There are 18 GTD cars listed for Sebring, so let’s keep the introduction brief. Most importantly, CJ Wilson Racing joins the series with the ex-RealTime Racing Acura that Ryan Eversley drove last year. The exact schedule for the baseball legend’s team remains unclear, but the remainder of the NAEC is definite. Other races such as the California 8 Hours are under active consideration.
The BoP changes are minimal across the class. Most noticeably, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 teams have been given a 20kg weight increase, making the car by far the heaviest in the class. However, Mercedes teams also get a 1mm air restrictor increase and 2l fuel capacity increase. The only other car with a BoP change is the Lexus, which also gets a 1mm air restrictor increase over its Daytona allowance. With that covered, here’s the field:
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 / Dominik Baumann, Kyle Marcelli, Philipp Frommenwiler
Perhaps the less fancied of the 3GT cars, the #14 still showed the Lexus’ upswing in pace at Daytona. Frommenwiler finished fourth back in 2014 alongside Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen in a Porsche run by the much-missed Alex Job Racing team. Baumann was very happy with the car’s behaviour at the test, noting the high speed corners that suit the Lexus’ size relative to other smaller GTD contenders. Kyle Marcelli has experience by the bucketful around Sebring from years spent in LMPC, so the Canadian snowbird knows to prepare himself for the heat and intensity that make up Sebring’s brutal physical ordeal. The team sounds happy and are positive that the cars will go better at Sebring than they did at Daytona. However, 3GT will have to clean up their pitstops, make fewer mistakes and sharpen strategy compared to last year if they want a shot at the podium.
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 / Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson, Sean Rayhall
It’s a new-look Lexus for this weekend, with a deep chrome red livery contrasting with the usual stunning blue of the #14. Gent racer Heinemeier-Hansson’s project management company Basecamp has its logo on the doors of the car for Sebring too. Sean Rayhall joins the 3GT squad for the weekend and will return at Petit – apparently the team pinched him as contract negotiations for Rayhall to continue with good friend Ryan Eversley’s squad were dragging. Kyle Marcelli’s clocked up serious miles around Sebring in LMPC machinery and has a podium here. Somehow, Sean Rayhall is still ranked as a silver driver, but his skills are as good as you’d expect from a European Le Mans Series LMP3 champion. Heinemeier-Hansson is a genuine silver – as dedicated and passionate as any pro, but he spends rather than makes money on racing. The Lexus seemed to have unlocked serious stint-long pace at Daytona, but will need to continue that at the very different Sebring circuit and on Continental’s updated tyres.
#29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 / Sheldon van der Linde, Christopher Mies, Alessio Picariello
There’s only one van der Linde name above the Audi’s door for Sebring, which leaves room for incoming talent Alessio Picariello. The young Belgian is Audi R8 LMS Cup champion and was hand-picked by Mies after the team gave him free rein to choose a teammate – there aren’t many better compliments in the sport than being picked by Mies. Thinking of the IMSA Radio commentary crew, Mies has done the charitable thing and nicknamed Picariello ‘Pikachu’, which should be less of a mouthful in the thick of the action. Despite IMSA’s minimum fuel stop times, Land should have the pace to run at the front throughout the race without resorting to complex (and totally legal) methods to shorten pit stops. Land’s fourth on debut at Sebring last year featured strongly in their decision to come over for more races in 2018 – with more experience, rules clarity and scores to settle from the Rolex, don’t bet against the #29 crew seeing the podium on Saturday night.
#33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 / Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz
Two thirds, or three quarters if you count the car, of last year’s GTD winners are back for another crack at the cup. Keating and Bleekemolen crewed Mercedes-AMG’s first win in IMSA in only the car’s second ever race. Luca Stolz joins the team after being confirmed as their third driver for Le Mans in a Risi Ferrari. The team have lost none of last year’s speed, and were right in the mix at the end of the Rolex until a late fuel splash forced Bleekemolen out of contention. Bill Riley should probably have a statue, or at least a Dinner With Racers-stickered lifesize cutout of himself, somewhere at Sebring – given the time he’s spent here as part of the Riley racing team, it’s only right. With the updated Continentals seeming to have a longer life, the Riley engineers should be able to find a setup and strategy that fit the fuel range and make the most of gent driver Keating’s impressive pace and endurance.
#36 CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3 / Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer, Kuno Wittmer
Right, this is big. The long-trailed new Acura customer team turned out to be former Continental Tire series frontrunners CJ Wilson Racing – as in multiple All-Star baseball pitcher and car collector CJ Wilson. Even turning up is a success story for the team run by a deeply passionate fan of the sport, who started out in MX-5 racing and has worked his way up as talent, experience and funding allowed. Journeyman racer Marc Miller leads the effort and will coach British expat amateur Till Bechtolsheimer through his first IMSA WeatherTech and GT3 drive. Initial reports from the team are positive, the drivers finding Acura’s GT3 easier to push than lower level GT4 machinery. Former Riley SRT Viper and BMW Team RLL endurance co-driver Kuno Wittmer steps into the third seat – the Quebecois racer’s experience in SRT Vipers and BMW Team RLL will be invaluable for the new team’s first Sebring.
