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IMSA Sebring Day 1 of 2-day test notebook: Fred Poordad back from serious 2017 crash

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It may be more than three weeks before the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend, but there was plenty of action at the central Florida track Tuesday.

It was the first day of a two-day test for various classes, and if you didn’t know it, you’d say teams were doing more racing than practicing.

Here’s some of the highlights:

* IMSA Prototype Challenge: P1 Motorsports topped the speed charts in impressive fashion.

Based 100 miles south of Sebring in Coconut Creek, Florida, P1 Motorsports picked up where it left off at a private test at Sebring last week.

The team’s No. 25 Ligier JS P3, piloted by Joel Janco and Kenton Koch, unofficially posted the fastest time of eight prototypes in either the LMP3 or Mazda Prototype Challenge in both practice sessions Tuesday.

“It was kind of the perfect place to test before a test, and then the race,” Koch said, per a IMSA media release. “For the most part the car was hooked up at the end of that test (from last week).

“We tried some little things in the morning today and ended up just going back to where we were. I’m really happy with everything, the car’s really hooked up and Joel’s doing great too. All the practice is really paying off.”

There was just one incident across the several classes in the entire day: the No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2 of Gary Gibson made contact with a tire barrier in Turn 16 in the morning session. Damage was repaired and the car was back on the racetrack midway through the afternoon practice session.

There will be one more practice Wednesday, starting at 8 a.m. ET.

* A little over a year after a bad wreck while practicing for the Bathurst 12-hour race in Australia, Fred Poordad is back behind the wheel, taking part Tuesday in his No. 20 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup ride.

“I was having a really awesome time and a great run until I had a little mishap coming down the mountain and clipped a wall and went into another one,” Poordad said of the Bathurst incident. “Unfortunately, it left me with some back and neck injuries and I spent six months rehabbing.”

Poordad’s injuries were initially so serious that he wondered if he’d ever race again. But one year later, he was back behind the wheel Tuesday, preparing for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA By Yokohama season.

It didn’t take him long to shake off the rust, holding pace with several of the quickest driver on the racetrack.

“I’m feeling pretty good now,” Poordad said. he said shortly before the start of the day’s second session of the test day. “I wanted to get back in the car to see if the passion and energy were still there. So far, so good. I’m enjoying it. There’s nothing like being in a Porsche.”

There will be another test session Wednesday that is open and free to the public, but there will be a $10 admission charged for sessions on Thursday and Friday.

* Dutch driver Indy Dontje wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting into with his first visit to Sebring Raceway.

But he proved to be a quick learner in Tuesday’s practice for the Grand Sport (GS) class.

Behind the wheel of the No. 57 Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4, Dontje unofficially had one of the top five times in Tuesday’s morning practice session, the first of three scheduled for the Continental Tire Challenge across two days.

“I got my rhythm and put a good lap time together and it’s quite bumpy in some places, but it’s a nice, quick track and I think this will suit the Mercedes a bit more than Daytona,” Dontje said. “I was really happy with my pace and I’m really excited to be here in Sebring. I’ve heard a lot of stories about it, so I wanted to know the track and see and hear everything.”

Sebring will be the second of four venues that Dontje will compete at in the 2018 season for Winward Racing/HTP Motorsport.

Dontje and co-driver Bryce Ward finished fifth last month at Daytona in the BMW Endurance Challenge.

“I experienced everything at Daytona,” Dontje said about adjusting to racing in the U.S. vs. in Europe. “The team itself, it’s good because we have a partnership with HTP, so there are some European mechanics here with me.

“We have a sort of mixture of all the guys we have the experienced guys from Europe, we have the experienced guys from the U.S. It’s cool, you know?”

Dontje is not a man unto his own island at Sebring. He has teammate Damien Faulkner to lend a hand.

“He’s an experienced guy here,” Dontje said of Faulkner, adding, “so sometimes if I felt like I have a big question, I ask him because he knows his way around.”

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Gabby Chaves to sub for Joao Barbosa at Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen

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Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.

The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.

Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.

“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”

Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”

Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.

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