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Sebring IMSA Test Paddock Notes

Montoya, Franchitti. Lynn, Gavin, and More!

Alex Lynn Makes DPi Debut

Alex Lynn got his first laps aboard the Daytona 24 Hours winning #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara Cadillac DPi on Thursday as track action began for the two day pre-Sebring 12 Hours test ahead of next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

Alex Lynn (GBR) Manor

Lynn will share driving duties with Jordan and Ricky Taylor, Ricky though wasn’t present at the test on Thursday, instead he was further south at Homestead-Miami Speedway testing 2016 IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s Chevrolet IndyCar for Team Penske.

Those first laps on Thursday for Lynn proved not just to be his first at Sebring but actually his: “first time even driving on a racetrack in America,” he said.

He’d finish as the sixth-quickest driver of the day with a best lap of 1:51.013 seconds (121.2 mph).

That was just 1.254 seconds off the quickest time of the day, a lap of 1:49.759 by Filipe Albuquerque in the #5 Action Express Cadillac DPi-V.R, and less than a second off Jordan Taylor’s best time in the #10 car.

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“There were a lot of new things for me to learn today,” Lynn said. “I think we had a really positive day today. I’ve learned a lot from the engineering team and also Jordan. He’s obviously been a really great teammate for me today. We were going through a lot of stuff and trying to put in some good lap times.”

One day after IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship star Ricky Taylor sampled a Team Penske IndyCar at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a Team Penske IndyCar driver took advantage of the opportunity to drive a WeatherTech Championship car 180 miles up the road at Sebring International Raceway.

Marino, back At Sebring

Marino Franchitti couldn’t walk very far down the pit lane at Sebring International Raceway on Thursday morning without somebody stopping him to shake hands or give him a hug to welcome him back to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock.

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The 38-year-old younger brother of multi-time Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti hasn’t raced in the WeatherTech Championship since a GT Daytona (GTD) class start in a Fall-Line Motorsports Audi at VIRginia International Raceway in 2014.

He will though return to competition next month in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fuelled by Fresh From Florida as part of a three-driver lineup in the #70 Mazda Motorsports RT-24P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) car alongside Tom Long and Joel Miller.

He tested the car extensively on Friday with Long and Miller.

“It feels like coming home,” Marino Franchitti said. “Although I’m a European driver, I’m an American racer. I spent so many years racing over here, that to be away from it felt very strange and to be back feels really, really nice. It’s great to see so many old friends and it’s just nice to be back on track here at Sebring.

“Obviously, since the last time I competed in the series, the classes have evolved, GTD has evolved and we now have one top combined class with the DPis and it’s really cool to get out there and drive one of these new cars. They’re just as good as they look. They’re nice.”

The last time Franchitti competed at Sebring in 2014, he brought home a victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in a Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype with co-drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. That was Franchitti’s second consecutive Sebring victory, as he won the American Le Mans Series LM P2 class in 2013 alongside Ryan Briscoe and Scott Tucker in a Level 5 Motorsports Honda prototype.

“It’s always been a special place for me,” Franchitti says. “I’ve always loved being here and loved driving here. We’ve had some good results over the years, so it’s nice to come back. It’s such a challenging track.

“When you’re working with a new car as we are here at Mazda, it’s really cool to get out there and to explore the car. The car has not done a massive amount of testing, although it raced at Daytona. It’s really cool to get out here and put more miles on it and explore the car. Testing and development is something I love doing. It’s just been a lot of fun.”

Franchitti is hopeful of even more fun when he and the team return for the race next month. It’s his only scheduled WeatherTech Championship start so far in 2017, but it’s clear he’s hungry for more.

“We’ll see where it goes, but I’m definitely keen to be back here racing in America full time,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen this year, but definitely something I’m looking to do.”

Thursday’s Fastest

Dirk Mueller posted the fastest lap of the day in the GTLM class, posting a best lap of 1:58.894 in his Ford GT.

