Ricky Taylor will be racing on only one side of the paddock at Sebring International Raceway this weekend, but the IMSA champion will keeping his eyes trained – and his ears open – on the WEC Series, too.
With the return of “Super Sebring,” the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will hold its prestigious Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on the day after the 1,000 Miles of Sebring season opener for the FIA World Endurance Championship, the European-based sports car circuit whose centerpiece is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Taylor will be racing an LMP2 car for Cool Racing in at Le Mans in June, so he will be checking in with one of the team’s owners, but he also will be trying to glean info from No. 10 Acura DPi teammates Will Stevens and Filipe Albuquerque. Both Wayne Taylor Racing drivers also will be racing in the WEC at Sebring – one of many weekend crossovers in a preview of what big-league sports car racing should resemble on a regular basis next season.
“It’s nice to have the WEC back on the weekend with us in IMSA,” Taylor said. “It’s always nice to go see all the teams that you don’t get to see very often and keep my eye on what’s going on because Le Mans is always a big deal. And to keep my eye on who’s competitive and strong. Being on a team with Will and Filipe who are in two other big teams on the WEC side, I may be taking some notes on all their little gossips and things as well to see what I can learn. But yeah, it’s really exciting.”
Because of the pandemic, it’s been three years since WEC and IMSA have been paired at Sebring, and the world’s top two sports car series return on the cusp of even much greater alignment.
With a convergence of the rules governing their premier categories next season, prototypes from WEC and IMSA can race head to head for overall victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (and other IMSA races in the rebranded top GTP division) and Le Mans. It’s being heralded as the return of a new “Ford vs. Ferrari” era.
IMSA will be rolling out its new LMDh prototype next year, but the WEC’s Hypercar already is on track and will be making its Sebring debut.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez will race Friday in Hypercar for Toyota Gazoo Racing before sliding over Saturday to DPi Cadillacs for the Twelve Hours of Sebring (Conway in the No. 31 Action Express, Kobayashi and Lopez in the No. 48).
There will be even more crossover from the LMP2 class entry list for the WEC race, which will include double duty for IMSA drivers Albuquerque, Stevens, Mike Rockenfeller (No. 48 Ally Cadillac) and Oliver Jarvis (No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura).
Team Penske, which will be re-entering IMSA’s top division in 2023 with Porsche’s new LMDh, also will begin a full-season WEC campaign in LMP2 with a lineup that includes Felipe Nasr, the 2021 DPi champion who also will be driving endurance races in GTD Pro for Pfaff Racing (which won the Rolex 24).
Competing in two events that will comprise roughly 20 hours of racing in less than a day and a half has presented some logistical challenges. Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac driver Sebastien Bourdais was slated to race LMP2 in WEC but was replaced by Rockenfeller.
“It was a Cadillac call, which I totally understand,” Bourdais said. “If the 1,000 miles was after the 12 hours, that would have been a different story. The team was basically not super comfortable with me doing a 1,000-mile race before the 12 hours.”
Other drivers are facing similar logistical juggling with the Toyota drivers electing to focus solely on WEC until Saturday’s IMSA race.
Jarvis, who took part in two days of WEC Prologue testing at Sebring last weekend, said he would be prioritizing his IMSA team over the No. 23 ORECA of United Autosports. But a hectic schedule was worth the extra laps on the 17-turn, 3.74-mile road course whose bone-jarring bumps are legendary.
“The big pro is track time,” Jarvis said. “Sebring is just one of those tracks. This is my sixth race at Sebring, and I’m still learning every time, and it does change. T17 is a corner I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. I could do 10,000 laps around Sebring and I’m still finding details in Turn 17. It’s so unique. There’s a lot of work.
“Jumping between the two cars are different. They’ve reduced downforce on the P2 car, which has certainly changed the behavior of that car. And it’s probably moved it further away from a DPi. I expect to see maybe 3 to 5 seconds difference between the two categories, which is quite a large difference. It’ll be my first time doing it. Busy weekend, but I’m confident I can make it work.
“For me it’s very clear (IMSA) is my priority. I wouldn’t say I’ve got an exact schedule, but I won’t qualify in WEC. So I’m not compromised there. I’ll make sure I’m available whenever needed in the IMSA paddock and car. I’ll do as much as I can in the IMSA car and then switch focus for the race for WEC and then move back to IMSA on Saturday. Certainly not the way the Toyota guys are doing it. I’ll be splitting my time between the two, but certainly no compromises on the IMSA side.”
There also will be some team crossover on the GT side. For the first time, Corvette Racing will field full-time entries this year with the No. 64 C8.R in the WEC’s GTE Pro (which is in its final season) and the No. 3 C8.R in the new IMSA GTD Pro category (after taking the 2021 GTLM title in the class’ final season). Both cars raced the Rolex 24 at Daytona and struggled with pace (which the team attributed to Balance of Performance-mandated impacts on weight).
No. 64 drivers Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy were optimistic about their chances in the WEC season opener because of the team’s long history at Sebring.
“It’s probably the best-case scenario in some ways starting at Sebring,” Milner said. “ We know the racetrack, we know the tires, we know the car. We should be pretty competitive out of the box, I would imagine. If that’s not the case, then we will have some data that us as a team and the WEC can use to hopefully make the racing close and exciting as this class always seems to provide.”
Said Tandy: “The thing I’m looking forward to most is seeing how the different weekend plays out. The fact that we have our first weekend in the WEC as a single-car team, we’re actually sharing the weekend with our teammates, even though they are (in a) different race and different category. I’m looking forward to having another car to cheer on in another class and in another race and how the weekend plays out.”