Le Mans: A look at GRAND-AM, ALMS teams competing

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Here’s a look through some of the teams and drivers that might hold your attention from an American standpoint competing at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. There are six teams from the two sports car championships in the U.S., the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Rolex Series, who have assembled efforts for this year’s race. They’re outlined below:

  • Corvette Racing: Corvette celebrates its 60th anniversary at this year’s Le Mans with the send-off of its GTE-spec C6.R in the GTE Pro class. The team’s two cars feature these driver lineups: Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Jordan Taylor (No. 73), Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Richard Westbrook (No. 74).
  • SRT Motorsports: Viper returns to Le Mans for the first time in a decade with two of its bruising 8.4L V10s under the SRT branding and badging. Drivers of the two SRT Vipers in GTE Pro include: Marc Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher, Ryan Dalziel (No. 53), Tommy Kendall, Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer (No. 93).
  • Dempsey Del Piero Racing: Patrick Dempsey’s team has partnered with Proton Competition for its first trip to Le Mans, Dempsey’s second as a driver. The No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR features Dempsey, Joe Foster and Patrick Long behind the wheel.
  • 8 Star Motorsports: Enzo Potolicchio branched off onto his own team that runs the full FIA World Endurance Championship and a Daytona Prototype in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series. Potolicchio, Rui Aguas and Australian V8 Supercars ace Jason Bright wheel the bright orange GTE Am class No. 81 Ferrari F458 Italia, which has the logo of the merged United SportsCar Racing series on its doors.
  • Level 5 Motorsports: Scott Tucker’s team podiumed in its first Le Mans appearance in 2011, but a class win in the 24-hour race has thus far eluded them. Taking the reins of the team’s HPD ARX-03b in LMP2 are Tucker, Dario’s brother Marino Franchitti, and Le Mans rookie and IndyCar star, Ryan Briscoe (No. 33).
  • Rebellion Racing: A full-time entrant in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Rebellion has also committed to a part-time effort in the ALMS. Its two Lola B12/60 Toyotas in LMP1 are best of the privateers, but unlikely to score an overall podium. Driver lineups include: Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, Nico Prost (No. 12) and Andrea Belicchi, Congfu Cheng, and Mathias Beche (No. 13).

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.