Photo: Tony DiZinno

Change Racing worked overtime to get second car prepped for Sebring

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SEBRING, Fla. – Robby Benton’s Change Racing team was already learning a lot at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, when the Charlotte-based team made its debut in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Benton had primarily been in NASCAR but the WeatherTech debut – also Lamborghini’s debut in the series – threw everything but the kitchen sink at them.

A snap failure in practice sent Spencer Pumpelly into the inside retaining wall off NASCAR Turn 4 and meant the crew would be working tirelessly to get its No. 16 Monster Energy/Pertamina Lamborghini Huracán GT3 back to working condition. There was also an assist from the Lamborghini Squadra Corse crew; a collective across-the-board effort occurred to get the car running.

But in the race, despite Pumpelly’s co-driver Corey Lewis getting a rocket start from the back of the field and with the car showing undoubted pace, the car sustained a heavy accident with another Lamborghini when battling for the lead. Justin Marks was in the Change car and collided with Bryce Miller.

So upon heading to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, naturally, things have gotten even crazier for one of the Lamborghini teams as it’s made a last-minute expansion to a second Huracán GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Change’s primary No. 16 Huracán saw the full-season pairing of Pumpelly and Lewis continue, but with Al Carter – one of last year’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup champions in GTD with Cameron Lawrence – added as third driver. Neither Marks nor Kaz Grala continue this weekend.

But meanwhile, what had been the No. 11 Huracán under the O’Gara Motorsport umbrella has joined the Change fold, after some unexpected and reportedly serious business issues meant the O’Gara Motorsport team disappeared after just one race. Electrical issues blighted what was a potential top-three run there for that car, although the team made up 12 laps after losing 24 early on.

Lamborghini and Change came to an agreement for the car to continue, with a mix of crew moving over to support the effort. Some of the O’Gara crew was not able to continue, though.

“Tom O’Gara is a close friend and I’m happy he turned to us to continue what he started. It took a tremendous amount of effort and planning for us to prepare and be ready for the move up to IMSA WeatherTech with our own team, but a lot of that work actually put us in a good position to be able to grow to a two-car team like this,” Benton said in a team release.

Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler have pressed on switching into the new team, with the same car and a new white-and-black livery with Robert Graham signage. Robert Graham has supported Bell’s Indianapolis 500 efforts the last few years.

It’s not been the easiest weekend, though, at Sebring. With the No. 11 car arriving from O’Gara having not been fully stripped or prepared, as the No. 16 car had been after Daytona, Change was working overtime to get the No. 11 car up and running. Alas, a fuel leak prevented the No. 11 car from running the first session.

“We had a fuel leak. It’s one of those things (that happens) with things coming together quickly,” Bell told IMSA Radio on Thursday. “We had to take some time to fix it. It’s got lots of little things… we’re in a session.

“The Change guys have done an amazing job to get here and prepared. We’re lucky to be on track, but there’s a lot to get through.”

Bell and Sweedler continue with Richard Antinucci and by this morning’s fourth practice session, the team was up to seventh in class at a 2:02.585 best lap.

For all three drivers, they entered this morning’s session with more confidence than they had at any other point during the weekend with some of the issues on Thursday now sorted.

For Bell and Sweedler, it’s a fascinating scenario they’d been through before in 2014.

They’d switched from the Level 5 Motorsports team to AIM Autosport once Level 5 ended its program, also between Daytona and Sebring.

Bell and Sweedler are the defending GTD class champions with Scuderia Corsa; Antinucci won the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America title last year with O’Gara.

Bell summarized the thrash in that IMSA Radio interview: “It’s been head down to just make this happen. We haven’t had a chance to breathe.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.