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.
“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.”
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.”