Over the past two days 36 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship runners have been out testing at Sebring ahead of next month’s 12 Hours.
Unfortunately, none of the times have been published for this one, forcing those on-hand to use stop watches on the pit wall to get an idea of their competition’s lap times.
But, with the season still young, there’s still been plenty to talk about as the second round of the 2018 IMSA season approaches.
First run for the new DPi aero kits
This week’s run in Florida provided the DPi teams with their first chance to test together with their new high downforce bodykits, which they will use for the rest of the season.
For the LMP2 teams, the only aero changes permitted are the standard dive-plane and rear-wing alterations, available to all P2 teams globally via the FIA regulations.
Here’s a look at the new configurations:
Cadillac DPi V.R
ESM Onroak Nissan DPi
Mazda and BMW troubles
The Rolex 24 Hours didn’t go to plan for Mazda Team Joest, both its revised RT24-Ps suffering multiple issues, unable to challenge the front-runners on either pace or reliability.
Unfortunately for the team, its Sebring run so far hasn’t been the smoothest of rides either, the #55 driven by Harry Tinckenll suffering a fire during the first day of running.
A DSC source trackside confirmed that neither car completed any laps after the fire, the Joest team packing up and leaving the circuit last night.
The only other runner to hit trouble was the #25 BMW.
DSC understands that the car had an off at Turn 17 with Alex Sims at the wheel during Friday’s running, the left-hand side of the M8 GTE suffering significant damage as a result, costing the team valuable track time late in the day.
Brundle returns to United
This week in Sebring there’s been two late additions to the entry, the first being Alex Brundle joining United Autosports. This test for Brundle marks his first run with the team since 2016, when he piloted an LMP3 Ligier in the ELMS and won the class title.
Brundle is standing in for Bruno Senna, who was unable to make the trip due to an illness, prompting the late call up.
“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” team boss Richard Dean said to IMSA.com. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.
“We’re new as a team here to Sebring, and the two drivers then that we’re going to run with – which is Phil Hanson, who just turned 18, and Paul Di Resta, who, while massively experienced, he’s not experienced in LMP2, Daytona was his first experience.
“We’ve got a relationship with Alex, we ran him in LMP3, he won the European championship with us, he’s been here before, he knows the team really well, and we thought it would be sensible to have somebody as a reference here. Alex was available, so he’s here at the test to help us.”
Dean also revealed that following the Sebring 12 Hours, its Ligier JS P217 which will contest the full IMSA NAEC, will stay in the USA with IndyCar outfit Andretti Autosports.
“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and Andretti have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean added.
“We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”
CJ Wilson Acura another late addition
Following the announcement that former MLB All-star CJ Wilson’s race team will be stepping up into GTD this year for a partial NAEC campaign in GT with Acura, the team were added to the list for the Sebring test.
The team’s striking new NSX GT3 went out out and turned in plenty of laps trouble free with Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer at the wheel.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” said Bechtolsheimer, who normally races historics, to IMSA.com. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
Good feedback for the new Contis
This week the Protoype and GTD teams tested out the new Continental rubber, which they will use for the rest of the season.
The new compounds have been met with positivity in the paddock, following concerns about durability that arose at Daytona, especially in Prototype, after many of the teams suffered multiple punctures during the 24 using the Rolex-specific tyres.
Andy Lally, who’s driving with Magnus in GTD, offered his initial feedback on the tyres being tested on the GT3 cars in the field:
“We’ve got a new tyre this year from Continental,” he said. “They’ve just introduced not only a new construction but a new compound, so all the teams are going through the process of feeling out what air pressure it likes, what camber it likes, what toe it likes and the combination of all three of those put together.
“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode? There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.
“It’s the first day and everybody’s fairly calm about it now. I’d imagine midway through tomorrow, you’re going to start to see guys throwing down and really trying to squeeze every last hundredth out of it. The Audi feels pretty balanced right now with it, so we’re pretty happy, handling-wise, how we’ve been able to integrate this tire and evolve the past setups that we’ve had into what we’ve got today.”
Herta gets first M8 GTE track time
Colton Herta turned his first laps in a BMW M8 GTE this week at the test. The 17-year-old Indy Lights racer, got the chance to drive BMW’s challenger from being named reserve driver for Team RLL this season.
— Colton Herta (@ColtonHerta) February 22, 2018
“Having never driven a GT car before, it was a day of firsts for me,” said Herta. “I really enjoyed the experience and felt that I fit right in. While I was expecting to sense the weight difference from the open wheel cars I currently race but what did take some laps to really understand was the braking. You sit in a different relationship to the tires so your sense of the force is much different.
“I had thought that a GT car’s grip would be less in the high speed corners, but there was a surprising amount of downforce. On a scale of one to 10, I’d say I’m at a seven. With two or three more sessions I believe I’d be ready to push.”
Prior to this week, Herta’s only other sportscar experience came in the 2016 25 Hours of Thunderhill, in which he drove a Ginetta G57-P2 for Ryno Racing with his father Bryan.
Rayhall positive after first run with 3GT
Reigning ELMS LMP3 champion Sean Rayhall is another driver using the February test to get his first laps in a new car. The American – who will take on the ELMS once again this season – will race at Sebring and later Petit Le Mans with 3GT Racing in the #15 Lexus RCF GT3 with Jack Hawksworth and David Heinemeier Hansson.
He told DSC that so far it’s been a seamless transition, stepping into the Lexus, just weeks after his first ever GT race last month at Rolex, driving with HART in its Acura NSX GT3.
“I’m really happy with how the test went in the Lexus. It was good for me to fit in straight away with Jack and David.
“The team did a really great job helping me get up to speed with the new car. I think the goal for us at Sebring is to keep the car consistent for the who 12 hours. We were disciplined in doing that during this test, I think it’s put us in good stead to go trophy hunting in the race next month!”