IMSA News Roundup: 34 Entries Set for Sebring Test Next Week
Steven Cole Smith, IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The next round of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is America’s oldest professional sports car endurance race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida set for Saturday, March 18.
And while IMSA competitors are still basking in the glory of a successful season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona last month, they’re also ready to get back to business. They’ll get that chance the end of next week in a two-day IMSA-sanctioned test at Sebring International Raceway on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 23-24.
According to the entry list (attached) released today from IMSA, 34 cars are expected to participate in the test across the four classes. The Prototype class has a 10-car entry, including Rolex 24 winners Jordan and Ricky Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPI-V.R. The Taylor brothers will be joined by their new endurance racing teammate, Briton Alex Lynn, who replaces the newly retired Max Angelelli. Of course, retired NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon also was part of the Daytona-winning lineup.
Also entered in the Prototype class are both Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi entries. The team won last year at Sebring with drivers Pipo Derani, Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown sharing the same car. This year, Derani and Sharp are sharing the team’s No. 2 entry with Ryan Dalziel, while Brown and van Overbeek are paired with FIA World Endurance Champion Brendon Hartley in the No. 22.
There are eight GT Le Mans (GTLM) class entries for the test, including reigning Rolex 24 and 24 Hours of Le Mans champions Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 66 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing; as well as 2016 Sebring GTLM winners Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler.
A 15-car GT Daytona (GTD) class field is entered, which includes Daytona winners Carlos de Quesada and Daniel Morad in the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. De Quesada and Morad will be joined for the test by Spencer Pumpelly, who played a pivotal coaching role for the team at Daytona.
A single Prototype Challenge class entry has been filed, the No. 20 ORECA from BAR1 Motorsports for co-drivers Chapman Ducote and Gustavo Yacaman.
CORVETTE RACING FOCUSED ON PLAYING THE LONG GAME IN GTLM: One might think it was a pretty quiet off-season for the two-car Corvette Racing team, given the team’s most substantial rule change for the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was to update a refueling coupler.
One would be incorrect.
"True, the technical regulations for the Corvettes remain the same as in 2016, but there was still plenty of work to do," said Ben Johnson, Corvette Racing team manager. "While we were frozen on the technical regulation side, it gave us time to catch our breath and work on racecraft."
All the competitors in the GT Le Mans class are essentially working from last year’s rules, with one exception - the brand-new, mid-engine Porsche 911 RSRs, which replace last year’s rear-engine models.. But that doesn’t mean teams can stand still. It just means that rather than work on a new engine or body package or chassis, the teams work on things they can control, like pit stops, race strategy, tire management, and fuel mileage.
"When the rules are changing, you focus on that," Johnson said. "But when you are running existing rules, your focus turns to preparing the cars to be as good as they can possibly be, and making as few mistakes as you can. You don’t want to lose points because of mistakes, or because of bad choices we made."
It may be tough to top the 2016 season for the Corvette team. The No. 4 car won the championship and the No. 3 was third, sandwiching the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. "We definitely had a successful 2016," Johnson said. "We had some luck fall our way. But mostly good execution got us where we were."
As the results from the 2017 season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona suggest, this could be a long season for GT Le Mans teams looking for a clear advantage. The first four GTLM finishers were a Ford GT, a Porsche 911 RSR, a Ferrari 488 GTE and the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, all having completed 652 laps and 1,912 miles. And the fastest race lap of the four ranged from a low of 1 minute, 43.522 seconds, to a high of 1:43.979 - less than a half-second difference.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was how fast and reliable the new Porsches were right out of the box and as development progresses, that’s only expected to improve.
"It’s going to be a horse race," Johnson said. "But it’s time wasted worrying too much about what the other teams have. We just have to worry about what we have."
The next opportunity to show that is coming up on March 15-18 in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida. The bumpy, flat, 3.74-mile road course invariably rewards preparation and reliability more than outright pace, and there’s no place to hide for teams that aren’t ready for the rigors of the historic race.
WINNING MINI AT CHICAGO AUTO SHOW: If any track on the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge circuit would reward sleek aerodynamics, you’d think it would be Daytona International Speedway.
So how to explain the win last month for the four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona by the boxiest car in the Street Tuner field, the No. 73 MINI JCW, driven by Mat Pombo and Derek Jones? "It isn’t the most ‘aero’ car for Daytona, so this is a little unexpected," said Jones, especially compared to the three Porsche Caymans that finished second, third and fourth.
You explain it with power, of which the Mini Cooper has plenty. Team owner and former racer Luis Perocarpi, who grew up racing Minis back home in Chile, long thought the team’s first win might be on a long, fast track. For example, one of his cars had fastest race lap at Road America which, at four miles, is the longest track the series competes on.
At the Chicago Auto Show, which is underway now, the MINI exhibit is featuring the Daytona-winning car, dirt and dents in place. It may look a bit out of place, just as it does racing against Porsches on the track, but everybody loves an underdog story.
MORE TV COVERAGE ANNOUNCED: IMSA and FOX Sports announced additional television coverage for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, beginning next month at Sebring.
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida on March 18 will receive an additional 90 minutes of live FS1 coverage, with the race broadcast now beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET and continuing through the race’s conclusion with post-race coverage until 11 p.m. ET.
The entire Sebring race, flag to flag, will be available on the FOX Sports GO app with FS1 authentication.
The two-hour, 40-minute race at Circuit of The Americas on May 6 has moved its broadcast window from FS2 to FS1, and now will be shown on a same-day delay beginning at 7 p.m. ET. The two-hour, 40-minute Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, meanwhile, moves from a same-day delay to live on FS1 on July 9 at 12 p.m. ET.
In addition to WeatherTech Championship television schedule updates, IMSA also unveiled the 10-race FS1 broadcast schedule for the Continental Tire Challenge. Each race will be tape-delayed on FS1 throughout the season, in addition to live streaming of all races on IMSA.com. Continental Tire Challenge television coverage on FS1 begins this Sunday, Feb. 12 with the telecast of the BMW Endurance Challenge held at Daytona International Speedway on Friday, Jan. 27.
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