What they’re saying: IMSA drivers, teams head to Sebring

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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This week marks the start of the rest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, following the kickoff that is the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida is a more representative test of the season as the first permanent road course following the infield road course/oval combination that is Daytona.

There’s also new Balance of Performance adjustments this race, following Daytona, and it will be interesting to see which cars rise or fall based on those changes.

The Prototype Challenge class also has these electronics updates set to debut, following a test carried out by CORE autosport and JDC/Miller Motorsports last month:

  • A new electronics package, consisting of a new engine control unit (ECU); new gearbox control unit (GCU); new power distribution unit (PDU); and a new chassis loom
  • New telemetry
  • Traction control
  • A new dash panel and display
  • A new engine configuration, which is 25 pounds lighter with a lighter crank, rods and pistons to allow for better weight distribution while not reducing the overall minimum weight of the car

Anyway, here’s a roundup of what some of the teams and drivers are saying heading into Sebring this week:

Michael Shank, Team Owner, No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda (P)

“We made a nice progression at the Sebring test last month. The car wasn’t as good as we had hoped it would be off the trailer, like we’ve typically been in the past. But we worked on it the whole time and now we are really happy with it. The BOP really affected us, they’ve taken the wick out of our fire after Daytona but we’re going to look at that and analyze it just like IMSA will also.

“From a chassis standpoint, with 17 corners, there is much more chassis stuff going on here at Sebring compared to Daytona, and we made a lot of great progress and I think we’re in decent shape from a balance standpoint. Sebring is very rough here on the car. We’ve had a bit of a tough run at the longer races recently, but I think the car is perfectly capable of a good result.”

Christian Fittipaldi, Driver, No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP (P)

“Sebring is probably the most difficult race of the year for our series. You have the perfect storm of challenges when you think about the warm temperatures, the age of the track surface and just the beating that both the drivers and the car take for 12 hours.”

Joel Miller, Driver, No. 70 Mazda Prototype (P)

“We were disappointed at Daytona [after dropping out of the race], but we left there with a smile because we immediately began looking forward to Sebring. It’s a track that seems to suit our cars because it rewards high downforce, and I think we can show a lot of strength. We know the car is competitive, so we’re itching to show we can do it. We’ve done a lot of testing there, we have a proven car and we know how to get the most out of it.”

Jon Bennett, Team Owner, Driver, No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09 (PC)

“Certainly, we will match the traffic much better on cold tires and in the rain. In normal competition, the new enhancements will make the PC a bit faster and easier to drive quickly.  How each team and driver adapts over the next few races will be interesting to watch.”

Bobby Rahal, Team Co-Owner, Nos. 25 & 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM (GTLM)

“I was impressed with the M6 and its systems reliability at Daytona. While we had a mechanical issue on the No. 100 car, the No. 25 car ran without a hitch and that makes me confident. On top of that we have had several tests at Sebring and once again the systems and mechanical durability of the car seems to have been borne out. It will be as it is always there, you can never go into that race feeling too good about your chances just because of the demands the track puts on everything but I do think that we will be prepared for those demands.  There is no reason why we can’t have a good race.”

Mario Farnbacher, Driver, No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R (GTD)

“We won Sebring last year, but that is in the past. Last year’s win was amazing, but we are focused on this weekend. I am guessing the traffic situation will be big again this year. The PC, GTLM, and GTD cars are much closer together on pace than last year. Rule number one, stay out of trouble, be around for the last two hours and go for a second win.”

Bryan Sellers, Driver, No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (GTD)

“Sebring is one of the events I looks forward to every year. The atmosphere of the race is something special. It was one of the very first sports-car races I attended, so it holds a very special place in my heart. Our guys at Paul Miller Racing have been flat-out prepping for the event, trying to ensure we have every tool necessary to perform. This is a race that is won or lost as a team, and we are all up for the challenge.”

Christina Nielsen, Driver, No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 (GTD; car’s U.S. debut)

“Sebring is a super tough track on the car, so it is of course important to have a car that can handle the distance. Testing has proven so far that it is a strong long distance car. Speed is always important – and based on testing, I believe we have that – but handling all the traffic and staying consistent will be key at Sebring. The car is very good over a stint, and this will give us an advantage being able to be consistent and keep good lap times even as the tires get used more and more. Hopefully we can exploit this advantage and continue Ferrari’s success at Sebring.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.