#44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 / Andy Lally, John Potter, Andrew Davis
Everyone’s favourite race team/breakfast eggs stand took a stance on WEC rescheduling a race recently, which angered The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah. You could only read that in a piece about Magnus. For all their off-track hijinks, this is a team that knows how to win and has Audi factory support. Andy Lally has run here in the ridiculously fast Porsche RS Spyder and is as physically fit as they come – the vegan street-luging Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt will cruise through. Team owner John Potter is a dependable and consistent amateur, and Andrew Davis has raced an R8 around Sebring in the past with Stevenson Motorsports. A quiet run to sixth in GTD at Daytona was a fair reflection on Magnus; reliable, but ultimately missing some pace over a stint. If the race is broken up with more yellows than we saw at Daytona and the strategists get Potter’s drive time over early, Magnus could show some speed. Whatever happens, the post-race press release will make for must-read material.
#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 / Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Corey Lewis
PMR will be hoping for a quieter build-up to Sebring than they had at Daytona; a crash meant the crew worked all night to rebuild the Lamborghini before hiring the local New Smyrna Beach speedway to shakedown the new car. Corey Lewis steps into the third driver seat – the 2015 Super Trofeo World Final Pro-Am champion clearly knows how to make a Lamborghini go very quickly. Bryan Sellers’ years with Falken Porsche included a GT podium in 2013 alongside factory drivers Wolf Henzler and Nick Tandy. Madison Snow co-drove to fifth last year in the PMR Lamborghini alongside Sellers – this will be his third Sebring in a row alongside Sellers at PMR. The team took third in GTD at the Rolex, albeit with Lamborghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli on tap, but they’ve got proven speed.
#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 / Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Daniel Serra
The defending WEC GTE Am champions return for another run in IMSA, and keep defending GTE Pro Le Mans winner Daniel Serra alongside. All four men are more usually seen campaigning Aston Martins, but managed the transition from front-engined British bulldog to mid-engined Italian rampant horse well at the Rolex. Serra took GTD pole last time out, but an early retirement prevented the team turning that speed into a decent result. Lamy’s history at Sebring doesn’t show the immense talent that he is, and his co-drivers’ collective inexperience won’t help the team. However, Serra is a class act and Lauda has developed into a capable endurance racer. If Dalla Lana can keep the car’s nose clean, this will be an interesting one to watch.
#58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R / Christina Nielsen, Patrick Long, Robert Renauer, Mathieu Jaminet
As inauspicious debuts go, crashing on the warmup lap is right up there. Wright had to treat the Rolex as an extended test, having repaired the front end of their Porsche before sending a stunningly capable driver lineup out to do their thing. Still, onwards and upwards. Nielsen is defending GTD champion and now boasts Porsche Selected Driver status; Patrick Long is a Porsche devotee and Sebring class winner; Porsche specialist Renauer will be looking to make amends for his mistake at Daytona and Porsche Junior driver Jaminet has his first taste of the legendary theatre of American endurance. When it was repaired, the Wright Porsche was fast at Daytona. They’ll need the same speed alongside faultless pit calls and smart driving to take a podium and keep their NAEC challenge alive.
#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 / Alessandro Balzan, Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette
Scuderia Corsa have a habit of always finishing well, no matter how fast the car is. Their engineering and strategic talent is second to none in the GTD field, and showed no signs of cracking under the pressure of running two cars this year – they’re out to repeat their 2016 class victory. Balzan is key to their campaign – the smiling Italian can eke out fuel and tyres, manage traffic and chase relentlessly as well as the class’ top pros. MacNeil isn’t the first name that springs to mind when thinking of top-level amateurs, but with Balzan and Jeannette to shoulder the bulk of the racing he should get enough laps in early on to do his bit. Gunnar Jeannette’s run here in prototype and GT cars before, including fifth overall in the Panoz LMP1 and multiple podiums in LMPC – he’s got the knowledge to deal with changing track conditions and avoid losing time when being lapped by faster traffic. A win might look unlikely, but a trouble-free run should result in a solid finish.
#64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 / Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo
Bell and Sweedler have done it all together – NAEC, GTD title and wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. Montecalvo knows and likes Sebring after several successes in famously difficult LMPC cars on its bumpy tarmac, so expect a seamless transition into GT machinery again. The Ferrari’s BoP has been left alone for Sebring too, meaning the team can focus entirely on getting used to the new Continentals, getting amateur racer Sweedler comfortable and finding a setup sweet spot that works across the track’s rubber and temperature conditions. Never, ever count out the boys in red – they know how to win. Despite other cars having more eye-catching driver lineups, this is a solid crew in arguably the best car for gentleman drivers. In a class where the amateur makes the difference, that matters.
#69 HART Acura NSX GT3 / Chad Gilsinger, Ryan Eversley, Tom Dyer
It’s been said before but it’s worth saying again – the HART team are volunteers. HART, or Honda of America Racing Team, is made up of Honda employees who work on cars in their time off, when they aren’t working on cars at work. Chad Gilsinger spends his weekdays testing and reporting on Honda and Acura cars as a test driver, and got to know the NSX GT3 at the Rolex. Ryan Eversley is a factory driver with a year’s experience of the car from Pirelli World Challenge, where he shared his car in the endurance rounds with HART’s new third man Tom Dyer. HART’s lack of IMSA experience and workshop time will limit what they can do against the top professional teams, but there’ll be a great story – and party – whatever the outcome.
