Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Sebring qualifying sets track records, Vautier takes pole

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Friday’s qualifying for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring had speed aplenty across all three classes, with track records falling in Prototype, GT Le Mans, and GT Daytona. The record-setting qualifying saw Spirit of Daytona Racing’s Tristan Vautier (Prototype), BMW Team RLL’s Connor De Phillippi (GT Le Mans), and Spirit of Race’s Daniel Serra (GT Daytona) take the pole positions in their respective classes.

Reports on qualifying from all three classes are below.

Prototype

Vautier’s pole continues a resurgence for Spirit of Daytona, which struggled in 2017 with a Riley Mk. 30 chassis before switching to the Ligier JS P217 chassis.

Now sporting a Cadillac DPi-V.R, Spirit of Daytona was immediately on pace at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, qualifying fifth and running up front before dropping out with an engine issue.

Vautier, who will share the No. 90 Cadillac with Matt McMurry and Eddie Cheever III, was able to surge into the top spot in qualifying with eight minutes left, overcoming an off-track excursion on his previous lap to do so, and he highlighted an enthusiasm for the Sebring International Raceway circuit as an important factor in the strong showing.

“I just really like this track, it has a bit of everything you need as a driver,” Vautier said after qualifying.. “There are a lot of high-commitment corners like Turn 1 and Turn 2 and Turn 17. But the other parts of the track are very technical.”

He added, “There is a kind of flow to it with the pavement changes, and some corners off camber, some with camber. No corner is the same, I have a good time driving here. Of course, we have a good car, we can’t have a pole without a super setup. We’ve been lucky to have great engineers here.”

Olivier Pla qualified second the No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi for Tequila Patron ESM, with Acura Team Penske’s Ricky Taylor qualifying third in the No. 7 Acura ARX-05. Pipo Derani qualified fourth in the sister No. 22 ESM Nissan, while Felip Nasr completed the top five in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac for Action Express.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

Sebring represents a dramatic turn in fortune for BMW Team RLL, which struggled for pace in their all-new BMW M8 GTLM machines.

Slight tweaks to the new car’s Balance of Performance (BoP) as well development since Daytona have seen a dramatic increase in speed from the new BMWs, with Connor De Phillippi putting the No. 25 on the GTLM pole.

“(The team) said just go out there and drive as fast as you can and you see where we ended up,” de Phillippi quipped. “That’s kind of our motto throughout the year, not think too much about the others and just do the best we possibly can every session, every day. And obviously the outcome of hard work is a pole position.”

De Phillippi’s best lap of 1:55.839 just barely bettered Risi Competizione’s James Calado’s 1:55.897, who qualified second in their No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE.

De Phillippi’s teammate’s Jesse Krohn qualified third in the sister No. 24 BMW. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing will round out the top five, with Richard Westbrook qualifying fourth in No. 67 Ford GT and Joey Hand fifth in the No. 66.

GT Daytona (GTD)

Spirit of Race put on a display of dominance that no one saw coming, with Daniel Serra’s quick lap in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GT3 coming in at 1:58.710 and shattering last year’s pole time – coincidentally from Vautier, who was with SunEnergy1 Racing at the time – by more than one second.

Serra was also half a second quicker than the No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3, in the hands of Christopher Mies, which qualified second.

“It was an awesome session and I enjoyed every corner,’’ Serra expressed post-qualifying. “In the morning and the lap we did yesterday I could feel the car was good, it was just a matter of putting all the sectors together. I knew we could do a good lap this morning. Audi was really fast as well. I thought it would be more close, but the advantage was almost half a second. I think we could predict the balance better than the others.”

Jack Hawksworth qualified third in the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 for 3GT Racing, followed by teammate Dominik Bauman in the No. 15. Madison Snow rounded out the top five in the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3.

Full qualifying results can be viewed here. The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

 

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

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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