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ALMS Sebring Wednesday Winter Test Notebook

Level 5 Motorsports rolled out its new Honda Performance Development prototypes in fine style Wednesday with the fastest time on the opening day of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n Sebring Winter Test. Luis Diaz set the fastest lap in the afternoon session – a 1:53.044 (1:117.830 mph) effort in Level 5’s HPD ARX-03b.

Diaz’s time was nearly 0.8 seconds quicker than the pole time in last year’s P2 pole time for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. The 2009 P2 race-winner was a full second quicker than Pecom Racing’s ORECA-Nissan of Pierre Kaffer, Soheil Ayari and Luis Perez Companc.

“With the new cars and everyone knowing each other better, I think it’s going to be a strong year for us,” said Diaz, who is splitting time with Christophe Bouchut and Scott Tucker. “The car is very similar to last year’s car. I would say that the biggest thing today was learning the Dunlop tires. So far, they are very good tires and good people to work with. It was nice to be in P1 at the end of the day with the new car and new tires. There is a long way to go to the race, but I think we started on the right foot.”

Corvette’s Youth Movement: Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner are Corvette Racing’s newest – and youngest – members. Milner is in his second year with GM’s factory road racing team, and Taylor is readying for his rookie season. They already have the respect of their more experienced teammates.

“It takes me back to 2002 when I first came to Corvette Racing,” said Oliver Gavin, Milner’s full-season teammate in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R. “I was very green in sports car racing and was paired with a couple of legends in Ron (Fellows) and Johnny (O’Connell). They taught me a lot and looking back, it’s amazing the amount I learned. Both Tommy and Jordan are mature beyond their years and aren’t fazed by the pressure of driving for Corvette. This is a large manufacturer – in fact it is THE American manufacturer. There are millions of kids their age who would do anything for the chance to drive for a team like Corvette Racing. But they aren’t fazed by the pressure.”

Patrick’s Porsche: Porsche factory ace Patrick Long candidly admits that he’s never been crazy about testing at Sebring. It’s amazing what a series of updates to the venerable Porsche 911 GT3 RSR can do to change one’s perspective.

“Usually at Sebring, you’re fighting bump compliance or the car’s platform,” the 2005 GT2 Sebring class co-winner said. “But these updates are great. I spent six hours in the car today and enjoyed as much as I ever have. We had struggled in previous years with other updates and at first I was skeptical about how the latest ones would turn out. It would be easy for Porsche to shoot for par but they’ve put so much effort into this.”

Most noticeable is a 48-millimeter increase in width to provide better traction and stability in cornering. There also are air intakes on the rear body panels that replace the air scoop on the engine hood.

“We’ve seen the very best GT racing in the world in the ALMS,” said Jens Walther, president of Porsche Motorsport North America. “Our engineers have worked over the last year to create the new 997 with a wider track and aero work. We’re very excited to have the cars here.”

BMW’s Outlook: Joey Hand claims there is no change in mindset at BMW Motorsport and BMW Team RLL for the 2012 season. This despite a season that saw BMW win three races and claim the GT team and manufacturer championships.

“There is no different agenda than there has been since 2009 – and that’s to progress,” said last year’s driver co-champion with Dirk Müller. “That’s what we’ve done so well. In 2009, we came in with a new car and won a race. We were a little more consistent in 2010. Then everything came together in 2011. We’ve retained a lot of the same people since the start of the program so there’s no reason why things should be any different this year.”

There will be one noticeable change for the coming season. Hand is set to race seven of 10 ALMS races while competing full-time for BMW in DTM.

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