Genoa Racing’s driver roster for Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is a mixture of a sports car legend and up-and-coming stars, and they’re all out to break some records.
The legend is Andy Wallace of Oxford, England, a great candidate for the Sebring Hall of Fame because he has more overall podium finishes in this event than anyone else with 10. Wallace, who turned 49 last month, will make his 18th start in this race on Saturday, and he’d like to pad his record here with another podium finish. He has two overall victories and two additional class victories here, as well as five second-place finishes and three thirds overall.
His two teammates will be vying for other records. Although LMPC cars aren’t going for the overall victory over the faster LMP1 and LMP2 cars, 20-year-old Tom Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif. still has two chances to try to become the youngest driver ever to win this race, a mark currently held by John Paul Jr., who won the marquee event of the American Le Mans Series in 1982 at the age of 22.
That’s the same age as the third Genoa Racing driver, J.R. Hildebrand, is now, but Paul would still beat him by more than a month because Paul’s birthday is Feb. 19 and Hildebrand’s is Jan. 3.
Hildebrand, the reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion from Sausalito, Calif., would like to go into the record books as a driver who won his class in this race in his first attempt. Other drivers who have done that overall include names like Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Lodovico Scarfiotti, Bob Garretson, Rob McFarlin, Hans Heyer, Stefan Johanssen, Jo Gartner, Tom Kristensen and Laurent Aiello.
The only other time Hildebrand has driven an endurance sports car was when he tested the bright-red Genoa Racing No. 36 LMPC car with Wallace and Larry Connor here on Feb. 22-23. That was the first time he’s driven on the long course here too.
Sutherland didn’t participate in that test and he drove the car for the first time on Monday. He has only competed in this race once before, when he shared a Panoz fielded by Team PTG with Joey Hand and Tommy Milner. They had engine problems that year and didn’t finish. The junior psychology major at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas has also driven in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona once and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill twice. He’d like nothing better than a podium finish on Saturday in the LMPC class for his sponsor, ClickAway.
This year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will be the first sports car race ever for Hildebrand, one of America’s brightest up-and-coming open-wheel talents, but his paths have crossed with Sutherland in the past. They competed against each other in the Atlantic series in 2007. They also both tested an Atlantic car for Genoa Racing in 2008 before Hildebrand ended up running an Andersen Racing Firestone Indy Lights car that season and Sutherland joined Brooks Associates Racing for a partial season of Atlantic competition and his ALMS debut with Team PTG.
Hildebrand, who has also tested a Formula 1 car, is working hard to put together a partial season in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year that would develop into a full-time ride in that series in 2011. “I’m still considering some options overseas too,” said Hildebrand, whose nickname is “Captain America.”
But this week he and Sutherland are concentrating on trying to follow the lead of Wallace, who in addition to his accomplishments at Sebring, has won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona three times, the 24 Hours of LeMans twice, and the Petit Le Mans to boot.
Wallace, who has two daughters, is looking forward to working with the two young men with whom he’ll share the cockpit on Saturday.
“J.R. has proven himself, for sure, and Tom is a good talent too,” Wallace said. “If you win any races in those support categories it’s a big deal, because the competition is very tough. It’s not the best car that wins; if you win it’s because you’re good.
“But now we three have to work as one,” he continued. “We have seat inserts but we’re really not that much different in size, so the pedals and the seat belts aren’t that much of an issue. The driver changes aren’t as critical as they are in some endurance races because of the ALMS’ rules for refueling.
“What we must do is not try to beat each other,” he said. “We must not compete among ourselves to try to set the best times. We must take care of the car so we finish. We need to avoid accidents and not needlessly hit curbs and such. Taking care of the car so we have something to race at the end is vital.”
It’s definitely a team effort, and the drivers are just one part of the equation.
“I’m really impressed with the guys on this team,” Wallace said of the Zionsville, Ind.-based group headed by team manager Thomas Knapp and crew chief Steve Ragan. “They turned out a beautiful car without a massive budget, and the standard of their work is incredible.”
And how is he getting along with his young charges?
“They give me no respect whatsoever,” he said with a smile. “They asked me if I had a walking stick to get around the paddock.”
The race will be broadcast on SPEED Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern time. Live timing and scoring will be available on imsaracing.net, while other information can be found on americanlemans.com.
Courtesy ALMS © RIF