The 12 Hours of Sebring begins on Saturday morning in Florida. Past winners of the endurance classic include Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, and A.J. Foyt, but this year just a handful of cars are gunning for top honors. Among the big prototypes–the cars we love–the ranks are looking a bit thin. A balding, middle age kind of thin at the top. The kind of thinning we are all too familiar with.
The bumpy Florida circuit is famous for its undulating surface and fantastic infield atmosphere. Built on former military land, Sebring has played host to legendary sportscar racing since the 1950s. For 20 years, the race was part of the World Sportscar Championship. If you want to see a great example of classic racing at Sebring, find Michael Keyser’s film “The Speed Merchants”. It chronicles a battle between Alfa and Ferrari that makes a stop at Sebring. We confess a love for endurance racing because it tests a car to the breaking point, and we love noisy prototypes battling slower traffic.
But this year, only Aston Martin and Peugeot are among the big names to battle for P1 honors in a four-car field. Marc Gene will start from pole for Peugeot, with teammate Pedro Lamy beside him. Adrian Fernandez, who ran an LMP2 program for Acura, will drive an Aston Martin with Stefan Mucke and Harold Primat. The field feels threadbare with the absence of Audi, which has not entered a car in this year’s race. Audi won nine of ten races in the last decade, and for whatever reason it chose not to be in Florida, the race is worse for it.
The P2 rank is just three cars. In the GT2 class, it’s a brace of Corvettes, Porsche GT3s, a handful of Ferrari 430s, and a Ford GT40. Rahal Letterman have entered two BMW M3s, and Trans Am stalwart Paul Gentilozzi is back with a Jaguar. A lot of competent racers, but a group of GT2 cars and a gaggle of Porsche GT3s seems a little starved for variety.
We miss the heyday of ALMS in the late 90s, when the series featured Audi, BMW, Lolas, MGs, and other prototypes. Other than Audi (which will race at Le Mans), Peugeot and Aston Martin, manufacturers are shying away from building prototypes. Sportscar racing in general has seen better days. If the ALMS is to thrive, the grid must grow.
UPDATED: (March 21, 2010) Peugeot took a convincing 1-2 finish at Sebring, holding off the Aston Martin to claim top honors for the French marque. The Muscle Milk Cytosport Porsche Spyder won in the P2 class, with the Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 claiming top GT2 honors after the favored Corvettes suffered a disastrous day.