IMSA: Sebring qualifying sets track records, Vautier takes pole

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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.

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”