Endurance Racing

IMSA: Sebring – A Look At The GT Le Mans Entries

Credit: Richard Prince/Chevy Racing

We run you through the full house of IMSA’s all-pro GT beasts

Before we get our teeth into the meat of this field, some housekeeping. Sebring should have a long service award, because Jan Magnussen makes his 20th consecutive start at Sebring and Bill Auberlen his 25th. Equally impressive is Oliver Gavin’s total of 6 class victories around here – more than anyone else lining up on the grid. IMSA’s mandated minimum refuelling time for a full fill has been set at 34 seconds across the GTLM field – this being the new regulation’s first race, it’ll be interesting to note how it plays out in real life. There’ve been some BoP tweaks too, particularly to BMW, but we’ll run through them below. Here’s the class:

 

#3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R / Jan Magnussen, Antonio García, Mike Rockenfeller

Magnussen lines up for his 20th consecutive Sebring start as defending class winner, and has the same co-drivers this year. Corvette are looking for their fourth class win in a row this year – two of the previous three have been with Magnussen and García behind the wheel. The #3 Corvette has looked like the slightly more competitive – and luckier – of the pair, and García is widely respected by drivers and fans alike as one of the very best GT drivers around. Corvette couldn’t quite match the Fords’ pace at Daytona, but this car was still best of the rest. If Corvette’s engineers can nail setups with the new tyre compound and play smart with strategy, a fourth successive win could be on the cards.

 

#4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R / Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fässler 

Oliver Gavin has more class victories than anyone else in the race this year. You don’t luck into six wins around here, and the lanky Brit has proven his worth with Corvette over and over again. It was his performance here in a Saleen S7 that put the GM crew onto Gavin’s talent before they signed him in 2002. Usual co-pilot Milner was an integral part of the #4 Corvette’s dream year back in 2015 when they won Daytona and Sebring on the way to the NAEC championship. Swiss iceman Fässler has an overall pole at Sebring from 2013, when he edged teammate Allan McNish back in the R18 e-tron quattro days. A strategic mistake at Daytona put the #4 on the back foot, and they’ll be looking to rebound and keep their NAEC hopes alive at Corvette’s happy hunting ground.

 

#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 / Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg

This car loses Augusto Farfus from the endurance lineup after Daytona, but there’s still no shortage of quality in the Munich assault. They’ll be hoping for more speed from the new BMW M8 after a reliable but sedate opener at Daytona. IMSA’s BoP tables show a 20kg weight break and 2l bump in fuel capacity as well as tweaked boost in the mid and upper rev range – the most generous and extensive changes to any car in the class. Krohn joins the RLL factory effort from Turner’s GTD entry, alongside retained Californian John Edwards. Nicky Catsburg had a race to forget at Sebring last year – the BMW’s brake pedal going to the floor and a hard impact ending his race. BMW developed the M8 at Sebring prior to its debut in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and GTLM’s open tyre formula removes the effect of new Continental tyres from the race.

 

#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 / Alexander Sims, Connor de Phillippi, Bill Auberlen

BMW’s resident Brit joins a brace of Californians in the #25 – they’ll be gunning to get Auberlen a class victory on his 25th Sebring start in the #25 M8, and get him closer to Scott Pruett’s record number of all-time US sports car wins. Sims’ full-time IMSA ride last year saw him finish sixth at Sebring in the now retired M6. His adaptation to GTE driving, including no ABS, on the very demanding circuit marked him out to teammate Auberlen as one of the best he’d shared a car with. Connor de Phillippi finished just off the GTD podium in 2017, but his stunning performances elsewhere with Montaplast by Land-Motorsport made him a hot prospect in the off-season before BMW signed him. This might only be the second race this crew have together, but their performance is beyond doubt. How they finish will depend on how BMW’s loud and insistent noises about BoP affect the car’s ultimate potential.

 

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE / Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Toni Vilander

Risi don’t seem significantly closer to confirming a full season GTLM entry than they did before Daytona, and Long Beach is off the cards. Frankly, this single car David is against the heavily factory-supported Goliaths elsewhere in North America’s premier GT series and deserves better from Ferrari. Third in class last year showed what the Houston team can do despite limited resources, and they’ll need to draw on that again this year. The driving talent is remarkable, however. Vilander headed to Sebring after exactly why he’s a factory driver in the streets of St Pete, where he set timing screens ablaze on a track he’d not seen before. That said, for anyone who witnessed his domination at Bathurst last year won’t be surprised. Reigning WEC GTE Pro champion James Calado returns to the team for a second year, bringing title-winning teammate Pier Guidi with him. Ferrari has 21 class wins at Sebring, but if Risi makes it 22 this weekend, the cheers will probably be louder in Houston than Maranello.

 

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT / Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais

Ford’s top dogs were second best at Sebring last year, pipped to the flag by the #3 Corvette. Beaten again at Daytona back in January, this time by the sister GT, the #66 crew will want to reassert their status within the Ganassi camp. IndyCar regular and experienced endurance hand Bourdais joins the crew fresh from an IndyCar win in his adopted hometown of St Pete, and has an overall victory at Sebring. Hand has been racing here for well over a decade and took a class victory for BMW with current teammate Dirk Müller; Ford WEC pilot Andy Priaulx was the third man. The Ford GT’s low-drag, efficient design has shown its fuel efficiency before, and doesn’t overly work its tyres – it’s unlikely, but if we see as little yellow flag running at Sebring as we did at the Rolex, the Ford’s apparent advantage on long runs could prove crucial.

 

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT / Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon

If you’re only ever as good as your last race, then these guys are the best. A late call to put them out of sequence at Daytona gave the #67 track position late in the race, and they held that advantage to the flag. Dixon and Westbrook are both renowned as being fuel-saving magicians when it counts – if the race runs cleanly and pitstops have to be taken under green, expect the CGR engineers to keep the #67 out for long, long stints. Briscoe has seven Sebring starts under his belt, including class victories in both prototype and GTLM machinery. Perhaps surprisingly, given their Daytona performance, IMSA haven’t changed the Ford’s BoP for Sebring. Westbrook was running third last year on the final lap before being nailed by Calado’s Ferrari – if the situation repeats itself, touch wood and hold tight.

 

#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR / Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki

For a car with a year’s development under its belt, the Porsche underwhelmed at Daytona. There were flashes of pace, and a heroic performance from Pilet who took slick tyres – in the rain and at night – and used the legendary Porsche traction to drive the #911 to the front. With a hot, dry forecast at Sebring, expect less of that here. However, the CORE Autosport-run team have form for leftfield strategy moves and there’s no shortage of Sebring experience in Tandy and Makowiecki. Tandy took a podium in 2013 with the gorgeous Team Falken Porsche 997 before a run of less convincing finishes, often alongside Pilet. It’s early days in the championship, but a good finish here is crucial for an attempt at the NAEC.

 

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR / Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni

If Daytona underwhelmed by Porsche standards, so did Sebring last year. Bruni missed the race last year as a result of his gardening leave between Ferrari and Porsche contracts, Bamber wasn’t there either and Vanthoor finished eighth in GTLM. Serious improvements are demanded of this team, but facing such stiff competition it looks to be an uphill battle. The drivers know every millimetre of the track from Porsche’s 50 hour test here when developing the current spec 911 RSR, and with a year of experience, there’s nowhere to hide and no excuses for the team. Bruni and Vanthoor were poached from Ferrari and Audi respectively to create the dream GT driver squad, and that promise needs to start coming good.

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