IMSA notes: Action Express leads Day 1; Falken’s debut; MMPR’s third

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IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge are testing at Sebring International Raceway this week. A few brief news and notes to follow:

  • The biggest thing to watch coming out of this week’s test will be Prototype (P) class Balance of Performance adjustments that may come out after the tests. Restrictor amounts for for the Daytona Prototype-spec cars were yet to be determined in the pre-Sebring BoP rundown.
  • On Day 1, it was split between a P2-spec car leading the morning session (courtesy of OAK Racing) and a DP-spec car leading overall in the afternoon (Action Express Racing, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners). The P2 cars need to be closer to the DPs, if not outright ahead, at the conclusion of this test given the P2s are expected to be running quicker at handling-type circuits, compared to a track like Daytona where outright horsepower and straight-line speed make the difference.
  • Times from Session 1 and Session 2 are linked in this bullet point.
  • Team Falken Tire’s premiere of its customer Porsche 911 RSR, the first customer chassis of the new 991-spec car, is occurring this week. Nicknamed “Valentina” by its trio of drivers, Falken factory ace Bryan Sellers will drive with Porsche factory drivers Wolf Henzler and Marco Holzer this week.
  • Muscle Milk Pickett Racing has a new third driver for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring – it’s Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough joining the No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan’s regular two drivers, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. If nothing else, this may set the unofficial record for “biggest gap between letters in driver last names.” But Mardenborough’s a very talented shoe, already confirmed to a GP3 deal earlier in the week, and with past P2-spec experience in a Zytek Z11SN Nissan at Le Mans last year. A video of Mardenborough made by Nissan is linked here; he’s testing with the team this week.
  • Testing from day two at Sebring continues today, with live timing available at scoring.imsa.com for both series.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.