Friday Sonoma notebook: Schmidt and Honda, JR, Briscoe return and more

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This morning at Sonoma Raceway, three IndyCar press conferences were held. Here’s a few bits and pieces from those and other news and notes from around the paddock at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (4 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN):

  • Sam Schmidt’s team is the first to announce it will continue with Honda powerplants into the 2014 season, as Honda switches from single to twin turbochargers, for the Schmidt Hamilton and Schmidt Peterson teams. Schmidt is likely to retain Simon Pagenaud in the No. 77 HP SHM entry; HPD vp and COO Steve Eriksen and the rest of the manufacturer rate Pagenaud highly. Interesting to me here is that Schmidt’s group is ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing in confirming; CGR was Honda’s anchor team when engine competition was reintroduced in 2012. I spoke to team co-owner Ric Peterson, who said rookie Tristan Vautier has an option for two further years, and he also hopes his team’s three Indy Lights drivers will continue for a second year. The only way that changes is if either Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam or Jack Hawksworth wins the title, and is awarded the champion’s incentive from IndyCar to move up.
  • Ryan Briscoe returns to action this weekend for Panther Racing, with a brace on his right wrist. He has gotten several days of testing in, first with Panther at Sonoma last week and again on Wednesday, and also in his Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b P2 class car at Austin earlier this week. Asked if a Panther/Level 5 weekend double-dip at Baltimore was possible, Briscoe said, “I wanted to and I pushed hard for it. But it came down to whether Level 5 would let me do it. It’s funny because earlier this year, when I said I’d do some Indy races, I said, ‘Come on, nothing will happen.’ And then I broke my wrist – so I lost that argument!”
  • For JR Hildebrand, there isn’t so much any extra “motivation” or anything to prove on his return to the series with Barracuda Racing. “I don’t look at it like that,” he said. “It’s more about me coming out here, doing a good job and collectively putting together a good weekend.” He said the situation differs from his last one-off outing for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, also at Sonoma, in 2010, because now he has 2.5 years of experience to draw on that has made him more prepared. He said he seriously enjoys working with team boss Bryan Herta, and seems fairly relaxed. The irony for JR this time around though is that his Barracuda team is parked right next to his old squad, Panther Racing, in both the paddock and pit lane.
  • Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power have had two interesting media events with a Hitachi technology event at a Penske Nissan Infiniti dealership in downtown San Francisco on Thursday night, and a Google+ Hangout through Verizon Wireless this morning. A full replay of the Hangout is linked here on YouTube.
  • Josef Newgarden showed off a new “Power Nap Pillow” a fan gave him in the paddock before first practice, linked in the below tweet. Newgarden was one of six drivers who took a tour of Twitter’s headquarters Thursday in San Francisco, an event Tristan Vautier raved about. Meanwhile as to the business of Newgarden’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team, which fields a second car this weekend for Lucas Luhr, team co-owner Fisher told IMS Radio during first practice that expansion to a second full-time entry is the goal. “We need to be in a second car situation to be in the premier elite and help him grow,” she said. Luhr, for what it’s worth, is in a new RW/SFHR firesuit and now his usual one he wears in the ALMS for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing.

IMSA: Sebring victories for ESM, Porsche, and Paul Miller Racing

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A thrilling final three hours of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring saw the lead change hands multiple times and fuel strategy even come into play in the run to the checkered flag.

In the end, Tequila Patron ESM rebounded from early-race heartbreak – the No. 2 Nissan DPi dropped out after contact in Turn 1 – to take a Prototype victory with the sister No. 22 in the hands of Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre, and Johannes van Overbeek.

GT Le Mans honors went to the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for Porsche GT Team after Patrick Pilet passed the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander to take the lead, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead through the final stint to seal the victory for Pilet, third driver Frederic Makowiecki, and the Porsche team.

The GT Daytona victory went to Paul Miller Racing in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis.

Reports on all three classes are below.


A terrifying accident for the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, in the hands of Tristan Vautier, set the stage for what looked like a late-race shootout between ESM, Wayne Taylor Racing, Mazda Team Joest, and Action Express Racing.

A cycle of pit stops saw the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac take the lead, with Felipe Nasr at the helm, ahead of Pipo Derani in the No. 22 ESM Nissan.

However, Derani, who held the lead prior to the pit sequence, made quick work of Nasr on the subsequent restart to retake the lead, and he took off into the darkness from there to win by over 11 seconds.

Renger Van Der Zande brought the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac home in second, a solid rebound after the team failed to finish the Rolex 24 at Daytona, while Nasr ended up third after having to save fuel on the last stint.

Mazda Team Joest seemed poised to challenge for victory with their No. 55 RT-24P, but a clutch problem that saw them struggle to exit the pits reared its ugly head again after their final stop, with driver Harry Tincknell unable to get the car going and losing a lap in the process. Tincknell ended up sixth at the checkered flag.

Of note: the aforementioned Vautier was not hurt following his massive crash, in which the car pushed out wide exiting Sunset Bend and made hard contact with the outside tire barriers, launching the car into the air on impact.

Vautier did climb from the No. 90 Cadillac unscathed, however the car was destroyed on impact. The incident ended a promising run for the Spirit of Daytona squad, which had been running inside the Top 5 after starting the race on the pole and leading early on.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

The finish looked set to come down to a Porsche vs. Ferrari duel, as Porsche GT Team and Risi Competizione battled for the GTLM victory in the final hours. Toni Vilander had the Ferrari in the lead with less than two hours remaining, but had a hungry Porsche driver in Patrick Pilet all over the back of him.

Eventually, Pilet was able to draft his way by Vilander on the Ulmann Straight, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead after taking over the car from there.

BMW Team RLL then emerged as a threat in the final hour, with Alexander Sims getting up to second the No. 25 BMW M8 GTLM, but could not get close enough to Tandy to mount a challenge, finishing more than six seconds behind.

Laurens Vanthoor brought the No. 912 Porsche home in third to put two Porsches on the GTLM podium.

Risi Competizione, with Alessandro Pier Guidi finishing the race, faded to fifth, with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing getting around for fourth.

GT Daytona

Paul Miller Racing enjoyed a comparatively smooth run to the finish, controlling the GTD lead for much of the closing stages, with Bryan Sellers having a strong final stint to seal the victory by a margin of over eight seconds.

The win is also an emotional one for the Paul Miller team, as it is their first triumph since 2016 and comes at one of the marquee events for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Alessandro Balzan put on a late-race charge in his No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 to finish second for Scuderia Corsa, while defending race winners Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports rounded out the podium, with Jeroen Bleekemolen bringing the car home in third.

Of note: Michael Shank Racing appeared to have a shot at the win following an effort of herculean proportions. The team’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 was destroyed in a practice crash on Thursday – driver Justin Marks suffered rear-brake failure and pounded the tire barriers in Turn 13.

The No. 93 team skipped qualifying to ensure the car was repaired sufficiently for the race, and their efforts were rewarded with a very strong performance that saw them leading as the final three hours began.

The sister No. 86 also ran strongly, running as high as third in the final hours.

However, both cars faded over the final stints, with the No. 93 finishing seventh and the No. 86 ending up eighth.

Results by class can be found here – overall race results can be viewed here.

IMSA continues its 2018 season with the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach on April 14.