Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Sebring’s 12-hour classic set for a 49-car show this year

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There’s a handful of changes compared to the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the second round of both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida.

A 49-car grid was released on Wednesday, broken down 12 in Prototype, 7 in Prototype Challenge, 10 in GT Le Mans and 20 in GT Daytona. There’s some driver changes as well.

It’s down slightly from the 54 cars at Daytona, but up six cars from the 43 that started last year.

The P change goes from 13 to 12 cars; add the new DragonSpeed Oreca 05 Nissan and the Alegra Motorsports Riley BMW DP in addition to confirmed partial season entries from Tequila Patron ESM and Highway to Help, along with the eight full-season cars. The two Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Fords and SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan drop off.

PC drops by only one from eight cars to seven, as BAR1 Motorsports runs only one car instead of two.

GTLM drops by one with the SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GTE not in attendance.

GTD sees the biggest change with a drop by two cars to 22. Drop offs from Daytona at the moment include the second Riley Viper, the TRG-AMR Aston Martin and the Frikadelli Porsche.

Dream Racing makes its debut with another Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and after a reportedly weird sequence of events led to O’Gara Motorsport’s team withdrawal, the Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler combination resurfaces in a second Lamborghini at Robby Benton’s Change Racing.

Despite not being listed on the preliminary entry list, Patrick Long will continue in the No. 540 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R along with Tim Pappas, Nick Catsburg and Andy Pilgrim for Sebring.

The race runs next week, March 19.

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”