Photo: Scuderia Corsa

Ferrari’s legacy, future on display as 488 GT3 wins Sebring debut

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Ferrari found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne, but found a way to secure a victory from the agony of defeat on the other side of the world at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.

The new Ferrari 488 GT3, incidentally, made its worldwide debut at both venues – at Albert Park in an Australian GT Championship race and on the reformed airfield at Sebring International Raceway for the second round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

The 488 GT3 had got the pole position in Melbourne but was bounced after failing post-qualifying technical inspection – more here from Speedcafe.

Luckily Jeff Segal atoned hours later on the other side of the world with the pole in the GT Daytona class at Sebring for the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari he’d share with Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, and so that registers in the record books as the first worldwide pole for the new car.

The team ran the previous generation car, the still venerable Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, at Daytona as the new 488 wasn’t ready yet but then completed good test work at Michelotto before coming Stateside.

Photo: Scuderia Corsa
Photo: Scuderia Corsa

The GTD race was a barnburner from start to finish with anywhere from 10 to 13 of the 20 cars in class on the lead lap at any point. Scuderia Corsa stayed on the lead lap throughout and then once in the final hour or so of the race, made its charge from sixth to the lead.

The ultimate winning move came from Balzan in the final 10 minutes of the race, as he got around Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 following a run from Turn 7 through to Turn 10. The Italian got Klingmann on the outside of the right-handed Turn 10, which set him up to have the preferred inside line from there into Turn 11 and beyond.

The win comes 60 years after Eugenio Castellotti, another Italian driver, and Juan Manuel Fangio drove a Ferrari 860 Monza to Ferrari’s first victory at the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring.

“It’s one of the top wins for me in my career,” Balzan said post-race. “I’m really happy, especially with it being the 60th anniversary of another Italian and for Ferrari.

“It’s something special. I have to thank my teammates. You know you have to stay out on the slicks when it was wet. They gave me the car in P2.

“We decided not to change the tires, so as to not lose too much time. We had a nice fight with the BMW. But you’re fighting for the win. It was hard. We, then, did a great job in traffic. The last five minutes was everything for the full 12 hours.”

Balzan, Segal and Nielsen. Photo: Scuderia Corsa
Balzan, Segal and Nielsen. Photo: Scuderia Corsa

It was also a huge win for Nielsen, her first in the series, and for Segal, who now has a Daytona and Sebring win in his career.

Segal, arguably Ferrari’s top American driver (not factory employed but has been affiliated with the brand for several years), has spearheaded much of the running Stateside the last five or so years.

Ferrari’s overall success at this race also entered the post-race dialogue, as the iconic Ferrari 333 SP had been the last car to win overall at Daytona and Sebring back-to-back in 1998 with Doran/Moretti Racing and the trio of Didier Theys, Mauro Baldi and Giampiero Moretti (with Arie Luyendyk joining at Daytona).

Tequila Patron ESM pulled that feat off in the overall ranks with its Ligier JS P2 Honda, driven by Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani, Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race IndyCar stars in iRacing at Michigan

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last week that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.