One of the more diverse fields ever seen for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is forming ahead of the opening round of the 2009 American Le Mans Series, with no fewer than 13 manufacturers on the initial entry list.

Although much of the racing world appears to be feeling the pinch in financially-straitened times, there will be no shortage of world-class entries at Sebring, with multiple potential class winners throughout. There is also a diverse mix of technically innovative new cars and teams, along with those that already have proven themselves in ALMS competition.

"The content of this entry list has all the ingredients to produce one of the best endurance sportscar races ever," enthused series president and CEO Scott Atherton, "Fans from all over the world will be glued to this one because of its epic field."

A great deal of attention will focus on the front of the grid, with three mainstream premium brand manufacturers competing with LMP1 prototypes for the overall victory. Both Audi and Acura will debut brand-new machines, Acura with its ARX-02a that was presented last month at the annual winter test, and Audi with its much-anticipated diesel-powered R15 TDI.

Patr?n Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports are Acura's P1 teams for 2009 with Audi Sport Team Joest and Audi Sport North America each fielding an all new R15 TDI for the race as the brand seeks to return to the winner's circle with its ninth overall Sebring win since 2000. Add to that the two diesel-powered Peugeot 908 HDi prototypes with which the French marque is aiming to build on last year's singleton entry, and the plot thickens.

"We could always wish we had a little more preparation time, but I am looking forward to meeting Audi and Peugeot over here," said de Ferran Motorsports owner-driver Gil de Ferran, "They are formidable competitors, but we have a great team and look forward to the challenge."

Intersport Racing, one of the ALMS' leading independent professional teams, has also entered with its AER-powered Lola B06/10. The Ohio-based squad was the LMP2 class winner and finished as the overall runner-up at the 12 Hours in 2006, but will face opposition from the similar Lola-AER of Autocon Motorsports, which is hoping a strong performance at Sebring will provide the catalyst needed for a good result at Le Mans following its debut there last season.

The LMP2 field sees another major auto manufacturer battle shaping up between Acura and Mazda. Dyson Racing will debut its two new Mazda-powered Lola B09/86 coupes, but know that last year's race will be a tough one to follow, after finishing second and third in the LMP2 class - and second and fourth overall - whilst running with Porsche power.

Lowe's Fernandez Racing will fly the flag for Acura in P2 with its proven ARX-01b. The team finished second overall and in class at Sebring last season before being excluded following post-race technical inspections.

Corvette Racing will make its final GT1 start at the 12 Hours, before GM's factory road-racing team moves to GT2 in the second half of the season. Corvette's C6.R supercar has won in class at the 12 Hours every year since 2006, and there are two cars entered for this year's race, where Corvette Racing will use environmentally-friendly cellulosic E85. A final GT1 appearance at the Tequila Patr?n American Le Mans Series at Long Beach in April will provide a US swansong before the team attempts to send the C6.R out with a third and final GT1 class victory at Le Mans in June.

The GT2 class alone contains eight different manufacturers, more than any other major racing series has in its entire field. Entries from Aston Martin, BMW, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Panoz and Porsche fill out the roster - and all eight are capable of earning at least a podium finish.

Panoz, Ferrari and Porsche all have won in the GT2 class during the last three seasons at Sebring, and have been involved in some of the closest finishes in series' history. Porsche's contingent is led by three factory-supported entries - two from defending race and series champion Flying Lizard Motorsports and one for Farnbacher Loles Racing. Each entry will be Porsche's new 2009-spec 911 GT3 RSR that provides a number of technical updates and improvements from last year's car that helped Porsche reclaim the team, driver and manufacturer championships in the American Le Mans Series.

"We have as much development to do as anyone else, and we'll have to step it up even more again," said Flying Lizard team principal and driver Seth Neiman, "Porsche knows how to win championships and develop customer teams. We want to build a team that can last and be competitive every year. To do that you need the stability of a manufacturer like Porsche."

Three Ferrari F430 GTs are set to take on the Porsches. Two come from Risi Competizione, which won the 2007 race and, last year, finished third before taking victory at Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, and will be joined by Europe's Advanced Engineering Pecome Racing team - a championship contender in the European FIA GT Championship.

BMW and Rahal Letterman Racing have one of the new BMW M3s on the entry, running under the banner of BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team. This will be the first ALMS race for BMW since 2006, and the first for Rahal Letterman since it entered a Porsche in the 2007 championship.

Panoz, GT2 winner at both Sebring and Le Mans in 2006, will see one Panoz Esperante GTLM entered by Panoz Team PTG. The Esperante was consistently one of the quickest entries last month at the winter test and returns in '09 with several improvements to the car and new drivers behind the wheel.

Four other entries will return to the Sebring grid after making debuts last season. Primetime Race Group's Dodge Viper Competition Coupe, fifth in class in the 2008 race, is entered along with LG Motorsports' GT2 class Corvette C6. Robertson Racing's improved Ford GT MK7, which raced for the first time last season, and Drayson Racing's cellulosic E85-powered Aston Martin Vantage GT2 challenger round out the current entry list.

The 57th Sebring 12 Hours also sees the debut of the Michelin Green X Challenge that awards teams each race for overall performance, best fuel efficiency and smallest environmental impact.

Both the ALMS and Michelin are firm believers that motorsport is the ultimate test bed for future road-car technologies, and will award teams at each 2009 race that deliver the best overall performance and fuel efficiency with the least environmental impact.

At the end of the season, the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy, in conjunction with SAE International, will present Green Challenge awards to manufacturers in each class who have scored best during the entire season. Those three entities continue to recognise and praise the American Le Mans Series as the only motorsports body in the world to meet the strict criteria of a green racing series.

Multiple street-legal fuels will power Series entries throughout the season - including cellulosic E85, E10, low-sulphur diesel and an E10-electric hybrid.



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