Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

Thursday Sebring 12 Hour Notebook

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

SEBRING, Fla. — The opening day of practice for the 2019 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring was great for some and not so great for others but three sessions have given us a better idea of who the favorites are ahead of Saturday’s endurance classic.

At least, in most classes, it has.

In Daytona Prototype International (DPi), six cars managed to place themselves in the top five multiple times across all three sessions with the No. 31 Cadillac DPi entry from Action Express Racing appearing in the top five in all three sessions. What’s more impressive is that that car was first in the first session and second in the remaining two with only the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P DPi entry beating it.

For an underdog entry in DPi, look no further than the Nissan entry from CORE Autosport. Colin Braun drove the car to fourth in the first practice and fifth in the third session and considering the team has little to no official backing from Nissan, the team has punched above their weight.

“I would say it’s tough being a single car team but at the other side of the coin we’re never confused by too much information,” said Braun.

“We might make the wrong choices but at least it’s only influenced by what we want to do and what we think and I feel like that has its plusses and obviously its minuses too but we did the same thing last year essentially with our LMP2 car. It was a single car deal and really no manufacturer support there either so I think we’re sort of used to being the underdogs for sure.”

The team tested at Sebring a few weeks ago to try to get a better handle on the track. Given that they got the car just over a month before this year’s Rolex 24, any progression has to be seen as sort of a small victory.

“We had a few last minute things we kind of wanted to kind of run through once we collected all our thoughts after the test,” said Braun. “This session for us was just more about running through those changes. Some worked, some didn’t and so I hope when we put it all together Saturday that we have some good speed. I think we’re in the hunt, by no means are we the fastest but I think we’re in the hunt and so I feel good about it.”

Moving down to LMP2, there are only two entrants and the PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports entry was on top in all three sessions.

In GT Le Mans (GTLM), only Ford had the same car in the top five in all three sessions but curiously enough, their cars were second and third in all three sessions. The No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR led the first session, the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR led the second session and Corvette Racing’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R led the third session. BMW Team RLL had the No. 24 entry in the top five twice so GTLM remains a tossup but fortune favors Ford with where they are placed.

The big thing going against the Fords at Sebring is the fact that they have yet to close the deal in GTLM. Ford have won at Sebring before overall back in the 1960s and Chip Ganassi Racing won in a Ford DP before the switch to DPi prototypes a few years ago but the GT program has come up empty handed.

GT Daytona (GTD) is even more of a wild card. The No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 entry and the No. 86 Meyer-Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 were the only cars in the top five across all three sessions but the kicker was how many different manufacturers are in the top five across the sessions.

Acura, Porsche, Lexus, Lamborghini, Ferrari and BMW were in the top five at some point, leaving only Mercedes and Audi as the only two manufacturers outside the top five in each session. Mercedes were sixth in two of the sessions but Audi’s best result in class came in the third session as the Moorespeed R8 LMS GT3 entry was ninth fastest out of the 16 cars that took part. The class has 17 entries but the No. 47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini had an incident in the second practice session and never got going for the third session.

The Magnus Racing No. 44 Lamborghini was fastest in the third session which was great to see given that they missed almost the entire first session and in the second session they were 12th in class. However, Andy Lally opened up about the work the team did to make the car quicker at night.

“To be honest, after the first session today, P1 as a target at the end of the day was nowhere near what we expected,” said Lally. “We had a couple little issues and we had unloaded trying something new that didn’t work so we had to really change up directions and we kind of got halfway there in the second session and then our guys made some changes and we got all the way there in the third session.

“Usually we don’t do this much testing at night but we missed a whole lot of that first session so we tried to make the most out of this and it may all be for naught because typically you’re testing at night to get ready for the end of this race but this might be in the wet, it’s looking like so we’ll see. We still needed to get the car better in the dry so it would be okay in the wet and I hope we accomplished that.”

The car suffered from oversteer during the heat that Sebring usually brings on during the daytime running. Co-driver Spencer Pumpelly gave the team some good feedback with running some older tires during the session and Lally was able to run with some fresher (though not new) tires. The bigger challenge for Lally (and somewhat for the team) is that they have switched cars pretty frequently over the last few years.

“This is my fifth year in a row starting the season with a different car in the past,” said Lally. Porsche in 2015, Audi 2016, Acura NSX in 2017, back to the Audi in 2018 and now a Lamborghini in 2019 so I’m used to this! We’re rebooting every January/February/March here so hopefully come race time we’ve got a little better handle on it and we can be a little closer to the sharp end of the grid than we were in the season opener.”

The big differentiator will be rain.

Rain is in the forecast for Saturday so there’s no telling how chaotic the race will become if it starts pouring down rain. The 67th Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring begins Saturday at 10:40 am. Friday night the FIA World Endurance Championship has their 1000 Miles of Sebring as well on Friday. that race begins at 4:00 pm

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.