By David Phillips

IMSA Wire Service

When it comes to sports car racing, the month of March means it’s time to respect the bumps. In other words, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship makes its annual pilgrimage to rough and tumble Sebring International Raceway for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac this week.

Rough and tumble? The pounding meted out by Sebring’s 17-turn, 3.741-mile mixture of a mothballed B-17 training base’s concrete runways and asphalt connecting roads is unique in all the world of professional auto racing, such that a dozen hours of competition here is widely regarded as as great or even greater a test of endurance for cars, teams and drivers than 24 hours at Daytona or Le Mans.

While competitors and spectators alike would be well advised to respect those bumps, they should also watch for the following:

From Strength to Strength

Already boasting an exotic collection of hybrid prototypes from Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class welcomes another of the world’s leading marques to the party as the exciting Lamborghini SC63 makes its IMSA debut. The new Lambo features a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 housed in a Ligier chassis cloaked in an arresting “Verde Mantis” color scheme. Iron Lynx’s No. 63 Lamborghini will be piloted by Andrea Caldarelli, Matteo Cairoli and Romain Grosjean at Sebring and the other three remaining events in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup. Additionally, Iron Lynx is campaigning the Lamborghini in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) following an encouraging maiden outing at the Lusail International Circuit in Qatar earlier this month.

Iron Lynx has already conducted an extensive testing program stateside schedule at Daytona, Circuit of The Americas and Sebring so should be well prepared for 12 grueling hours of racing this weekend. That said, Sebring figures to pose the Iron Lynx Lamborghini with its toughest test yet in its young life, and it will be fascinating to see how it matches up with the now tried-and-true GTP competition.

On the Rebound?

The WeatherTech Championship schedule poses special challenges in that it kicks off each season with its two toughest tests of endurance: the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Twelve Hours of Sebring. Inevitably, some teams come to Sebring licking their wounds following disappointing results at Daytona and thus find themselves almost in a must-win, place or show position if they hope to figure in the season-long championship reckoning. That’s particularly true for those teams looking to defend titles from the previous season or who otherwise figured to be in the thick of their championship battles.

Speaking of which, Vasser Sullivan Racing is happy to put Daytona in the rearview mirror as neither its No. 12 Lexus nor No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3s were circulating at race’s end despite strong starts.

First, Mike Conway and the No. 14 Lexus were in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught up in another car’s crash. Then the No. 12 Lexus caught fire on its final pit stop of the race … while leading the class. The good news is that both Vasser Sullivan entries were competitive at Sebring last year, with the No. 14 finishing runner-up in GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) while its sister car took P5 in GT Daytona (GTD). The bad news is that the competition in both GT classes is ultra-deep with a veritable who’s who of other marques including Acura, Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG – who is on a roll with four GT wins in the last three races – and Porsche in addition to Lexus.

Similarly, despite the dozens of Rolex Daytonas adorning the wrists of his current and alumni drivers, Chip Ganassi will not remember the 2024 Rolex 24 with any particular fondness. Although the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R set the pace for much of the first 10 hours of the event, it too was knocked out of the race by a mechanical issue. Nor can the team take much solace from the ’23 Twelve Hours of Sebring that saw their Caddy’s race come to a fiery finish. They can, however, point out that not only is Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Whelen Cadillac the defending Sebring winner but Cadillac is on a roll of its own, shooting for a fourth straight Sebring overall win – and a sixth since 2017.

In Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), TDS Racing looks to rebound from finishing 13th in class at Daytona following a heavy crash just two hours after the green flag waved. Definitely not the start a team that scored a pair of wins and finished third in last season’s LMP2 championship was looking for in 2024. Then again, the No. 11 ORECA LMP2 07 finished on the podium in last year’s Twelve Hours, so TDS should arrive in Sebring with confidence aplenty despite the setback at Daytona.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Speaking of on a roll, were the checkered flag to wave on the 2024 racing season today, it would already rank among Team Penske’s most successful campaigns. First came the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963’s win in the Rolex 24, followed by Joey Logano capturing Team Penske’s first pole position at the Daytona 500 and Porsche Penske Motorsport’s victory in the opening round of the 2024 WEC. Penske driver Ryan Blaney leads the NASCAR Cup Series standings after four races there.

How to top that? Josef Newgarden taking pole and leading the most laps en route to a resounding win in the opening round of the 2024 IndyCar Series at St. Petersburg, with teammates Scott McLaughlin and Will Power finishing P3 and P4.

Will Penske’s roll continue at Sebring? Be sure and catch all the action on the USA Network, Peacock and IMSA Radio.