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


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.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).