IMSA: Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring preview

IMSA
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At 12 hours in length, Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring is exactly half the length of other famous endurance races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the 24 Hours of Spa.

However, despite being half as long, it may well be the toughest venue the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship visits.

Notoriously bumpy, the Sebring International Raceway circuit tests teams, drivers and machinery unlike any other track, and the event can turn into a race of attrition.

Oliver Gavin, driver of the No. 4 Corvette C7.R for Corvette Racing, a team that has 11 Sebring victories, described several of the challenges they all face on the 3.74-mile circuit.

“The physicality of the track, speed of the circuit and how the race unfolds is a big challenge,” said Gavin, who helped Corvette to a 2016 triumph. “It’s the night, the lights, the bumps into Turn 17 and Turn 1, braking for Turn 3, seeing where the sand comes on the track at Turns 5 and 7.

“Turn 17 is one of the craziest and hardest corners on any track in the U.S. It’s a wild ride and that really sums up the Sebring circuit. You feel like you are on a bucking bronco the whole time and are trying at times to hang on a bit.”

A total of 43 entries between Prototype, GT Le Mans, and GT Daytona make up this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring field. The full entry list can be viewed here, with a spotter guide available here.

Below are previews for all three classes.

Prototype

  • Action Express Racing looks to do what Wayne Taylor Racing did last year and double up on the Florida endurance races, having won January’s Rolex 24 with the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi. The only change in the driver lineup on either car is Stuart Middleton, who contested the Rolex 24 in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering entry, but will not rejoin the team in Sebring. But, Joao Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque, Christian Fittipaldi return to the No. 5, while Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, and Mike Conway will share the No. 31. Expect both teams to be frontrunners.
  • The other two Cadillac teams, Wayne Taylor Racing (defending Sebring winners) and Spirit of Daytona Racing, will look to rebound from their Daytona disappointments – both cars dropped out; Wayne Taylor Racing suffered a slew of tire failures while Spirit of Daytona suffered an engine misfire. Both were very fast that weekend – the Wayne Taylor’s Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R sat on the pole, while Spirit of Daytona had its No. 90 near the front until their engine mishap. If the reliability issues are solved, both cars should also prove to be contenders.
  • Acura Team Penske and Mazda Team Joest are also looking to rebound from Daytona misfortune. Penske finished ninth and tenth with their all new ARX-05 DPi platforms after both cars encountered trouble, while the revamped Mazda RT-24P chassis sputtered out of the gates, with the Nos. 55 and 77 both falling out with mechanical problems. Sebring will undoubtedly prove to be an even more difficult test for both teams. Penske and Joest are high-powered operations that have won at Sebring before, and expectations are that both will again battle for supremacy. If the problems that plagued them at Daytona are resolved, Penske and Joest have the pedigree and experience to contend for victory.
  • Tequila Patron ESM, the final DPi – utilizing the Nissan DPi – was a big darkhose at Daytona. After the Nos. 2 and 22 entries started near the back of the Prototype, both quickly moved forward in the opening hours to run inside the top five and even battle for the lead, but both cars fell victim to mechanical problems overnight and fell out. There is plenty of speed in hand with both entries, so the ESM squad could be another darkhorse entering Sebring.
  • United Autosports returns to IMSA, but with only one entry this time – the No. 23 Ligier JS P217 Gibson – and no Fernando Alonso, with Phil Hanson, Bruno Senna, and Paul Di Resta sharing the driving duties. It may seem like a lot to expect from this team, which has never competed at Sebring before, to contend for victory. But this entry did finish fourth at Daytona, so it could surprise some people.
  • CORE Autosport and JDC-Miller Motorsports, with their Oreca 07 Gibsons, and lead the other independent teams. And while they lack the factory support of the DPi efforts, or even wealth of resources at United Autosports, overlook these entries at your own peril. Core got close to winning this year’s Rolex 24 when the Action Express duo started suffering gearbox problems late in the race, ultimately finishing third, while JDC-Miller ignited the legend of the “Banana Boat” at last year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, their bright yellow No. 85 entry running in the Top 3 at various points before finish fourth. Their Nos. 85 and 99 entries are poised to repeat that effort, while CORE can easily pull a repeat of their Daytona performance, in which they flew under the radar to emerge as contenders late in the race.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports and AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports round out the Prototype field and are also looking to harness the power of the underdog and battle near the front. The partnership with of AFS Racing and PRI Mathiasen gives that program added stability and funding, while Performance Tech were stars in Rolex 24 qualifying, taking fourth on the grid. Both could surprise again at Sebring.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

  • Simply put, Corvette Racing is the team to beat, with 11 Sebring victories in 19 appearances, including the last three in a row. If you want to win the GTLM class, you will have to go through Corvette Racing, a task that is easier said than done.
  • While previous history says Corvette Racing is the team to beat, recent history says Ford Chip Ganassi Racing may be Corvette’s biggest threat. This year’s runaway GTLM winners from the Rolex 24 – the Nos. 67 and 66 machines went 1-2 in a display of complete dominance, have yet to triumph at Sebring, which stands with Petit Le Mans as the only other major endurance event that the program has yet to win in its short history. But, with maybe the best car of the GTLM class underneath, Ford and Chip Ganassi may have their best chance yet to unseat the dominant Corvettes.
  • The last non-Corvette team to win at Sebring was the Porsche GT Team, which took GTLM honors in 2014. However, their 2017 Sebring outing was not nearly as successful, as they finished seventh and eighth in class and were not factors late in the running. Porsche will look to rebound from that and again battle at the front of the GTLM field.
  • Risi Competizione and BMW Team RLL fill out the GTLM field. Risi finished third in last year’s Sebring and could easily sneak up into the lead battle, while BMW Team RLL will look to improve their brand new BMW M8 GTLM platform.

GT Daytona (GTD)

  • The defending GTD champions are Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, who triumphed last year with their No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3. They ran up front at Daytona before fading to fourth, but this is a team that expects to once again be at the forefront of the GTD field.
  • Montaplast by Land Motorsport returns after their Daytona heartbreak, which saw them dominating the GTD field before IMSA levied a five-lap penalty for a Balance of Performance issue regarding the rate at which fuel was flowing into the car. If the pace is there, this is a team can rebound in a big way and compete for a GTD win in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3.
  • Wright Motorsports will look to erase a nightmarish Rolex 24, which saw their No. 58 Porsche GT3 crash on pace laps, effectively ending their race before it began as they spent several laps repairing the car and were never a factor afterward.
  • Scuderia Corsa brings back their two-car effort, with the Nos. 63 and 64 Ferrari 488 GT3 entries. The three-time GTD champions will look to add a second Sebring crown (they took GTD honors in 2016) to their IMSA GTD titles.
  • CJ Wilson Racing makes its WeatherTech debut with Marc Miller, Till Bechtolsheimer and Kuno Wittme sharing the No. 36 Acura NSX GT3.
  • Other GTD contenders and the chassis they’re using include: 3 GT Racing (the Nos. 14 and 15 Lexus RC F GT3), with Sean Rayhall joining the team to replace the retired Scott Pruett; Magnus Racing (Audi), Paul Miller Racing (Lamborghini Huracan GT3), Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian (Nos. 86 and 93 Acuras).

A full weekend schedule can be viewed here. Qualifying for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring begins Friday at 12:20 p.m. ET, with the race beginning on Saturday at 10:40 a.m. ET.

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NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”