but not in the traditional sense, so before that the last prototype I’d been in was the old Lola Aston and the AMR-ONE, both in 2011. I’ll admit a few years ago when I read about LMP3, you’re sort of rolling your eyes at another class, series, that can cloud the market. But to be honest it’s brilliant and fantastic. It’s cost-effective for what it is but cheap for prototype and endurance racing. You get such good service out of it.”

The No. 98 Motorsport 98 Ligier JS P3 of Meyrick and De Doncker at Le Mans. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: When you do have such disparate cars as an LMP3 Ligier and a GT4 McLaren, how do you jostle between the two of them?

AM: “I think that’s one of my biggest strengths, jumping from car to car, as you don’t see too many doing it anymore. I think it’s a big skill. The GT3 Bentley and DeltaWing couldn’t get any further apart! You’re going from a GT3 with ABS, TC and some weight compared to a very light prototype. But you make the adaptations quite quick, otherwise you spend the first laps of every weekend trying to get up to speed with the groove of each car.

“If you’re a driver, part of marketing yourself is being in as many cars as possible to get the most track time. I’ve always looked up at a guy like Stephane Sarrazin for example, who goes from rally to LMP1 car, and you’re constantly learning. If you’re in different environments and packages, you’re open to different engineers and approaches.”

Meyrick and Pattrick’s No. 33 Bullitt Racing McLaren 570S GT4. Photo courtesy Andy Meyrick Racing

MST: How close were you to any U.S. programs this year and should we hope to see you back Stateside racing soon?

AM: “I was very close to two programs in the U.S., one in IMSA and one in PWC, but unfortunately neither came together. That said, I enjoy racing in the States so much more than Europe.

“I pinch myself every time I go to a race in America when you think, ‘Mate, I get paid to do this, fly across the Atlantic and driver a race car.’ I love the environment of the States, the circuits, as it’s not just a circuit, but the variety. You go from the streets of Long Beach to the flowing Road America which is just stunning.

“I want to be back over there and perhaps attend one race tail end of this year. Those two championships are both looking amazing as usual.

“Otherwise it was cool to see my mate Jack Harvey racing in the Indy 500 this year. As he was teammates with Fernando Alonso that was so cool! It was ace to see, as he’s had a rough couple years and he’s a huge talent, and one of the nicest guys around the paddock. He’s done a fantastic job and committed to his craft.

“Ideally we’re both back racing in the U.S. sooner rather than later.”

Wehrlein: Sauber F1 set for big C36 upgrade in Hungary

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Sauber is set to bring a sizeable update for its C36 Formula 1 car to the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend, according to driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Sauber has been battling at the back of the grid throughout 2017 after years of financial difficulties, limiting the development of its new car.

The team is racing with a 2016-spec Ferrari power unit, putting it on the back foot compared to its rivals, but it currently sits P9 in the constructors’ championship ahead of McLaren.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Wehrlein confirmed that Sauber would be bringing a sizeable update package to Budapest, and was positive about the boost it may offer.

“For Budapest we are set for a big upgrade. Almost all the car, or all the aero side, will be new, so that should give us a good performance boost,” Wehrlein said.

“If what the data shows really can materialize we could be on a good go.”

Wehrlein has endured a rocky season so far, missing the opening two races through injury before leading Sauber to eighth place in Spain, as well as taking another point in Baku.

“It is no secret that my start to the season was very difficult. The injury matter was pretty tough,” Wehrein said.

“Going to Australia and not driving was hard and having to skip China was another notch on the ‘horror scale’.

“The start to 2017 in Bahrain was not bad. It felt like I had never been away, never been injured. The first qualifying took me to Q2 and I nearly finished in the points with P11, with the Sauber car!

“Since then it is going smoothly and pretty much in the right direction. Twice I scored points, with the clear highlight of Barcelona, which was exceptional for us finishing in P7, even if with the penalty it was finally P8.

“But imagine: P7 with the Sauber! Yes there have been difficult races since then, but we knew that this would happen.”