IMSA

IMSA: Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring preview

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At 12 hours in length, Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring is exactly half the length of other famous endurance races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 24 Hours of Spa.

However, despite being half as long, it may well be the toughest venue the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship visits.

Notoriously bumpy, the Sebring International Raceway circuit tests teams, drivers and machinery unlike any other track, and the event can turn into a race of attrition.

Oliver Gavin, driver of the No. 4 Corvette C7.R for Corvette Racing, a team that has 11 Sebring victories, described several of the challenges they all face on the 3.74-mile circuit.

“The physicality of the track, speed of the circuit and how the race unfolds is a big challenge,” said Gavin, who helped Corvette to a 2016 triumph. “It’s the night, the lights, the bumps into Turn 17 and Turn 1, braking for Turn 3, seeing where the sand comes on the track at Turns 5 and 7.

“Turn 17 is one of the craziest and hardest corners on any track in the U.S. It’s a wild ride and that really sums up the Sebring circuit. You feel like you are on a bucking bronco the whole time and are trying at times to hang on a bit.”

A total of 43 entries between Prototype, GT Le Mans, and GT Daytona make up this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring field. The full entry list can be viewed here, with a spotter guide available here.

Below are previews for all three classes.

Prototype

  • Action Express Racing looks to do what Wayne Taylor Racing did last year and double up on the Florida endurance races, having won January’s Rolex 24 with the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi. The only change in the driver lineup on either car is Stuart Middleton, who contested the Rolex 24 in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering entry, but will not rejoin the team in Sebring. But, Joao Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque, Christian Fittipaldi return to the No. 5, while Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, and Mike Conway will share the No. 31. Expect both teams to be frontrunners.
  • The other two Cadillac teams, Wayne Taylor Racing (defending Sebring winners) and Spirit of Daytona Racing, will look to rebound from their Daytona disappointments – both cars dropped out; Wayne Taylor Racing suffered a slew of tire failures while Spirit of Daytona suffered an engine misfire. Both were very fast that weekend – the Wayne Taylor’s Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R sat on the pole, while Spirit of Daytona had its No. 90 near the front until their engine mishap. If the reliability issues are solved, both cars should also prove to be contenders.
  • Acura Team Penske and Mazda Team Joest are also looking to rebound from Daytona misfortune. Penske finished ninth and tenth with their all new ARX-05 DPi platforms after both cars encountered trouble, while the revamped Mazda RT-24P chassis sputtered out of the gates, with the Nos. 55 and 77 both falling out with mechanical problems. Sebring will undoubtedly prove to be an even more difficult test for both teams. Penske and Joest are high-powered operations that have won at Sebring before, and expectations are that both will again battle for supremacy. If the problems that plagued them at Daytona are resolved, Penske and Joest have the pedigree and experience to contend for victory.
  • Tequila Patron ESM, the final DPi – utilizing the Nissan DPi – was a big darkhose at Daytona. After the Nos. 2 and 22 entries started near the back of the Prototype, both quickly moved forward in the opening hours to run inside the top five and even battle for the lead, but both cars fell victim to mechanical problems overnight and fell out. There is plenty of speed in hand with both entries, so the ESM squad could be another darkhorse entering Sebring.
  • United Autosports returns to IMSA, but with only one entry this time – the No. 23 Ligier JS P217 Gibson – and no Fernando Alonso, with Phil Hanson, Bruno Senna, and Paul Di Resta sharing the driving duties. It may seem like a lot to expect from this team, which has never competed at Sebring before, to contend for victory. But this entry did finish fourth at Daytona, so it could surprise some people.
  • CORE Autosport and JDC-Miller Motorsports, with their Oreca 07 Gibsons, and lead the other independent teams. And while they lack the factory support of the DPi efforts, or even wealth of resources at United Autosports, overlook these entries at your own peril. Core got close to winning this year’s Rolex 24 when the Action Express duo started suffering gearbox problems late in the race, ultimately finishing third, while JDC-Miller ignited the legend of the “Banana Boat” at last year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, their bright yellow No. 85 entry running in the Top 3 at various points before finish fourth. Their Nos. 85 and 99 entries are poised to repeat that effort, while CORE can easily pull a repeat of their Daytona performance, in which they flew under the radar to emerge as contenders late in the race.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports and AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports round out the Prototype field and are also looking to harness the power of the underdog and battle near the front. The partnership with of AFS Racing and PRI Mathiasen gives that program added stability and funding, while Performance Tech were stars in Rolex 24 qualifying, taking fourth on the grid. Both could surprise again at Sebring.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

  • Simply put, Corvette Racing is the team to beat, with 11 Sebring victories in 19 appearances, including the last three in a row. If you want to win the GTLM class, you will have to go through Corvette Racing, a task that is easier said than done.
  • While previous history says Corvette Racing is the team to beat, recent history says Ford Chip Ganassi Racing may be Corvette’s biggest threat. This year’s runaway GTLM winners from the Rolex 24 – the Nos. 67 and 66 machines went 1-2 in a display of complete dominance, have yet to triumph at Sebring, which stands with Petit Le Mans as the only other major endurance event that the program has yet to win in its short history. But, with maybe the best car of the GTLM class underneath, Ford and Chip Ganassi may have their best chance yet to unseat the dominant Corvettes.
  • The last non-Corvette team to win at Sebring was the Porsche GT Team, which took GTLM honors in 2014. However, their 2017 Sebring outing was not nearly as successful, as they finished seventh and eighth in class and were not factors late in the running. Porsche will look to rebound from that and again battle at the front of the GTLM field.
  • Risi Competizione and BMW Team RLL fill out the GTLM field. Risi finished third in last year’s Sebring and could easily sneak up into the lead battle, while BMW Team RLL will look to improve their brand new BMW M8 GTLM platform.

GT Daytona (GTD)

  • The defending GTD champions are Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, who triumphed last year with their No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3. They ran up front at Daytona before fading to fourth, but this is a team that expects to once again be at the forefront of the GTD field.
  • Montaplast by Land Motorsport returns after their Daytona heartbreak, which saw them dominating the GTD field before IMSA levied a five-lap penalty for a Balance of Performance issue regarding the rate at which fuel was flowing into the car. If the pace is there, this is a team can rebound in a big way and compete for a GTD win in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3.
  • Wright Motorsports will look to erase a nightmarish Rolex 24, which saw their No. 58 Porsche GT3 crash on pace laps, effectively ending their race before it began as they spent several laps repairing the car and were never a factor afterward.
  • Scuderia Corsa brings back their two-car effort, with the Nos. 63 and 64 Ferrari 488 GT3 entries. The three-time GTD champions will look to add a second Sebring crown (they took GTD honors in 2016) to their IMSA GTD titles.
  • CJ Wilson Racing makes its WeatherTech debut with Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kuno Wittme sharing the No. 36 Acura NSX GT3.
  • Other GTD contenders and the chassis they’re using include: 3 GT Racing (the Nos. 14 and 15 Lexus RC F GT3), with Sean Rayhall joining the team to replace the retired Scott Pruett; Magnus Racing (Audi), Paul Miller Racing (Lamborghini Huracan GT3), Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian (Nos. 86 and 93 Acuras).

A full weekend schedule can be viewed here. Qualifying for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring begins Friday at 12:20 p.m. ET, with the race beginning on Saturday at 10:40 a.m. ET.

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.