Sebring International Raceway Test: Day 1 The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship took to the track with its first open test on Saturday, with 19 teams taking to Sebring International Raceway for an all-day test session.
Joao Barbosa led the testing with an unofficial lap of 1:53.266 (118.871 mph) in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP co-driven by Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais in the Prototype (P) class.
Testing continues Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break. The test then moves to Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 19-20, from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m.
Pickett Racing's No. 12 ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet led Prototype Challenge (PC) with a lap of 2:00.909 (111.356 mph). Other class leaders were BMW Team RLL's No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE in GT Le Mans (GTLM), 2:01.798 (110.544 mph), and Scuderia Corsa's No. 63 Ferrari 458 in GT Daytona (GTD), 2:05.058 (107.662 mph).
CORVETTE DP MODIFICATIONS DRAW RAVE REVIEWS FROM BARBOSA
The No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP was clearly the center of attention at Sebring on Saturday. Barbosa earned the distinction of turning the first laps with the modified Daytona Prototype carrying a new diffuser, dual-element rear wing and carbon brakes, along with other modifications.
The modifications made a good first impression on the Portuguese racer.
"It was a lot of fun, much more than I was actually expecting," Barbosa said. "It is the first time we are testing here with the DP. We were just bottoming out a little bit on the bumps in the first few laps, but we addressed that and the car felt really great. For the first few laps we have around here with carbon brakes, new aero and all the new stuff, it felt really good. I was really surprised how it felt from the first few laps."
This morning also represented Barbosa's first laps in a Daytona Prototype at Sebring, so he could not yet make a direct comparison to the DP's 2013 configuration. However, he definitely felt a difference.
"It's very hard to compare, but you definitely feel the power around the corners and the high-speed corners seem to be better, obviously, with higher downforce," Barbosa said. "It just drives good. The car felt really good. I had a great time driving this car around here. I'm looking forward to going to Daytona and see exactly how we compare and stack up with what we ran last year and how we stack up with the P2 cars and how balanced all this is. I'm just looking forward to go back out there and drive the car again to see how much we can get."
Barbosa's co-driver, Fittipaldi, got a few laps in the car in the afternoon, but intermittent rains throughout the session limited his opportunity.
VILANDER QUICKEST IN FERRARI GTD DEBUT
For those who followed the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series last season, seeing Scuderia Corsa at the top of the GTD charts Saturday morning was no surprise. The 2013 Rolex Series GT champions picked up right where they left off, with Toni Vilander posting the session's fastest time with an unofficial lap of 2:05.058 in the No. 63 Ferrari 458.
While Vilander is no stranger to Ferrari – he competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship in a Ferrari 458 for AF Corse each of the past two seasons – the morning session marked his first laps in the GT3-based Ferrari which will compete next season in the TUDOR Championship GTD class.
"It's certainly different driving the GTD class Ferrari for the first time after driving in WEC," said Vilander, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari 458 in 2012. "It's no easier or harder, it's just different. The basic setup of the car is in the right window. I was able to start trying things at the end of the session."
Alessandro Balzan, the 2013 Rolex Series GT champion, is expected back behind the wheel of the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari for next week's test at Daytona International Speedway, while Vilander is expected to shift over to a GTLM version of the Ferrari 458 on the 3.56-mile Daytona circuit.
"I think the plan is for me to drive the GTLM car at Daytona," he said. "We're all interested to see how the GTLM class Ferrari runs on the banking."
PAUL MILLER RACING AUDI GETS INITIAL SHAKEDOWN WITH SEBRING WINNER
The last time Audi factory driver Benoit Treluyer was at Sebring International Raceway, his visit ended with him standing atop the victory podium alongside Audi R18 e-tron quattro co-drivers Marcel Fassler and Oliver Jarvis after an overall victory in the state-of-the-art P1 machine.
It was another positive – albeit completely different – experience for the Frenchman on Saturday, as he turned the first shakedown laps of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS in the GTD class he is sharing with co-driver Bryce Miller.
‘It's always nice to be back here," Treluyer said. "It feels like the beginning of a season for me, because the past few years we have been here with the prototype. Today it is in a GT car, and it's nice to be in that car. I was very looking forward to trying that R8. It was the first time I got the opportunity to do it seriously. I did a few laps this morning. To be back in a GT car here compared to an LM P1 is a big difference, and the driving style is completely different, but I had great fun this morning. The car is quite easy to drive. It was just a check of the car and we had some things to adjust after the run to make it perfect."
Miller will contest the full 2014 TUDOR Championship season in the GTD class after racing the past two seasons in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patr¢n GT class in a Porsche. Miller has high hopes for what is expected to be an extremely competitive new class, and his team's new racecar.
"As the announcements have continued to pour out, and as we're here and you can see all the presence of the different manufacturers who have made commitments at this level and so forth, it's becoming quite clear that it will be a formidable category," he said. "This is really great for the sport, it's great for the category and it's great for sponsorships, so this is all really promising news. It's great for the team.
"I'm very excited about the category and just the combining of the series. I think there's a potential for all sorts of leverage. The sky is the limit, I suppose, so it's all very exciting."
BLEEKEMOLEN GETS UP TO SPEED IN NEW GTD VIPER
Jeroen Bleekemolen got behind the wheel of the new No. 33 Riley Motorsports SRT Viper GT3-R for the first time on Saturday at Sebring, and quickly got up to speed in the new entry he will co-drive with Ben Keating in the TUDOR Championship GTD class.
"It's really nice to be involved with the car from the start," said Bleekemolen, the 2013 ALMS GTC class champion and class winner of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. "I've raced in many cars that have been already developed, and it's great to be involved in a program to help develop a car and make it better. We ran pretty much trouble free today, which is good starting out with a new car."
The new Viper shares paddock space with the No. 93 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R that competes as part of a two-car GTLM factory-backed squad. While they are different teams, Bill Riley oversees both efforts.
"The two cars will be separated on pit lane, but in the shop, we'll work together," Riley said. "Obviously, our goal is to have the Vipers on top in both classes."
MAGNUS RACING DRIVERS AT HOME IN SEBRING
While Magnus Racing concentrated on the Rolex Series throughout its four-year history, both team drivers John Potter and Andy Lally have plenty of experience at Sebring.
‘I've run about 15 Skip Barber races, a number of test days and the 12 Hours," Potter said. "In fact, I probably have more laps here than some of the tracks we raced in Rolex. "Of my five ALMS races, the 12 Hours was the only one that I didn't finish on the podium. That was tough, because we were leading after half-way but lost our radiator after contact with a prototype."
Lally finished second and third in the 12 Hours, taking second overall with Dyson Racing behind Team Penske in the 2008 event.
"Other tracks look nicer and are more modernized, but Sebring is a track that races very well," Lally said. "It's extremely challenging on many different levels. As a driver, you're constantly challenged to be both fast and smooth. For the teams, they've got to make the car as strong as possible."
Magnus Racing won the inaugural North American Endurance Championship in 2012 – bookended with victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Indianapolis – and finished second in the 2013 GT standings.