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Colin Braun was quickest in the GT Daytona class at 2:02.691 in the #54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R, while Chuck Quinton claimed the quickest time in the Prototype Challenge (PC) class in the #8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09. Quinton’s best time was a 1:56.120.

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Montoya Tries Risi Ferrari For Size!

Juan Pablo Montoya joined the Risi Competizione team for Friday’s second day of the two-day, IMSA-sanctioned test at Sebring after a personal invitation from Guiseppe Risi to sample the team’s #62 Ferrari 488 GTE.

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The Risi team otherwise ran with regular drivers Toni Vilander and James Calado.

The 41-year-old Colombian got his first turn behind the wheel of the Ferrari shortly after the lunch break Friday afternoon. And while Montoya has turned plenty of laps on the portion of the Sebring circuit that runs from Turns 3 to 13 around the area known as Green Park, he hadn’t previously run on the full, 3.74-mile, 17-turn circuit that utilises former concrete runways from what was Hendricks Field, an Army Air Force training base in the 1940s.

“It’s fun,” Montoya said. “It’s different. I only ran, probably, eight laps just to get the hang of it a little and I’m going to try to get in a little bit later. It’s fun. I’ve never really run the big track. It’s pretty bumpy.”

And what of the difference with a GT car from his more usual steeds?

“Prototypes drive more like an open-wheel car,” he explained. “This is very different. There’s a lot of pitch movement in the cars, it’s kind of tricky. It’s very easy to get it wrong. It’s like, you go in one time and it’s like, ‘Oh, it turns.’ The next time you go in, it doesn’t and the next time you go in, it goes smooth. It’s very hard to be consistent.”

Montoya’s only racing commitment thus far in 2017 is the quest for a third Indianapolis 500 victory in May as part of a five-car assault from Team Penske after winning the 2015 race for the team. So, would he be interested in racing the Risi Ferrari?

“If they would let me, yeah,” he said. “But I don’t know if they’d let me.”

The Risi team already has confirmed plans to field the #62 entry for Vilander, Calado and Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella at Sebring, with Vilander and Fisichella expected to be the team’s full-time drivers in the WeatherTech Championship.

As for potential other sports car racing prospects for Montoya, he says, “Time will tell.”

Corvette Look To Bounce Back After Daytona Disappointment

This time last year, each driver of the #4 Corvette Racing team rolled into Sebring with a brand new Rolex watch after winning one of the most thrilling battles in Rolex 24 history over their teammates in the #3.

This year is a bit of a different story.

At this year’s Rolex 24, the #4 of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler suddenly stopped on track before the halfway mark of the race after making contact with another car.

“Everywhere you look, there’s strength and depth, so you know you have to execute every single weekend,” said Gavin at today’s test session, which is mandatory for all GT Le Mans (GTLM) cars. “Coming off the back of a difficult one at Daytona, we know there’s very little margin for error now for the rest of our year. We got a ninth place there, which is certainly not what we wanted, particularly after what happened last year. But we’re here refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to take on the challenge.”

Sebring may be one of the best places for the #4 to get its momentum back on track. Last year, the team took home a victory at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and established their dominance in the GTLM class after back-to-back victories.

“It’s funny coming back here as defending champions,” Gavin said. “We’re there to be knocked off our perch, really. It’s always a tough and challenging place to come here to Sebring, whether it’s the circuit or the competition or the weather or certain circumstances, and I think we saw all of those last year. Without a doubt, there’s always luck. I think last year, we proved that we made our own luck quite a few times so we just have to rediscover that mojo.”

Gavin also explained how Corvette Racing may have an advantage over teams with drivers who have never competed in the Sebring race.

“It’s not until you’ve done the race that you see how it’s going to evolve and fall in front of you,” he said. “Maybe some of the newer guys here are being told that you’ve got to be patient, let the race come to you a little bit. But until you’ve actually done it and seen it with your own eyes, you may just not believe it and press on like it’s a twelve-hour sprint race. Sometimes that little extra experience and knowledge can ultimately turn the race in your favour.

