Porsche is as much a part of Sebring International Raceway as the World War II-era concrete runways that make up a part of the racing surface, or the legendary, loyal fans. In 1974, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was canceled because of the gas crisis, and more than a thousand fans showed up anyway.
Year in and year out, those fans know that some of the closest racing at Sebring International Raceway has come from the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.
Looking at the lineup of drivers and teams, the 2017 version should be no different.
There's a particularly famous name joining the series, but his notoriety is not from his racing, but from another sport: Newly retired Major League Baseball pitcher, C.J. Wilson, is making his first professional racing start in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama this week.
Practice takes place from 4:30-5 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, March 15, and 8:55-9:35 a.m. Thursday, March 16. Qualifying is set for 1:05-1:25 p.m. Thursday afternoon, followed by Round 1 at 5:45 p.m. Round 2 is scheduled for 11:55 a.m. Both races are 45 minutes each.
Wilson, a longtime sports car racing enthusiast, has driven in some amateur races, but his contracts with the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels precluded pro racing.
He spent the last few years amassing a network of car dealerships and building a racing team that he owns, C.J. Wilson Racing. The team fielded entries in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series, before moving to the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, where he still owns a pair of Porsche Cayman GT4 race cars that finished second and third at the series season opener at Daytona.
And when his schedule allowed, it also wasn't uncommon to see Wilson in a photo vest standing trackside, capturing breathtaking images of race cars speeding past.
Wilson logged practice time in the new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at the venerable, seldom-used Texas World Speedway.
"The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here," Wilson said. "It was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. Texas World Speedway is a really fast and bumpy track. I expected Rick from The Walking Dead to lead a pack of people to come over-run our trailer."
Wilson won't be alone when he takes his first pro green flag on Thursday - there will be 29 other cars looking for the checkered flag.
The Platinum Class, racing the 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, boasts 19 entries, including Wilson. The Gold Class will play host to 11 racers running slightly older Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, built from 2014 to 2016. A Masters Championship is also conducted in the Platinum Class. Each class is awarded with its own podium at the end of every race and individual champion at the end of every season. Points are awarded by finish in class.
One of the top returning Platinum drivers is Scott Hargrove of Tsawwassen, British Columbia, in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports, Castrol/Pfaff Porsche entry.
Hargrove won the Platinum Cup championship in 2014 in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama and plans to run an entire season in that series in 2017, with the Sebring race a warm-up - literally and figuratively.
Expect to see great things from series newcomer Jake Eidson of Littleton, Colorado, who won the inaugural Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship, named for the famed Porsche racer.
Backed by IMSA, with support from Porsche and Yokohama Tire Corporation, the scholarship entitles the winner to partial funding and other consideration towards a full-season entry. Eidson, running in the No. 24 Kelly-Moss Road and Race entry, logged only one race event at Road America in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA last year, and finished second behind 2016 Champion Jesse Lazare in both rounds.
Joining Eidson in the five-car Kelly-Moss Road and Race stable are Tom Haacker of La Quinta, California, in the No. 80 Platinum entry, and Gold Class drivers Greg Palmer of Colgate, Wisconsin; Kurt Fazekas of Indianapolis, Indiana; and Alan Metni of Austin, Texas.
In the Platinum Masters category, a key returning figure is Jeff Mosing of Austin, Texas, in the TOPP Racing Performance/Mosing Motorcars entry.
Mosing holds the 2016 Platinum Masters championship - it's his fourth. He'll be joined by two TOPP teammates in the Gold class - Franklin Raso of Cleburne, Texas, sponsored by Mosing Motorcars, and Bill Smith of Dallas, Texas, plus Platinum contender David Baker of Colleyville, Texas, in the Apex Capital car.
One potential series favorite is Corey Fergus of Columbus, Ohio, in the Platinum No. 00 Moorespeed/UD LED/Byers IMPORTS/AERO Paint/Continental Collision/SPARCO entry.