#71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 / Kenton Koch, Loris Spinelli, JC Perez
This entry will probably get more attention for its eye-catching ‘Chupacabra’ paint job than for anything it does on track. Kenton Koch was part of the group of drivers that seemed to be in LMPC for years without being given a shot elsewhere, and his experience of Sebring will be invaluable to the team. Loris Spinelli is definitely fast – he won the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe last year – but young and inexperienced. He managed to sponge up the endurance ethos at Daytona and turned respectably clean and fast laps – doing the same at Sebring could prove more challenging. JC Perez is another relative unknown, but with little experience that’s better than earning an unfavourable reputation. P1 could show some speed, but don’t expect a sustained attack at the front here.
#73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R / Patrick Lindsey, Jörg Bergmeister, Tim Pappas
Take a moment and watch Bergmeister race Jaime Melo for the GT2 win in 2007 – it’s worth it. The evergreen German is joined by Patrick Lindsey, who recently confirmed his debut Le Mans seat this year alongside Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti in a Project 1 Porsche. Tim Pappas, formerly of Black Swan, joins the team this year. Although Pappas is classed as a Bronze, he’s raced all over the world so has the experience, if not the speed, to keep Park Place’s hopes alive. Make no mistake – this is an effort whose success depends even more than the competition on the amateurs in the crew. This is one of the cars with a genuine pair of gentlemen racers aboard, too. If the race has long periods under yellow flags to clear the amateurs’ drive time, they could punch above their weight.
#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 / Kenny Habul, Thomas Jäger, Mikael Grenier
Despite losing his 2017 co-driver Tristan Vautier to Spirit of Daytona’s Cadillac DPi lineup, US-based Aussie Kenny Habul is back in the distinctively-painted Mercedes-AMG. Vautier set the GTD lap record in qualifying last year, going under the two minute barrier and blitzing the competition. Although Mercedes man Thomas Jäger is good, don’t go expecting a repeat performance. Mikael Grenier is rebuilding a career after the single-seater ladder left him without a drive after Indy Lights experience – an impressive 2016 in Carrera Cup Italia bounced the young Canadian in a new direction and he finds himself in IMSA. This is a big opportunity for Grenier to show what he can do in a new Riley-backed effort on the big stage. With expectations of the team as a whole fairly low, it could be just the pressure-free environment he needs to establish himself as a long-term prospect on the endurance racing scene.
#86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 / Katherine Legge, Trent Hindman, Álvaro Parente
A seriously impressive run that mixed pace, resilience and strategy saw the #86 MSR Acura take second at Daytona, despite Katherine Legge being herded off the road at speed by Montoya in the Penske Acura. If the Acura behaves itself over Sebring’s bumps and takes to the new Continentals as well as its rivals, we could likely see a similar performance. Legge has over a decade of top-class American racing that includes superhuman efforts taking the bizarre DeltaWing to positions it probably didn’t deserve; Hindman is consistently one of the Continental Tire series’ brightest stars who finally gets the break he deserves and Parente is a model of adaptability – he races Acura, McLaren, Mercedes and Bentley GT3 machinery and is a threat in all of them. Shank launched the NSX and have all the data at their fingertips – crashing or acts of God aside, this is a top five car all day long.
#93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 / Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher
Since the Rolex 24, Justin Marks has climbed a mountain and raced in the Daytona 500. What did you do? He’s also still enough of a businessman to classify as a silver driver, albeit one with considerable high-level experience. Mario Farnbacher is another gem of a find for MSR – the ‘silver’ German has an overall win around the Nordschleife in the family Lexus GT3 as well as two GTD victories at Sebring. As if those two needed any more help, Lawson Aschenbach is the official pro in the team and has enough experience at Sebring to set the car up and understand track conditions instantly. The car was fast and fragile at Daytona, explaining its low result – an unchanged BoP should make the MSR team very confident come Saturday.
#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 / Dillon Machavern, Don Yount, Markus Palttala
Only Don Yount remains in Turner’s M6 from the Daytona squad, this also being the only BMW in the class and the only M6 in the field. It’s also back in the familiar blue and yellow Turner colours, as the gorgeous Liqui Moly livery was a deal for Daytona only. Dillon Machavern was Grand Sport champion in last year’s Continental Tire series and is using this as an opportunity to shine and chase bigger rides in IMSA’s premier series. Despite his undoubted talent, he’ll benefit from Scandinavian missile Markus Palttala – the very fast Finn took multiple wins with Turner in GTD during his debut year with the team, intimately understands how to make the M6 GT3 work and never makes mistakes. If BMW’s Jens Marquardt had been as vocal about his customer team’s BoP as the factory Team RLL effort in GTLM, we could be looking at a genuinely competitive package. Turner were GTD midfielders at Daytona – Machavern and Palttala are undoubtedly good, but that may not be enough to make this package more competitive.