IMSA

IMSA: Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring preview

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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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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

IndyCar
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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

Follow @JerryBonkowski