2015 hasn't gotten off to as good a start as Porsche had hoped in the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. At the season opening Daytona race, the GTLM cars showed strength, but tripped over themselves, and only one of the three cars finished the race, and even then it was 100 laps down to the victors. In GTD, there was a podium, but no victory laurels. As the series moves down Florida to Sebring International Raceway, the Porsche teams are looking to rebound strong. They have the strength, they just need to hold it all together for 12-hours. Being that Porsche won the GTLM class at Daytona and Sebring last year, as well as the GTD class at Sebring, they certainly know what they're doing. Hopefully Daytona was just a fluke, a bad race car day.
As racetracks in the United States go, Sebring isn't a bad one to stage a rebound at. Surely a favorite of Porsche Motorsport, Sebring has been the site of 18 Porsche overall victories, and countless class victories. Besides that, the 12 Hours is among the most taxing and brutal races in the world, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Porsche's amazing record streak of 13 consecutive overall victories from 1976 through 1988 won't be surpassed anytime soon.
With some of TUSCC's teething problems out of the way and solved, hopefully this race will be unmarked with controversial decisions, and it will play out perfectly. A Porsche repeat, taking the GTLM and GTD victory would be ideal, but they've got some serious competition again this year, and PMNA will have to have all of their ducks in all of their rows in order for that to happen.
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PORSCHE IN THE GTLM CATEGORY
#17 - Team Falken Tire
Marking the one year anniversary of the debut of Valentina, the team's 991 generation 911 RSR, Falken are looking confidently forward to returning to Sebring. They showed strong running at Daytona until an engine failure forced retirement, a true disappointment to a fan like myself. The team looks increasingly strong after ending 2014 on a high note, and starting this year with a new third driver, Porsche's own Patrick Long.
The pairing of Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers has always worked well together, and they're entering their 6th season with the Falken team and Walker Racing. This is a dynasty that just continues to march along and improve both the car and their tire selection. It's surprising how well the plucky tire team has done, considering Michelin has their rubber donuts on all of the other cars in this category. For 2015, their endurance racing efforts are buoyed even further by the addition of Porsche factory phenom, Patrick Long. If they have the right setup, and the BOP falls the right way, Falken could take the Sebring victory this year.
#911 and #912 - Porsche North America with CORE autosport
If the Falken team has a shot at the win, then these boys should have no trouble whatsoever. The Porsche factory team seems to just go from strength to strength. After a Daytona to forget, they're hoping for an excellent Sebring, and are sure to pull out all of the stops necessary to get their cars to the front.
In the 911 car, Porsche has lined up Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Marc Lieb. Some will say that Tandy is the wildcard here, but if he can stay out of his own head, he should turn in some seriously impressive laps. This is a trio of well versed endurance drivers, and they know how to turn a wheel. Other factory teams have equally impressive lineups, though, so they'll have to work hard and have luck on their side to repeat last year's result.
The #912 car won this race last year, though granted Bergmeister is the only holdover driver from the 2014 victory. Pat Long and Michael Christensen have been replaced by Earl Bamber and Fred Mako. Mako has plenty of GTE/GTLM experience, both with Aston Martin and last season with Porsche. Bamber, however, has done most of his GT tenure in a GT3 Supercup or a GTD car. This year, Bamber will be joining the Porsche LMP team, so they must see something extremely competent in his skill set.
PORSCHE IN THE GTD CATEGORY
#18 and 19 - Muehlner Motorsport
Muehlner have not yet announced their full driver lineup, but they do have Connor De Phillippi in both cars again at Sebring. If they can get Marc Basseng and Darryl O'Young again, they'll have a solid lineup, if not the most solid car. With a team that has as much experience as Muehlner, they have been surprisingly unreliable in their 991 GT America. I don't know if it's a lack of preparation or what, but they haven't had good luck. If they can keep their car together, they could place well.
#22 and #23 - Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle
The #22 car is my personal pick for the victory, as they have probably the best GTD lineup on the grid. Lehman Keen and Andrew Davis have a history of working well together, and they are some seriously quick wheel men. Throw in Cooper MacNeil, probably the best "gentleman driver" in GT class racing right now, and you've got a great team. Look for them on the top step of the GTD podium at the end of the race.
As strong as the #22 car is, the #23 plays a solid backup. Ian James, Mario Farnbacher, and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen are a decent team and could play a dark-horse card in this game. When that cast of characters is backed up by an AJR prepped 991 GT America, that makes for a pretty solid effort.
