All photos: Richard Prince/Chevrolet

Garcia: Sebring win a ‘dream turnaround’ for No. 3 Corvette team

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Since Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought the GT into its parallel IMSA and FIA WEC programs starting last year, it’s had strength in numbers against the two Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs.

And Saturday at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was to prove no exception, with three Ford GTs entered against the pair of Corvettes, with that yellow number then reduced to just one early on with a water temperature issue taking the No. 4 car out of the race.

All it did was set the stage for a dramatic toppling by Corvette over Ford that wasn’t in the pre-race script, authored in large part by a “superhuman” stint from Antonio Garcia in the team’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R and an outstanding effort in the pits from the Dan Binks-led crew.

“I have to give most of the credit to Antonio. That was a Superman drive,” said Jan Magnussen, who along with Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller co-drove the No. 3 Corvette to the GT Le Mans class victory. “It was a lot longer in the car than any one of us would want! As the sun went down and track cooled off, we picked up some pace, and Antonio made the most of it.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

So how did the “King of Spain” earn this crown? It all boiled down a fascinating few hours of the race as the sun set.

With two hours and 27 minutes remaining in the 12-hour race, the No. 3 car ran fifth. Garcia had taken the reins of the car over from Magnussen with two hours and 53 minutes remaining in the race; a time frame with just enough of a window where the “King of Spain” could drive to the finish without the need for another driver change. The maximum drive time limit is four in six hours, and seven hours total.

The team had been caught out by a yellow flag earlier in the race that required both an emergency fuel stop and a subsequent full stop not much later, which required the comeback to begin with.

Alas, what went down in those final 150 minutes of the 12-hour race will enter Sebring and Corvette Racing lore. With a car that was better suited for the cooler nighttime conditions at Sebring, with the ambient and track temperatures both dropping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Garcia was unleashed to the field. Teammate Tommy Milner, who’d been in the No. 4 car but was resigned to being a spectator, and the official IMSA Twitter account called attention to what was to come.

Garcia restarted fifth behind the three Ford GTs, which ran 1-2-3, and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.

Over the next 16 minutes and 10 laps, Garcia made three of the most incredible passes of the race on Calado in the Ferrari, then Olivier Pla and Scott Dixon in the Nos. 68 and 67 Fords.

Garcia recalled the dynamic driving on track with a simple calm serenity after the fact.

“I had 10 laps to figure out where I could follow them, or determine the speed I could produce to get ahead of them,” Garcia told NBC Sports. “I had Dixon I think seven, eight or nine seconds up the road, and then Calado in the Ferrari a bit further away. In those 10 laps my engineer told me the pace I was carrying. Whenever the yellow came, all three Fords stayed out, I knew when green I had to make the moves as soon as possible. I knew the pace was there. They struggled on cold tires. I made the moves on Ferrari in two laps, then got behind the three Fords and went after them.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

Strategy and great pit work from there got Garcia past the No. 66 Ford into the lead. He’d got up to second on track and then once the next round of pit stops happened occurred, under green, he’d leap frog the field to where he had 10 seconds in hand over the No. 66 Ford with an hour, 40 minutes or so remaining.

“Everyone on the crew is part of the plan, and you need to maximize that part of it,” Garcia explained. “I figured out we were good the first five laps of every stint, with the cold tire temperature. We had a little advantage there between that and our pit crew. We still didn’t make it to pass (the Ford) on track. But to know you have that feeling, you can do your strategy towards to the end of the race and the tire change won’t slow it down.”

With just over an hour remaining though the epic previous stint on track came into doubt again. Garcia had toppled the Fords on strategy but then had to deal with Patrick Pilet’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, which was flying. Pilet had dispatched of Joey Hand in the Ford, and gained two to three tenths per lap on Garcia within a three-lap period.

But a left front puncture from debris ended Pilet’s charge and helped Garcia through to the finish. Although this denied a potentially epic scrap between the two cars, Garcia said he would have relished the challenge.

“With the Porsche it might have been a bit of a ‘COTA race,’ but I’d seen a few laps of their race, and I had the Porsche two to three tenths behind me. I think I was still picking up the pace. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy for him to pass me anyway!” Garcia laughed.

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

The aforementioned ‘COTA race’ Garcia brought up was in 2013, in a similar-type scenario where his Corvette didn’t have the outright pace of cars behind him – at the time a Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R and BMW Z4 GTE – but held them off with better racecraft in the 2013 American Le Mans Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

This race ranked right up there as a time when Corvette also won in the face of adversity, and with a pace deficit to the competition. Garcia said this was similar to that day in 2013, but not entirely.

“It was similar, but it wasn’t!” he said. “At COTA, I couldn’t perform the pace the others were doing. This one, I could. I still don’t know how I did it. But I had the pace to stay ahead.

“From the last three hours in the car, I was so happy with the moves I made on both the Fords and the Ferrari to clear them very fast. I knew it had to be done if I wanted to have any chance of winning this race. Once the team put me in advantage, track-position wise, I just worked ahead.

“COTA, it 100 percent was defensive mode, while this was offensive mode. I charged all I had, instead of defending. The gap between us and the Ford was going up, one and two tenths per lap, and I kept it going 100 percent. I survived and let him kill the tires!”

Garcia said this was a magical win for him in his Corvette Racing career, his eighth with Magnussen under the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship banner since the series merged in 2014 and first since a dominant performance last August at Virginia International Raceway. Corvette seems to have a knack where when one car goes out or doesn’t start, the other seems to pick up the slack.

“As a driver, for us as the 3 car, it’s a dream turnaround basically,” he said. “We were coming from last year’s crash at Sebring. We finally won at VIR when we dominated. Then it was a little bit frustrating leading twice at Daytona last month and not being able to do anything to keep them behind us.

“Halfway through the race here, we didn’t expect to have the pace to really win this race. But as we always say, between the drivers and our engineer, we need to do 100 percent and see if it’s enough or not. That was a perfect boost for the 3 car and for the race overall.

“It’s just how Corvette Racing reacts to trouble. Instead of everyone getting upset and it feels like it goes the other way, it pushes the other car forward.”

VIDEO: Celebrating Mexico’s motorsport culture and racing history

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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.”