Sebring 12-hour: Class story lines to watch

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All four classes in this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will have some intriguing action. Some of the key storylines to watch may include the following…

P: P2 FAMILIARITY VERSUS DP UPGRADES

After racing at a relative performance disadvantage at Daytona, the P2-spec cars should be on more even footing at Sebring.

The current generation of P2-spec cars has roughly three years of Sebring data to utilize, while DP cars have only properly tested at Sebring within the last five to six months.

The P2s will be back to a higher downforce package and configuration, while DPs make other aero adjustments, including new dive planes.

Action Express Racing’s No. 5 Corvette DP has been the class of Sebring testing and has accumulated more laps than any other DP thus far at the track. Whether any other DP will be able to match the pace shown remains to be seen.

Additionally, although DPs have had no issues with 24 hours at Daytona, 12 at Sebring is an entirely different challenge. The track’s a grinder; it punishes first-timers more often than not. Continental Tire has 12 hours of running on the PC class cars from last year, but this will still be new territory for the DPs.

American Le Mans Series fans are probably hoping – publicly or privately – that one of “their” P2 cars wins, instead of a DP in their Sebring debut. We’ll see whether that actually comes to fruition.

GTLM: PORSCHE VERSUS THE WORLD

What should have been one of the most exciting class battles at Daytona turned into a battle of survival, as the GT Le Mans-class winning No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR was the only GTLM class car without major drama.

The pace of the factory 911s in February’s preseason test, plus the debuting Falken Tire entry, was a disconcerting sign once more.

BoP adjustments have been made in the class, primarily in reducing fuel tank capacity across the board. Still, the last thing I would have expected to start this new season and new era is that one manufacturer could potentially open with back-to-back wins and a pace advantage on such disparate circuits as Daytona and Sebring.

This class has seen incredibly dramatic Sebring finishes; Corvette’s win over Ferrari last year; the Joey Hand-driven BMW over Olivier Beretta’s Ferrari in 2012; the door-banging Ferrari versus Porsche finish in 2007.

For the fans, this year’s GTLM showcase needs not to be a one-horse race, and for all intents and purposes, it probably won’t be.

Porsche may enter as favorites, but all of Corvette, SRT Viper, Ferrari and BMW will be giving chase. The RLL BMWs got results at Daytona by surviving more than outright pace, and should be in with a good shot at a handling track this week.

PC: BATTLE OF THE CHANGING LINEUPS

After PC had a good 2013 battle with five cars competing for the class win down to the wire a year ago, in the class’ first race with Continental tires, there should be more of the same in 2014.

PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports enters as defending race winners but with an overhauled lineup, now featuring Bayshore Racing/Camp Boggy Creek partnerships and Gunnar Jeannette, Frankie Montecalvo and Mike Guasch in the No. 52 driver’s seat.

CORE autosport’s relative stability and track experience should play dividends. Both of RSR’s lineups are strong, as is at least one of Starworks’ and BAR1’s.

The 8Star, Performance Tech and debuting JDC/Miller teams could also enter the picture depending on how reliability or contact affects any of the above eight cars.

GTD: A CALL FOR A CLEAN, NON-CONTROVERSIAL FINISH

The dust has settled, mostly, after the GT Daytona finish at Daytona. Level 5 won when a penalty issued for avoidable contact was rescinded; Flying Lizard, justifiably, felt jobbed.

Yet it’s Level 5, along with three of the top four teams from Daytona that actually won’t be in action at Sebring as they were last month. Third-placed Snow Racing has partnered with Rum Bum Racing for a new No. 13 entry; the fourth-placed SMP Racing Ferrari team was a Daytona-only entry.

Level 5’s pair of Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler continues, in the same number and car, but now run by the returning AIM Autosport group.

Elsewhere there’s any of the other Ferraris, Audi R8s, Porsche 911 GT Americas, Aston Martin Vantages and solitary BMW Z4 GT3 and SRT Viper GT3-R that could contend this weekend.

There was good diversity of manufacturers in the top five at February’s test. The key to success in GTD is often how well the leaders manage faster traffic lapping them, and staying out of the way throughout the race. Some cars even have four-driver lineups, which will allow each driver to go close to flat out for their presumably one or maybe two stints.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”

British GP expands to four-day schedule, F2/GP3 practice set for Thursday

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The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.

On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.

Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.

F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.

Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.

The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.

The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.

Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.