Photo courtesy of IMSA

Sebring weekend, Thursday notes

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SEBRING, Fla. – Here’s a mix of news and nuggets from the ground at Sebring International Raceway, ahead of this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has run two practice sessions, prior to night practice this evening from 7:30 to 9 p.m. ET and local time.

Meanwhile, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge has qualified and the Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama have run their first races of the year.

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship

  • Action Express Racing led both afternoon sessions. Dane Cameron’s 1:52.447 lap in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP was the fastest overall. Other class leaders in the morning were Colin Braun in the No. 54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09 (PC), Dirk Werner in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM (GTLM) and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R (GTD).
  • The No. 5 Corvette DP of Christian Fittipaldi was fastest in the afternoon at 1:53.850; times slowed as the heat increased. CORE also led in PC with Mark Wilkins, with Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR (GTLM) and Mathias Lauda in the No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 (GTD) were other class leaders.
  • In the third and final session, the 90-minute night practice, Action Express completed a Thursday practice session sweep. Filipe Albuquerque posted a 1:52.832 near the end of the session in the No. 5 car which was fastest by more than a second over the No. 55 Mazda Prototype, driven by Jonathan Bomarito. Braun completed a CORE practice sweep in PC, with Lucas Luhr top of GTLM in the No. 100 BMW and Bleekemolen again in the GTD lead. Bleekemolen’s best time of 2:03.417 was quicker than his pole time last year, which was a 2:03.485 lap.
  • The big story out of night practice was an accident for John Pew in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda, in an odd accident where the car snapped right. Pew was evaluated and released from the infield care center but the Shank crew – not for the first time – has a long night of work ahead.
  • First and second session times are linked in this bullet point.
  • Add Jan Heylen and Ryan Lewis to the list of those competing this weekend, both in last minute call-ups. Heylen will be a fourth driver with the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R along with Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Matt McMurry, while Lewis steps in for Tomy Drissi in the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 alongside Johnny Mowlem, Marc Drumwright and Don Yount.
  • Scott Dixon is expected to head to France next week for his simulator test ahead of his debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All Le Mans rookies are required to pass the simulator test prior to racing at Circuit de la Sarthe – even if you’re a four-time and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion.
  • Cameron Lawrence hopes to have more races with Alegra Motorsports, which premieres the workhorse Riley-BMW DP this weekend. The team may continue with the car past this week in Sebring.
  • Both Stephen Simpson (JDC/Miller Motorsports) and Sean Johnston (Starworks Motorsport) like the electronic updates that have come to PC, with Simpson being particularly praiseworthy of the Motec system. Simpson seeks his second straight win after co-driving with Kenton Koch, Chris Miller and Misha Goikhberg to victory at Daytona.
  • Continental Tire helped Starworks get back to Sebring after Starworks had its transporter stolen last month. More here from Sportscar365.
  • Wednesday, IMSA took an all-car shot. It’s cool. It’s the lead image on this post.

Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge

  • Scott Maxwell (GS) and Tyler Cooke (ST) made it two non-Porsches that won pole positions in the heavily Porsche populated Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Maxwell co-drives the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C with Billy Johnson; Cooke co-drives the No. 84 Bimmerworld BMW 328i with James Clay. Qualifying results are linked here.

IMSA Development and Single-Make Series

  • Clark Toppe, who was the only other driver besides Kenton Koch to win in Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires competition last year, won Thursday’s season opener ahead of Pato O’Ward and Austin Versteeg. O’Ward raced last weekend in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, where he won the first of two races. Results are linked here.
  • Jesse Lazare, who returns to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama this season, won the first race of that season. Results are linked here.
  • The IMSA North American Cup was announced Thursday, which will see joint races for Porsche’s USA and Canadian GT3 series at the Canadian Grand Prix weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve June 10-12 and at Watkins Glen International June 30-July 2. You saw the U.S. name ahead and the Canadian series is called the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada by Yokohama. More here from IMSA’s website.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.