The third-generation racer, who sells Porsches at Byers Porsche when he isn't racing, has had success in World Challenge and was the winner of the Sports 2000 class in the SCCA Runoffs in 2012. His teammate at Moorespeed is Will Hardeman of Austin, Texas. Hardeman had three podium finishes last season and is in his third straight year with Moorespeed.
And don't forget Michael de Quesada of Tampa, Florida, in the Alegra Motorsports/Insync car. He teamed with his father, veteran Porsche racer Carlos de Quesada and 2016 GT3 Cup Challenge USA champion Jesse Lazare to win the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona's GT Daytona class in a GT3 Cup Challenge All-Star team.
At 17 years old, he became the youngest winner in the history of the race. "It's incredible," Michael said in a post-race interview. "I was here in 2007 when my dad won, and since then have dreamed about winning myself. It was the 10-year anniversary since my dad's first win, which makes it even more special."
Other Platinum field notables include Trenton Estep of San Antonio, Texas, who has competed in a variety of cars since he began racing karts at age 4, and will be driving the No. 3 JDX Racing/Hertz entry.
Partnering with Estep at JDX Racing, and making the jump to GT cars is Mark Kvamme of Columbus, Ohio, who has driven in everything from the TORC off-road series to WeatherTech Championship Prototype Challenge cars. He and his team finished third in the BAR1 Prototype Challenge entry at the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Porsche powerhouse Wright Motorsports is running a five-car field comprised of Platinum entries Phil Bloom, of New York City; Andrew Longe of Naples, Florida; Anthony Imperato of Brooklyn, New York; and McKay Snow of Lehi, Utah, in the Snow Racing entry. McKay is the younger brother of Madison Snow, who had a GT3 Cup win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2011 at age 15, the youngest winner ever. Madison Snow now races in the WeatherTech Championship.
Charles Luck IV of Richmond, VA will be the team's only Gold Class entry.
Perennial contender and winner of multiple IMSA races and championships, Michael Levitas returns in the Gold Class in the No. 36 TPC Racing/Merkle entry.
NGT Motorsport returns with returning Platinum entry Victor Gomez IV of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with backing from Mapfre and the Porsche Center of Puerto Rico. He will be joined by Fred Kaimer in the No. 23 running Gold.
Alex Job Racing has returned to GT3 Cup Challenge competition after a six-year hiatus with Sebastian Landy of Great Falls, Virginia in his Platinum No. 49 Forto Strong Coffee entry. Job is a member of the Sebring Hall of Fame.
A new team and driver combination for the 2017 season is Facundo Chahwan of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who will be driving the No. 22 Powersport Racing Porsche.
Joining the GT3 Cup Challenge USA field is an equally impressive line-up from the GT3 Canadian field.
Shaun McKaigue of Gilford, Ontario, will team with fellow Canadian Hargrove in a second Platinum Pfaff Motorsports entry, with backing from Fer-Pal Infrastructure, Aquapipe and Pfaff Motorsports.
And competing in the Gold classification, entrants include Marco Cirone of Toronto, Ontario, in his Mark Motors Racing entry, and Orey Fidani of Woodbridge, Ontario for Pfaff Motorsports.
IMSA sanctions an eight-venue, 16-round schedule for the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. The series will run 12 of its 16 rounds during WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Events.
Follow IMSA on Facebook and @IMSA on Twitter with the hashtag #GT3USA for updates on the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. Live timing for every race is available at IMSA.com, with live streaming video of all races at IMSA.tv.
Practice: 4:30-5:00 p.m. (ET) on Wednesday, March 15 and 8:55-9:35 a.m. on Thursday, March 16
Qualifying: 1:05-1:25 p.m. Thursday, March 16
Round 1 (45 minutes): 5:45-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16
Round 2 (45 minutes): 11:55-12:40 a.m. Friday, March 17
Live timing: All on-track sessions at scoring.imsa.com and on the official IMSA App for iOS, Android and Windows
Live streaming: All on-track sessions will be broadcast on imsa.tv
TV: Delayed television coverage will be provided on May 13, 2017 on major network affiliates in numerous U.S. markets by Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the broadcast will be available on YouTube after it airs on television
Twitter: Live text commentary from all sessions at @IMSALive