Stephen Simpson led Thursday at Sebring. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Sebring weekend, Thursday notes and results

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SEBRING, Fla. – Thursday at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is almost longer than race day itself.

Today’s on-track sessions featured three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice sessions, two Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge practice sessions, and a practice, qualifying and race apiece for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda and the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.

WEATHERTECH SESSIONS

The No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson of Stephen Simpson posted the fastest lap in Thursday’s three practice sessions, set in the morning session at 1:49.516 around the 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway circuit.

That being said, two of the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs topped the two subsequent sessions held in the afternoon and evening, with the No. 10 Konica Minolta and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillacs on top respectively. Both of their times were in the 1:49 bracket.

Fred Makowiecki ended the day with the best time in the GT Le Mans class, also in the morning session. His best time in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR was 1:57.109, set in the morning. In the evening session the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais was just a tiny bit off with a best time of 1:57.116. Corvette Racing made it three different teams and manufacturers on top in as many sessions, with Tommy Milner fastest in the afternoon session at 1:57.206 in the Corvette C7.R.

At a lap time of 2:00.964 in the evening session, Lawson Aschenbach posted the fastest time of the day in the GT Daytona classes in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. That car also led the afternoon session with the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 tops in the morning session.

BAR1 Motorsports led two of the PC class sessions in the afternoon and evening with Performance Tech Motorsports on top in the morning.

There were no major incidents during the three sessions, including the night practice, which always has the potential to be a trouble spot.

RESULTS

NOTES

  • Ford Chip Ganassi Racing held a quick photo opportunity Thursday with the respective trophies from the team’s class wins at Le Mans in June and Daytona in January. The team has the shot to go for three-in-a-row and hold all three titles simultaneously if they win Sebring this weekend, which would be a feat Corvette Racing achieved in the 2015 calendar year, and also from June 2015 into March 2016.
  • Corvette Racing, meanwhile, hosted its annual dinner with longtime oil partner Mobil 1 on Thursday night.
  • Fitting transition here, here’s Mobil 1 The Grid’s Sebring preview with Corvette Racing driver Oliver Gavin.
  • Ricky Taylor joins Ben Keating’s LMP2 program for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as initially reported by Sportscar365 and confirmed by Taylor’s dad and team principal Wayne Taylor to NBC Sports. The older of two Taylor brothers was initially listed in Larbre Competition’s No. 50 Corvette C7.R in the GTE-Am class but now moves into the LMP2 time for the second time in his career.
  • The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi missed second practice with gearbox issues, but returned for the evening.
  • Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Spencer Pigot (IndyCar), Ryan Dalziel, Bryan Sellers, Lawson Aschenbach, Frankie Montecalvo (PWC), Pato O’Ward (Indy Lights) and Max Hanratty (Pro Mazda) are completing the St. Pete to Sebring 12-hour double this week. There’s a handful of others in the Sebring field who either were at St. Pete at some point last weekend and/or are competing in multiple races at Sebring this weekend between the other series.
  • Sellers’ No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 featured new daughter Mila’s name over the driver door, while young son Liam was making the rounds in the paddock on Wednesday with Sellers’ wife Jamie Howe.
  • Starworks Motorsport has had to perform a last-minute scramble to fill its lineup with James Dayson unable to compete. Mazda Road to Indy veterans Garett Grist and Max Hanratty got a crack within the team’s orange and white No. 8 Oreca FLM09 in Thursday practice, with Sean Rayhall also taking laps in the evening session. The team had apparent engine issues but returned in the final stages. Meanwhile at another of the PC (class) teams, BAR1 Motorsports adds Danny Burkett to its lineup, one of several pros alongside the previously listed Buddy Rice, Colin Thompson and Gustavo Yacaman.
  • Tristan Vautier now lives in Mooresville, N.C., site of the SunEnergy1 Racing team headquarters. The privateer team runs with some Mercedes support for one of the three Mercedes-AMG GT3s in the field; Vautier, a past Indy Lights and Pro Mazda champion in back-to-back years, shares the brightly colored No. 75 car with Boris Said and Kenny Habul.
  • Cool nugget about JDC Motorsports’ present this weekend. The team campaigns the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson in the WeatherTech Championship (an LMP2 car in Prototype), the No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports BMW 228i in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class, two LMP3 Ligier JS P3s and two MPC Elan DP02s in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda series, for a total of six cars for the John Church-led team.
  • Nico Jamin won the opening Prototype Challenge race in his Ligier JS P3, the No. 20 ANSA Motorsports entry. Jamin, who was in St. Petersburg last weekend for his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires commitments with Andretti Autosport, was a late add in a second car for that team.
  • In the debut of the new Porsche 991-spec GT3 Cup car, Scott Hargrove won that first race Thursday afternoon in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche over Jake Eidson, the Haywood Scholarship winner, in the No. 24 Kelly-Moss Motorsports Porsche.

VIDEO: A unique look at Mexico’s famous Carrera Panamericana

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”