Sebring 2014 may take some getting used to with new changes

2 Comments

This weekend marks three major international motorsport events. Formula One kicks off its 2014 campaign with the Australian Grand Prix; NASCAR gets its first short-track racing on at Bristol Motor Speedway.

And in the former airfield of Sebring, Florida, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will run its second race of its 2014 season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

This one’s going to be a weird one, because it will mark the first “former American Le Mans Series” race in the merged championship. Daytona was all well and good overall, but it was a past GRAND-AM affair, and what was good in the past was taken and amplified by the ALMS additions.

Sebring may well be the opposite. Gone, for the first time in 15 years, are the majestic marvels of technology – the LMP1 cars.

Although the full-season LMP1 grid in North America was less than subscribed over the last four to five years of the ALMS run, Sebring always featured a full LMP1 grid count.

Audi and Peugeot waged some epic bouts over a five-year span; the relative underdog Acura and Rebellion teams could always pull a surprise; and the Muscle Milk and Dyson teams had their chance to go against the world’s best, which for a handful of years included a bumper crop of extras from Europe (either of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup or FIA World Endurance Championship).

There was fan footage captured of the new-for-2014 LMP1-H prototypes from Audi and Porsche testing at Sebring last week. Yet for the first time in 15 years, the German manufacturers won’t be sticking around a couple weeks later to grind it out on the notoriously punishing circuit over 12 hours. Well, not with an LMP1 anyway; there’s plenty of representation in the GT classes.

That’s going to be something we’ll miss.

There’s also the lack of official practice for the TUDOR Championship until Thursday, although some teams have participated in private tests over the weekend. In recent years, ALMS on-track activity ran from Monday through Wednesday before official festivities kicked off Thursday. Now, not.

What Sebring does have going for it this year is a back to almost full field, with 66 cars projected to race on Saturday. The 2009, 2010 and 2013 editions of the race were down years, owing to the lack of a secondary major championship to produce a full field. But the 2011 and 2012 races, with an ILMC, then WEC presence, were something to behold.

The 2011 race saw the Hughes de Chaunac-led ORECA Peugeot team score the overall upset, ahead of Highcroft Racing in a one-off start of an HPD ARX-01e (the only time a new-for-2011 HPD LMP1 car raced). In 2012, a colossal scrap between Joey Hand’s BMW and Olivier Beretta’s Ferrari ended in favor of the American for top GT honors.

The potential for a surprise overall winner does exist, which is something that has, as mentioned above, only happened a couple of times in the past. The ORECA Peugeot’s 2011 triumph and the Penske LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder overall win in 2008 were the only non-factory Audi or factory Peugeot wins at Sebring since 2000.

Live TV coverage is limited to just the first three hours, although the balance will be live streamed on IMSA.com. A mixed bag for sure, considering the race’s prestige, history and place within the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

But for the first time in nearly 20 years, Sebring will follow Daytona on the same schedule, and that just feels right.

In total, really, this year’s Sebring will be a radical departure from recent years past, but should offer much of the same good action we’ve been accustomed to in years past.

Just with different cars fighting for the overall win, and a different way of watching if you’re not at the track.

Michael Schumacher’s son to make F1 practice debut at Nurburgring

F1 Mick Schumacher
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MARANELLO, Italy — Mick Schumacher, son of the legednary seven-time champion, will have an official Formula One drive during an F1 race weekend for the first time next week at the Nurburgring, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari said Tuesday.

Schumacher gets the practice drive in an Alfa Romeo on Oct. 9 on his home track in Germany as a member of Ferrari’s young driver program, taking over Antonio Giovinazzi’s car for the first session of the weekend.

“I am overjoyed to get this chance in free practice,” Schumacher said in a statement. “I’m going to prepare myself well, so that I can do the best possible job for the team and gain some valuable data for the weekend.”

The 21-year-old Schumacher leads the Formula 2 standings after winning races in Monza and Sochi. He won the European Formula 3 championship in 2018 and tested a Ferrari F1 car in Bahrain in April 2019. He also has done demonstration runs in his father’s old cars, most recently this month ahead of the Tuscan Grand Prix in a championship-winning 2004 Ferrari.

Michael Schumacher holds the F1 record with 91 victories, which Lewis Hamilton is on the verge of tying.

Ferrari said two other drivers in its academy program will also get practice drives in Formula One.

Callum Ilott, a British driver who is second to Mick Schumacher in F2, will drive an F1 Haas at the Nurburgring on the same day as Schumacher. Russian driver Robert Shwartzman will drive in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Dec. 11, though Ferrari hasn’t said for which team.

The German round was added to the F1 schedule after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the season and will be officially known as the Eifel Grand Prix after a nearby mountain range. The Nurburgring last hosted F1 in 2013.