2013 12 Hours of SebringPhotos: John Kucek

Typical blue skies and mild mid-70s temps greeted racers and fans alike today at Sebring International Raceway. As the last ALMS-bannered 12 Hours of Sebring for the foreseeable future, the race this weekend represents a sort of “changing of the guard” to the United Sports Car Racing series, which starts next year as the merged offshoot of Grand Am and ALMS.

Full report from Friday Qualifying and photo gallery after the jump –

Today’s qualifying saw plenty of unexpected results on track, as well as some all-too-familiar results from the powerhouse teams. In 911 GT3 Cup car-based GTC series, veteran Porsche racer Andy Lally took pole in the #27 Dempsey Del Piero Racing car with a 2:05.446 lap. Spencer Pumpelly in the Flying Lizard Motorsports #45 and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #22 Alex Job Racing car both posted identical 2:05.747 qualifying times, but the second place starting spot will go to Pumpelly for achieving that pole time before Bleekemolen.

As the thickest class in the field, GT is likely to provide most of the thrills in Saturday’s 12-hour race. The Ferrari 458 Italia of Risi Competizione was driven to pole position in the class by Gianmaria Bruni (a more Italian-sounding combination of car, team and driver is unlikely to be found) with a time of 1:58.815. Second spot on the grid will be held by the C6 ZR1 of Corvette Racing, piloted by seasoned team racer Oliver Gavin to a blistering lap of 1:58.934, just over a tenth shy of pole. Starting on the second row is the Aston Martin Racing team’s V8 Vantage, stopping the clocks to a time of 1:58.990. Other marques joining the fray in GT this year include the ubiquitous GT3 RSR of Porsche, BMW’s new Z4 GTE, which replaces last season’s M3 Coupes, and the new (and especially sexy) SRT Viper GTS-R.

The Prototype classes, encompassing the Prototype Challenge (PC) “spec” series, Acura-dominated P2 and fastest P1, cover a range of varied chassis and powertrains. As a final hurrah, Audi Sport Team Joest’s last appearance in Sebring as an ALMS P1 factory effort certainly came to an emotional head, with the team taking 1-2 overall pole honors and smashing the track’s previous lap record, which stood since 2007, in the process. The 1:43.886 pole time came from Marcel Fassler, averaging over 129 mph around Sebring’s twisting 3.74 miles and 17 corners. A close second came from Audi Sport teammate Allan McNish with a time of 1:43.895, also clear of the previous lap record. Meanwhile in P2, IndyCar veteran Ryan Briscoe lead qualifying in his HPD (that’s “Acura” to you and me) ARX-03b with a lap of 1:51.159, and Colin Braun took top spot in LMPC with a 1:53.404. The advanced Delta Wing racer, which defies classification but technically competes with the big boys in P1, came home with a lap of 1:53.866.

Tomorrow’s race will both mark the end, and perhaps a new beginning, to a legendary chapter of motorsports history. Sure to be emotional, the 61st running of the 12 Hours of Sebring is likely to prove historic and competitive in equal measure.

Be sure to follow us on twitter @speedsportlife where Zerin Dube and Nick Salvatore will be tweeting 12 Hours of Sebring live coverage updates from the green flag to the checker flag.

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John Kucek

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