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TUSCC: Sebring Test, Thursday Sessions

Sébastien Bourdais and Action Express Racing picked up right where they left off after winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona by setting the fastest lap on Thursday on the opening day of TUDOR United SportsCar Championship testing at Sebring International Raceway.

Bourdais took the #5 Corvette DP around Sebring in 1:52.480 (119.701 mph), topping Gustavo Yacaman’s #42 OAK Racing Morgan/Nissan by 0.724 seconds in the final minutes of the afternoon session.

““We’re still trying to sort through the balance and the new aero configuration,” Bourdais said, “but we just kind of nailed it and were able to put down a really good lap at the end of the session.  Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.”

“When the temperature cooled off at the end of the day there was a lot of the grip. We had a bit of an issue in the morning with the gearbox, but the day was good, the balance was good – about as good as you can probably get it. Everybody got in the car this afternoon to turn laps and they were happy.

“The car is fun; the extra downforce has made it really fun to drive. It all depends on the grip, but in these conditions, that’s about all it had. The amount of commitment you could carry in the last corner and the first corner tells you how much you have left, and there wasn’t much left…”

Spirit of Daytona completed the top-3 (1:53.425) with its #90 Corvette DP. The first Ford DP was fifth, with the #01 Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Riley-EcoBoost setting a 1:54.686.

Honda’s new DP engine completed 16 laps in the back of Starworks Motorsport’s Riley chassis, logging a best of 1:59.023.

If Action Express Racing can indeed build off that momentum and win next month at Sebring, the victory would put the team in elite company.

Only four teams have won overall with the same car at both Daytona and Sebring in the same season, the last coming in 1998 when Moretti Racing won both events with a Ferrari 333SP. The creation of TUSCC has resulted in the two events being on the same schedule for the first time since 1997.

Yacaman led the morning session and the majority of the afternoon before Bourdais topped the field in the closing moments. Yacaman meanwhile used his Sebring track knowledge to good effect and consistently posted times quicker than his P-class counterparts.

“I have close to one million laps on the club circuit here,” Yacaman said. ”Sebring has always been one of my favorite tracks. Today was my first time driving the full track, and it’s even more amazing than the course I’m used to. It’s very hard, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Three cars among two teams posted times in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class. Tom Kimber-Smith drove the #25 8Star Motorsports ORECA FLM09 to the top spot in the morning session with a lap of 1:55.940 (116.129 mph). That time held up for the remainder of the day over the pair of unliveried BAR1 Motorsports entries.

8Star Motorsports co-driver Roberto LaRocca had an incident at the end of the morning session, but the crew was able to repair the car, allowing Kimber-Smith to also post the top time in the afternoon session at 1:56.561 (115.510 mph).

Porsche North America meanwhile also carried momentum from its GT LM class victory at Daytona to Sebring posting the two fastest times on the opening day of the two day test.

Joerg Bergmeister ran the fastest lap of the day in the morning session at 2:00.048 (112.155 mph) in the team’s #912 Porsche 911 RSR. Patrick Pilet led the afternoon session with a lap of 2:00.364 (111.861 mph) in the Rolex 24-winning #911 Porsche

“We had a little bad luck with our car in the Rolex 24, but overall Daytona was perfect start for our new team,” Bergmeister said. “This is a new car, but we’ve tested here quite bit in the past and our setup was perfect right off the truck.”

“We’re happy, because it’s always hard to be on the pace at the beginning of a test at Sebring,” said Pilet, who drove to victory in the season opener at Daytona with Nick Tandy and Richard Lietz. “It was a good day for us. We had no real issues. Daytona was a dream week for us, with a new team, a new car and new teammates. Everything worked perfectly. I feel a real key was the hard work by the crew and perfect pit stops.”

The GTLM class saw the top eight cars represented by five different marques separated by less than one second. Marc Goossens was third-fastest in the #93 SRT Motorsports SRT Viper GTS-R at 2:00.496 (111.738 mph).

In the GT Daytona (GTD) class, Dane Cameron was fastest with a lap of 2:04.487 (108.156 mph) in the #94 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4. He was followed by the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America of Kevin Estre at 2:04.703 (107.969 mph), and the #33 Riley Motorsports SRT Viper GT3-R of Jeroen Bleekemolen with a lap of 2:04.915 (107.785 mph).

“Sebring is one of my favorite places,” said Cameron, who will co-drive with Paul Dalla Lana and Markus Palttala. “The car is fast, and now we will work on making it happier over the bumps. We went through a lot of things today, and will continue working on the car tomorrow.”

The test also saw the very welcome return to the cockpit of Matteo Malucelli after the enormous accident which befell the Italian at the wheel of the Risi Competizione Ferrari at Daytona.

With the #62 car though still undergoing repairs Malucelli instead drove the #57 Krohn Racing car alongside regular pilot Nic Jonsson.