“These things can often take twists and turns,” Gavin continued. You’ve just got to keep your head down, stay focused, and keep believing that you can win. That’s what Corvette Racing has been so great about for so many years and it’s why we’ve been successful for so long.”

Daytona Victor Alegra Motorports Look To Carry Momentum To Sebring

It’s been a whirlwind month for the Alegra Motorsports team.

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Nearly four weeks ago, the #28 Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Michael Christensen, Jesse Lazare, Daniel Morad and the father-son duo of Carlos and Michael de Quesada pulled out a stunning victory at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

The win was a surprise to many as the GT Daytona (GTD) class was stacked with experienced racers and new manufacturers, but for Alegra Motorsports, it wasn’t quite so unexpected.

Christensen enters his third year as a Porsche factory driver. Lazare dominated and won the 2016 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Platinum Cup championship. Morad was the 2016 Porsche North American Cup and Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama champion. Carlos de Quesada won the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona in GT, and his son, Michael, took the 2016 driver title in the Porsche GT3 Gold Cup Championship.

“You can say it’s a Cinderella story,” Carlos de Quesada said. “I just don’t want people thinking that it’s going to continue to be a Cinderella story. This could be the story of a great team coming out with great crew members and great drivers and running the best manufacturer out there in Porsche and being competitive.”

The #28 returned to the track this week for the two-day IMSA test at Sebring International Raceway. The elder de Quesada logged laps with Morad and 2015 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Street Tuner (ST) champion Spencer Pumpelly, who played a pivotal coaching role for the team at Daytona.

“Yes, we won Daytona but now we’re focused on Sebring,” de Quesada said. “Just like we went into Daytona, we’re coming here to be competitive. We’re not out there to run circles. We’re not out there to be a back runner. Our goal, like any race we go into, is to win the race. We’re not going to let up on that.”

Adding Pumpelly has also been a huge benefit for the team. The veteran IMSA driver reconnected with former colleague Larry Hahn, now Alegra engineer, at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 looking for a ride. Hahn reintroduced Pumpelly and de Quesada, who raced against each other in ALMS and GRAND-AM in the early 2000s. Even though Alegra already had finalised its driver lineup for the Rolex, the team was eager to use Pumpelly as a strategist.

“They gave me pretty free rein to do what I wanted to strategy-wise, more so than I thought they would,” Pumpelly said with a laugh. “I finally got to run the race the way I thought it should be run, my philosophy on how to run the 24. We had a really good car that Larry put together, our drivers were fantastic, all the pit work by every guy that went over the wall was amazing. It was cool to see my theory on how it should be run put us in position to win and watch these guys go take it.”

Pumpelly already fit in quickly to Alegra’s way of doing things- he clocked the quickest lap in GTD during Thursday’s afternoon test session with a time of 2:03.172. It also helps that he’s driving a car he’s very familiar with.

“The majority of my career has been in 911s, so to get back in the car and get back to what I feel is most comfortable for me is good,” Pumpelly said. “Anytime you run with anyone as good as these guys, you want to perform to their level and this is the first time that I’ve really gotten to push the GT3 hard. There’s pressure, for sure, but these guys are doing everything they can to make it as easy as possible.”

Friday’s Fastest:

Jordan Taylor turned the fastest lap of the two-day test on Friday morning in the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, clocking a time of 1:49.600 seconds (122.8 mph).

Chuck Quinton’s Thursday best proved to be the fastest PC time with Friday seeing the Starworks driver suffer the opposite end of the fortune stakes, an on track incident seeing him sent to Sebring’s infield care centre. He was evaluated and released.

Jan Magnussen posted the quickest lap in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class with a best lap of 1:58.525 (113.5 mph) in the #3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R he shares with Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller. Magnussen’s quick lap came in the Friday morning session.

After posting the quickest time in class Thursday, Colin Braun continued to lead the way in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the #54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Braun clicked off a Friday morning lap of 2:02.476 (109.9 mph) to top the GTD chart.