IMSA Sebring February Test Notebook

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – The final test before the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida, scheduled for March 19, wrapped up last week with two days of action on the historic Sebring International Raceway in Central Florida.

Thirty-six teams in four classes attended the test, run under cool, dry conditions that may well be the same the teams see at the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the season. However, Sebring has been known to throw curve balls weather-wise, making the always grueling race even more challenging.

Ten Prototype teams registered for the test, along with four Prototype Challenge (PC) cars, five in GT Le Mans (GTLM) and 17 in GT Daytona (GTD). The GTD cars are all new this year since the class adopted the global GT3 regulations, so plenty of GTD teams wanted to get a taste of Sebring in their new cars prior to the actual race.

A few prominent teams elected to skip the Sebring test – the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R team that ran first and second in the GTLM class at the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona had its own private test at Sebring prior to the IMSA test, and the two-car Mazda Prototype team also tested extensively at Sebring earlier.

Turning in the fastest overall time was French driver Olivier Pla, driving the No. 60 Michel Shank Racing Honda Ligier JS P2, with a lap of 1 minute, 51.546 seconds, at 120.704 mph. A surprising second in the Prototype class was the Nissan-powered No. 81 ORECA 05 of DragonSpeed Racing, with Nicolas Lapierre at the wheel. Third was the No. 90 Chevrolet Corvette DP of VisitFlorida.com, with Ryan Dalziel driving.

Dalziel, whose team finished third at Daytona, was pleased with the Sebring test. “We don’t have the outright speed of the cars at the top of the speed charts," he said, “but hopefully we can make it up with a steady performance."

The No. 2 Extreme Speed Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 that won Daytona overall with young Brazilian driver Pipo Derani leading the team also was at Sebring, and usually one of the fastest cars in the four practice sessions.

In PC, the No. 54 CORE autosport team, led by driver Colin Braun, was the fastest on both days, with a best lap of 1:54.087. In GTLM, Dirk Werner had the fastest lap of 1:58.705, driving the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM car, and in GTD, Alessandro Balzan turned in a lap of 2:01.342 in the new No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488, more than two seconds faster than the existing GT Daytona track record.

While there were numerous off-course excursions, there were only two notable accidents: The first day, Dream Racing’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3, driven by Larry DeGeorge, hit the tire wall, resulting in substantial damage to the left front of the GTD car. The team returned to the track for the second day with a spare car.

And late on that second day, one of the two new GTLM Ford GT cars, driven by Richard Westbrook, made contact with one of the GTD cars, and the Ford GT got the worst of it with damage to the right rear. Until then, both Ford GTs had been running with no major problems. It was too late to repair Westbrook’s car, but the team car continued running until the end of the session. The GTs were fourth and fifth fastest in the GTLM class.

PRUETT TESTS BOTH ACTION EXPRESS ENTRIES: Veteran driver Scott Pruett left the Chip Ganassi-run Prototype team at the first of the season, signing with the two-car Action Express Chevrolet Corvette DP team. Though he is expected to drive the No. 31 car in the race, Pruett spent time in both the No. 5 and No. 31 Corvettes at Sebring, getting not only some valuable track time in his new ride, but giving the team some valuable feedback.

“Whenever you prepare for a long, grueling endurance race you want to have options available to you," said team manager Gary Nelson. “Certainly having a veteran driver like Scott, he can adapt quickly to jumping between cars, particularly when ours are as close to identical as what they are, so we just wanted him to have laps in both cars should the need arise for him to pilot the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP in the 12 hours."

Pruett co-drove the No. 5 entry in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque. He’ll share the No. 31 with Eric Curran and Dane Cameron at Sebring.

DELTAWING QUICK: The DeltaWing, which led 29 laps at the Rolex 24 at Daytona before crashing out of the competition, was quick once again at Sebring, but the rough surface does not appear to be ideal for the ultra-light car. The DeltaWing’s fastest lap in the two-day session was 1:52.9, which was 1.35 seconds behind the fastest lap of test.

NEW TEAM: The all-white No. 24 BMW Riley DP tested at Sebring in preparation for its first start of the season: It’s the Alegra Motorsports car, led by Carlos de Quesada. The team was just getting the feel for their new ride, a former Starworks Motorsports car.

DERANI A QUICK LEARNER: This was the first time at Sebring for the Rolex 24 At Daytona winner, who started out feeling his way around the raceway in the No. 2 Extreme Speed Honda Ligier JS P2 car. “It’s my first time here, so I’m using it to learn the track, which is not so easy," he said. “So far, so good."

The 64th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and all the races and events leading up to it will be held March 16-19. Log onto Sebringraceway.com for schedules and ticket information.

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