Wayne Taylor Racing ahead of Acura Team Penske in Twelve Hours of Sebring practice

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The top two teams battling for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in DPi paced the first three practice sessions Thursday for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the 12-hour season finale.

Renger van der Zande was fastest overall at Sebring International Raceway, clocking a 1-minute, 47.478-second lap in the second session on the 17-turn, 3.74-mile road course in his No. 10 Cadillac for Wayne Taylor Racing.

The car will enter Saturday’s Twelve Hours of Sebring two points behind the No. 7 Acura Team Penske, which was fastest in the Thursday morning session.

Ryan Briscoe and van der Zande are trying to win the championship in their final full-time year with WTR, which is moving to Acura in DPi next year. Briscoe and van der Zande also will be joined for the 12-hour race by six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, who won with the team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Petit Le Mans.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Third sessionCombined by class

PENSKE PRIDE: Acura No. 7 team trying to end its run with a championship

“It’s fantastic to be in the car with Scott again,” van der Zande said. “Every time he shows up, we win a race. So that’s really nice. I think with Ryan, we had a really good season. We were leading the championship until (the Nov. 1 race at) Laguna Seca. I think we still have a good shot at winning it this weekend. Which we’re going to try. I think that’s the main goal. We still can win the long endurance championship and obviously winning a championship in DPi would be a dream come true.

“Today didn’t go so well. We had a gearbox issue, but somehow we got it fixed just before this session. I got in at the end just for a new tire run, and I was fast. I’d say not too bad for a driver without a job.”

The No. 7 Acura of Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (making his third endurance start with the team this season) was sixth fastest in the second session and nearly a second behind the No. 10 (on a 1:48.458 lap by Rossi). Castroneves had led the morning session with a 1:49.360 lap.

Taylor improved the time slightly by leading Thursday night’s final 90-minute session with a 1:48.358 lap.

The No. 10 was fourth fastest in the evening session on a 1:48.840 lap by Briscoe. The last practice, which ran after sunset from 6:15-7:45 p.m. ET, was considered critical because just under half of Saturday’s race, which starts at 10:10 a.m., will be run at night.

With the Twelve Hours of Sebring being run in November instead of March for the first time in 68 years, there will be a few hours of daylight than ever. Qualifying will take place Friday morning.

“The track conditions you fight tonight, you’ll fight to the end of the race as well,” van der Zande said between practices. “The practice we just had setting up the car for the heat is not so important, it’s tonight you’re in night practice. We’ll keep working on the car and find out how the car reacts. Hopefully, it’s fast.”

The No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber at Sebring (IMSA).

Laurens Vanthoor led GTLM across three practices with a 1:57.975 lap in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR-19. The No. 911 Porsche turned the second-fastest lap while also sporting a special red white and blue livery that both cars have in honor of Porsche Motorsport’s last race in the IMSA class.

“A little sad,” Vanthoor said about the weekend. “It’s a program I really love to do, and it’s coming to the end. We’re trying to go out with a bang and win the 12 Hour Race. I haven’t won this race yet, so it’s pretty much my last chance to do this in the top GT class. Porsche has been strong here and won the last two editions. It’s a track that suits our car well.”

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”