Acura continued setting the pace in the GTP class as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed a two-day test Thursday at Sebring International Raceway, a month ahead of the 71st running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Twenty-six cars across all five WeatherTech Championship classes, including all four GTP manufacturers, participated in the test on the 3.74-mile road course. The two Acura ARX-06 entries paced four of the five sessions, with Filipe Albuquerque turning the best overall lap in the last session at 1m46.450s (126.483 mph) in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport.
Albuquerque said the team experimented with setup changes throughout the test and he was pleased with the result, especially in comparison to the DPi car he drove that struggled over Sebring’s notoriously rough surface in the past. The hybrid-powered GTP class replaced DPi this season.
“We are freestyling on the setup, trying to figure out what happens here, what happens there,” Albuquerque explained. “But again, it’s always a pleasure driving the car and I’m having a really good feeling — especially coming from the DPi here where last year I think we were kind of struggling a little bit at this track, and this car is just better. I think we addressed well the points from DPi to now, so it’s a better ride over these bumps.”
The No. 10 topped the timesheet in three sessions, twice by Albuquerque and once by co-driver Louis Deletraz. Mathieu Jaminet was the only other driver to clock a lap under 1m47s, with a 1m46.949s effort in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 in the last session. Competition throughout the GTP class was tight, with six of the seven test entries turning a lap within 0.847s of Albuquerque’s pacesetter.
“I think everyone is still learning about the car,” Albuquerque said. “Sebring is completely different than Daytona, and it’s super interesting to see everyone has kind of packed up … but still there is a lot to come and for sure in the race we will be all packed up.”
Meyer Shank team rebounds from early issues
The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-06 that won the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January was sidelined for much of Wednesday’s first day of testing with mechanical issues — sitting out the first session entirely and logging just 15 laps in the third session. The team recovered overnight, with Tom Blomqvist logging the fastest lap (1m47.297s) in Thursday morning practice.
“We didn’t have the smoothest of days,” Blomqvist said. “There were some small setbacks that cost us some track time. But the track time that we did manage to get in, we were able to learn a lot, which I think showed during the second day. The car is working well and we’re just running through the paces trying to get as much info on things before the race weekend.”
Van der Zande starting to feel at home
Renger van der Zande was the only non-Acura driver to lead a session, heading Wednesday’s second practice in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-LMDh from Chip Ganassi Racing (1m47.053s). Following months of development and testing, followed by the 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, the Dutch driver said this week was the first time he’s had that natural feeling in the new prototype.
“I had so many hours in the car (at Daytona) that for the first time now at Sebring for this test I felt like it was a DPi,” he said. “I felt like me and the car were one again.
“We had two really good days of testing,” he added. “I felt for the first time we could really work on the car and the car ran flawlessly. Building up to the Daytona race was something where we were going into the unknown, and now we’re starting to understand the car better and better, which is why we’re improving on the car setup-wise as well. It’s been a lot of kilometers in the car, working with the engineers and mechanics to make things better in Sebring specific ally. I feel we have a very good base going there for the Twelve Hour.”
Mercedes, Lexus head GT testing
Fifteen GT3 cars — two in the GTD PRO class and 13 in GTD — joined in the test. The No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 led four GTD sessions, with Mikael Grenier clocking the best overall lap of any GT car throughout the two days (2m01.558s, 110.762 mph).
Grenier shared the No. 32 with Mike Skeen and Kenton Koch, with each driver atop the GTD chart for at least one session.
“We got a lot accomplished, tried a bunch of different things on the car,” Skeen said. “We were quick right off the trailer and that gave us an opportunity to really experiment. Yeah, really happy with where we’re ending up. Lots of information learned and pretty confident going into next month.”
The No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 paced every GTD PRO practice, with Ben Barnicoat turning the car’s best lap (2m01.743s). The sister No. 12 Lexus, with Parker Thompson at the wheel, prevented the No. 32 Mercedes from sweeping every GTD session.
“We had a great two-day test,” Barnicoat said. “The Vasser Sullivan team have done a great job. We got a lot of test items ticked off our list. Great to leave as the fastest (GTD PRO) car and really looking forward to the race.”
Mercedes, Honda lead Michelin Pilot Challenge
Thirteen IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge cars were also on hand for their own two-day test at Sebring that featured two practices each day. Mercedes, with six of the eight GS cars participating, dominated the class. Honda and Hyundai comprised the five TCR cars testing, with each manufacturer leading two sessions.
Jared Thomas, co-driver of the No. 23 JTR Motorsports Engineering Mercedes-AMG GT GT4, was fastest in GS with a lap of 2m10.439s (103.220 mph). Coming off a seventh-place finish in the season opener at Daytona, Thomas senses momentum building for the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 at Sebring on March 16.
“We were really happy with the improvements we made here,” Thomas said. “I think we improved the car from where we left off at Daytona. New program, new car to us, so we’re trying a lot of different things and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. Really happy with the Mercedes-AMG. It’s been a really good car, seems really consistent.”
Mike LaMarra put the No. 73 LA Honda World Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR atop the combined TCR speed chart with a lap of 2m13.705 s. Co-driver William Tally, who along with LaMarra finished second in TCR at Daytona, said the driver pairing is jelling well.
“It’s been a really successful test for Mike and I,” Tally said. “This is his first year moving up to closing driver, it’s my first full season as a starting driver, so both of us are taking on a new role. He’s stepped up better than you could hope really in terms of how his pace was at Daytona, and here he’s backed that up.”
New Honda TCR logs important development laps
While LaMarra and Tally were testing the current Civic racer, veteran Ryan Eversley ran 81 important laps in the new Honda Civic FL5 TCR. The car from Honda Performance Development and JAS Motorsports is expected to be race ready later this year.
By the end of the test Thursday, Eversley was within 0.9s of LaMarra’s fastest circuit.
“In true Honda fashion, it’s been totally reliable, it’s been fast and easy to drive,” Eversley said. “The best thing about it from the mechanic’s side is how easy this car is to work on, and that’s a testament to everybody at JAS and HPD for designing a user-friendly car so the teams can have an easier weekend, which will make the drivers happier too.
“We’re excited about the new car coming to IMSA and racing it in TCR.”