#44 - Magnus Racing
John Potter and Andy Lally have been partners in this race car for a number of years, and when they can stay out of the bad luck, they always finish well. They have been working with Marco Seefried as a third driver for a little while now, and the trio seems to gel well together. That driver lineup, in fact, won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2014, so they're looking for the repeat this year as well. It's not much of a stretch to see them on the top step at the end of 12 hours. Outside of the AJR #22, this car might be Porsche's best shot at the GTD win.
#73 - Park Place Motorsports
Last year this was a two car effort; one car failed after 34 laps, and the other finished 17th in class, some 40 laps down. It's fair to say that Park Place doesn't want to remember their 2014 Sebring effort. Where there were 5 drivers in this car at Daytona, they've pared that driver lineup down to three drivers for Sebring. Patrick Lindsey and Spencer Pumpelly are strong professional drivers to stick in the car, and Dr. Jim Norman is a very experienced gentleman driver in endurance racing. The three drivers should work well together and will hopefully bring better results than last year's drive.
#58 - Dempsey/Wright Motorsport with Snow Racing and Brumos Porsche
Running again in the famed Brumos livery, this car is maybe just behind the Magnus car in terms of driver strength, and to cap it all off, the car prep is being handled by Wright Motorsport of Ohio, who are well known to be among the best Porsche GT car setup shops in the country, if not the world. Young and quick Madison Snow partners with an excellent and experienced Jan Heylen in the 'pro' section of the car. Their "gentleman" driver is Patrick Dempsey, setting them up as a very decent team. Dempsey has been racing for years now, and he's getting better with every passing race. At Daytona, this car garnered a hard fought and well earned podium position. If they can conquer the rough concrete of Sebring's long runway straights, they've got an opportunity to do that again this weekend.
#81 - GB Autosport
This is another Porsche team that has assembled a really good driver lineup. Hiring Damien Faulkner and Mike Skeen is probably the smartest move the team has made. The team's management is strong as well, and they know their way around preparing a good Porsche. The wildcard here is team money-man Michael Avenatti. He's not a bad driver, and he should be able to keep it on the island, but there are other gentlemen in this class that will be faster, and that's just not enough to win anymore. They could have a shout at a podium if they can keep the attrition under control, but I wouldn't set them in for the win. They've started calling the car the "Coffee Rocket", so I can't help but cheer for them.
WHO IS PORSCHE'S COMPETITION?
The GTLM class looks very similar to how it did at Daytona with factory teams from just about every manufacturer of Grand Touring Endurance cars. Two C7s from Corvette Racing, two Z4s in a new throwback livery from BMW Team Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan, a Ferrari 458 Italia from Risi Competizione, and an Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage. While they didn't have the best Daytona, Porsche Motorsport North America showed well at the GTLM pre-season testing sessions, if they can keep their twelve hours of Sebring pace from those tests, they're almost a shoe-in. The Corvettes and proved reliable at Daytona, and I think it might be the Yellow and Black V8 monsters that are the biggest threat to Porsche at Sebring. BMW is also looking to win, as they are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first Sebring win by running a retro-inspired livery.
GTD holds no clear winners. As the highest subscribed class with 17 cars, GTD is almost 50% Porsche cars, 8 in all. At Daytona, the finish in GTD was close with a number of cars in contention all race long, and this GT class at Sebring is just as good. The talented drivers in this field will continue to astonish at the challenging Sebring track, and their diverse machinery has me unable to predict the finish. Porsche again has the strength in number, and not one of them can be counted out to factor well in the final standings. While Porsche didn't take the win at Daytona, they did take the second and third positions, and all three cars were on the lead lap. Major competition will come from the Daytona winning Viper, an excellent driver team in the Turner Motorsport BMW Z4, and the Paul Miller Audi R8. It's hard to discount any of the cars in this class.
As always, the name of the game is being as fast as possible while spending as little time as you can in the pit lane. Whoever stays on the racing surface most will likely be crowned the champion of Sebring.
RESOURCES AND HOW TO WATCH/FOLLOW ALONG
The 12 Hours of Sebring on Twitter for Porsche Fans
Entry List: Click Here
Timing and Scoring: Click Here
IMSA Mobile App: Click here.
Andy Blackmore's annual spotter's guide: Click Here
Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fan Schedule: Click Here
Radio Le Mans: IMSA Radio
Saturday, March 21st
10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. EST on FOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. EST on FOX Sports 2
7 p.m. - 10 p.m. EST on IMSA.com
10 p.m. - 11 p.m. EST on FOX Sports 2