IMSA’s optional pre-Sebring test sees 35 cars listed to attend
Acura Team Penske and Mazda Team Joest are bringing both cars – both teams have tested privately at the track before, but after suffering reliability woes at Daytona in race conditions, the two headline DPi teams will be looking for stronger showings at the uniquely rough Sebring circuit.
There’s no Alonso at Sebring, but United Autosports will be back with a single car entry for both the test and race. Phil Hanson, Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta crew the #32 United Autosport Ligier JS P217, now confirmed for Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans too. Following his fourth place finish at Daytona, endurance newcomer di Resta has been bitten by the bug.
“After the success we had in Daytona and what could have been, I’ve really got the bug for doing more. There’s plenty of work to do and I’m looking forward to undertaking these two races and seeing what it leads to. Hopefully we can have a great result and the team can work together to get the best out of it.”
There are no major driver surprises among the Prototype entries, although Wayne Taylor Racing, CORE Autosport and the #85 JDC-Miller ‘Banana Boat’ appear on the entry list without the third drivers all teams require for Sebring.
GT Le Mans:
What’s immediately obvious in GTLM is the single entry from Corvette Racing – the GM crew will only bring the #4 car for Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner & Marcel Fässler to Sebring. Defending champions Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and third driver Mike Rockenfeller will team up again for the Sebring 12 Hours in March, but will not attend the test. Speculation elsewhere includes rumours that they’re developing the new mid-engined Corvette C8’s GTLM racecar after persistent photos of apparently mid-engined prototypes have appeared in the automotive press.
BMW Team RLL get a BoP adjustment after serious complaints following the Rolex 24 – the M8 has been given a 2 litre fuel capacity increase and higher boost at the top end, but has had boost cut below 5000rpm. BMW Motorsport Junior Driver Colton Herta is also listed to drive in both cars at the Sebring test.
The CORE Autosport-run Porsche GTLM crew will be present with both cars. IMSA returnee Nick Tandy joins last year’s signing in the 912 car, and Fred Makowiecki tests alongside compatriot and 2015 GTLM champion Patrick Pilet in the sister 911.
Ferrari’s soft-touch presence in the US continues. Still yet to announce their full plans for 2018, privateers Risi Competizione will test at Sebring with just one driver. Factory Ferrari man and team regular Toni Vilander will be on duty, presumably joined as at Daytona by other factory Ferrari GT drivers for the Sebring 12 Hour itself.
After a consistent, comfortable run to a flawless 1-2 finish at Daytona, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will be aiming to add a Sebring victory to their Le Mans and Daytona successes. Both cars will test, with third drivers Sébastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon also present.
The standout news in GTD is Scott Pruett’s replacement in the 3GT Racing squad. Young American journeyman Sean Rayhall takes his place alongside David Heinemeier Hansson and Jack Hawksworth for Sebring. The Kyle Marcelli and Dominik Baumann sister car will also test, and has a third driver ‘TBD’ on the entry list. Rayhall and his new teammate Jack Hawksworth go back a while and have shared career trajectories so far: “I have a lot of respect for Jack. We’ve done a little open wheel, and both ended up in sports car racing. It’s going to be a lot of fun to race with him.”
Rayhall’s race seat in the #69 HART Acura NSX GT3 will be taken by Tom Dyer. Last year’s MSR Acura endurance driver joins Chad Gilsinger & Ryan Eversley in the team made up of volunteers from Honda’s American workforce. Despite running the full NAEC campaign, the fan favourite team are not currently entered for the Sebring test.
Having introduced North America to the devastating speed of the brothers van der Linde, the #29 Land Audi will play host to another emerging star. Audi R8 LMS Cup champion Alessio Picariello is listed to test the car alongside Sheldon van der Linde and Christopher Mies. The young Belgian has previous international endurance experience running in the 2015-16 Asian Le Mans Series with powerhouse team Absolute Racing, but makes his North American debut with German team Montaplast by Land-Motorsport.
#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes has Jeroen Bleekemolen listed alongside Kenny Habul – with Riley Motorsports running the show at Habul’s team this year and their regular client Ben Keating not present at the test, Keating’s driving partner Bleekemolen will drive alongside US-based Australian Habul instead of full season co-pilot and factory AMG man Maro Engel.
Michael Shank is reportedly closing in on a deal to allow the #86 car to compete in more races than previously planned this year. The full season #93 Justin Marks/Lawson Aschenbach car sees support from third driver Mario Farnbacher, but their Daytona addition Côme Ledogar is not featured on the test entry list. Ledogar’s fellow McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente remains aboard the sister car as third driver in the #86 alongside Katherine Legge and Trent Hindman.