ALMS regulars ready to take on challengers
The list of drivers who have posted victories at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring has no equal anywhere in North American motorsports. Competitors from all disciplines of racing have tried to tame the 3.7-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway, many coming up short.
This year some of the top names from open-wheel racing – Tony Kanaan (pictured right), Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal – will join the 102 drivers who previously have won at Sebring. Former IRL champion Kanaan is part of the lineup for Andretti Green Racing, which will debut its Acura-powered prototype in LMP2. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves will drive a new Porsche RS Spyder for Penske Racing. Rahal will look to join father Bobby, the 1987 winner, as a Sebring champion as part of Rahal Letterman Racing’s GT2 effort with a Porsche.
“I’ve always watched the Sebring race. I’ve been there many times for testing on the short course,” Kanaan said. “Being able to join all the names, the race itself and the tradition, and adding that to my resume is exciting.”
Some of the biggest stars from Formula 1, NASCAR, Champ Car and the IRL have at one time or another driven at Sebring. Four Indy 500 champions went on to win at Sebring: Bobby Rahal (pictured left with his son Graham), A.J. Foyt, Arie Luyendyk and Mario Andretti. Among those from the NASCAR ranks who have attempted to win at Sebring include Fireball Roberts, Benny Parsons and Bill Elliott. The last NASCAR driver to win at Sebring was Terry Labonte in 1984 in the GT class.
“This really is a tremendous experience for me,” said Castroneves (pictured right), who also drives for Penske in the IRL. “This type of racing is not just about being fast; you have to be consistent as well. When Penske decided to give me this opportunity, I was very excited.”
That goes both ways. Many Series drivers are looking forward to competing against the likes of Kanaan, Castroneves and Rahal for a number of reasons.
“It brings a little more awareness and broadens the perspective of the American Le Mans Series,” said Intersport Racing’s Clint Field. “We’ll get a lot more recognition if this keeps going. We enjoy having those guys here. Everyone knows Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves but not everyone knows Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela.”
“We can’t pretend that we’re going to go into the American Le Mans Series and immediately be successful,” Kanaan said. “There are too many great drivers and great teams that are much more experienced. It definitely will be a challenge but I think we will do well.”
The 2007 American Le Mans Series opens with the 55th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 17 at Sebring International Raceway. The green flag will fall shortly after 10 a.m. ET with SPEED providing live coverage starting at 9:30 a.m. The race also will be broadcast by American Le Mans Radio with IMSA Live Timing & Scoring available at americanlemans.com.