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Sebring Notebook: WeatherTech Championship

Rain or Shine, It’s Go Time at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts

Mother nature will play a role in the 67th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, but the show will go on as scheduled this morning starting at 10:30 a.m. ET.

CNBC will kick off NBC Sports’ complete live U.S. coverage starting at 10:30 a.m. ET. At 1 p.m. ET, coverage shifts to the NBC Sports App for two hours before moving to NBCSN for the duration of the Twelve Hours. IMSA Radio also will have complete live coverage on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 216/XM 201/Internet 972).

Drivers got a taste of wet track conditions in this morning’s 20-minute warm up session. The No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R spun and made relatively light contact with a barrier, but the GT Daytona (GTD) class car Hargrove shares with Zacharie Robichon and Lars Kern is expected to be on the grid and ready to race. A few other cars also spun during the warm-up session, but none incurred any substantial damage.

The wet weather is a departure from the bright sunshine and warm temperatures the teams and drivers experienced throughout the week at Sebring International Raceway. Wet conditions bring an added challenge for the competitors to overcome in the Twelve Hours.

"I think we have a very good car for the race, as we’ve seen on the dry," said No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R driver Pipo Derani, who is going for his third overall victory four Sebring starts. "On the wet, it changes completely, but I’m hoping for just a safe race. If it’s rain, I’m pretty sure we’re going to figure something out, but for now we have a good car in the dry.

"If it could stay dry, I think it’s less chaos for everyone. It makes it for a better show for the fans, so I would prefer dry racing, but you never know. It’s a 12-hour race. It can have plenty of types of weather conditions during 12 hours, so we’ve just got to be focused and maintain our calm to get to the end."

Derani’s Action Express Racing teammate, Filipe Albuquerque is ready to race regardless of the weather conditions.

"I really don’t care," said Albuquerque, who is co-driving the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R with Joao Barbosa and Brendon Hartley. "I just want to win the race. We’ll see as it goes. We have a good car for the race, for sure.

"I think in the rain, it’s more of a gamble for everyone and we just need to be the best on that as well. Sometimes it can go dry and you wish that it was rain, so that would mess around a little bit for you. For me, I’ve done that, so it’s whatever it is."

Nunez Ready to Rock in Mazda DPi and "Acceleration" Band at Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts

March 15, 9:30 a.m. ET

Are you ready to rock? I said, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?

Tristan Nunez is, which is a good thing, since he’s got a lot of rocking and rolling to do over the next day-and-a-half at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Friday morning, Nunez will be doing his day job, which is co-driving the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P DPi car with Oliver Jarvis and Timo Bernhard.

That includes qualifying for Saturday’s legendary 12-hour race, and Nunez has a good shot, as the team was strong in practice on Thursday. Qualifying starts at 9:55 a.m. ET and will be streamed live on IMSA.tv.

After qualifying, Nunez will debrief with the team and set a plan for tomorrow’s race. And then … he’s going to be onstage in the Spring Brake Party Zone in the world-famous infield of the 3.74-mile Sebring International Raceway circuit.

And he won’t be there to do a driver Q&A or Fan Forum. Nope, Nunez is there to perform with his band.

"The band’s name is ‘Acceleration,’ which is pretty fitting, actually, for this year for Mazda," Nunez said. "It’s the ‘Year of Acceleration’ as they like to call it. It’s their little slogan for this year, so it kind of worked out perfectly.

"It’s me, my dad, who’s a bass player, and then a family friend of ours. So, I play drums on some of the songs and vocals, and I’ll play guitar and vocals for some of the songs as well. It’s going to be fun. We’re doing a couple covers and then some of my original songs that I’ve written and have composed with the band. They come across really nicely, and I think on a live performance it’s going to sound really well."

Nunez explained the band will be playing a mix of classic rock covers and original "alternative rock" songs he’s written and composed with his bandmates. It’s something he’s been doing for the past four years, and he applies the same focus to music that he does to driving the race car.

"I think there’s a lot of similarities," he said. "With every musician and every driver, I think it’s different the way they prepare, but for me, it’s going to be the same. I just cannot think about it. If I overthink it, then I’m just going to dig myself into a rut, and I would do the same thing in the race car.

"If I overthink qualifying before I go out there, I’d overthink things and I’d make some mistakes. I think it’s going to be the same thing when I’m performing. I just need to not think about it at all, think about qualifying and then get on stage and do my thing."

And when it happens, it’ll be the realization of a dream he’s had for some time.

"I think when I get on stage, I’m going to be all about it," he said. "It’s going to be fun. I’m really excited. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

"It’s been actually kind of a dream of mine to play here. I remember seeing the stage just on the inside of the front straightaway in years past. Now that it’s in the big fan zone with the new bridge, it’s going to be awesome."

Corvette Racing Finds Nighttime Speed, Garcia Turns Thursday’s Fastest GTLM Lap in Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts Practice

Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET

Nighttime is the right time for Corvette Racing, or at least it was on Thursday in practice for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

While the day’s fastest times in the other three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes were set during one of the two daytime sessions, Antonio Garcia posted the fastest GT Le Mans (GTLM) time of the day at 1:56.954 inside the final 30 minutes of what was a 90-minute night practice session in preparation for the once-around-the-clock race set to start at 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

The evening speed may bode well for Garcia and co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller, as they’re also competing in Friday’s FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) 1000 Miles of Sebring. The qualifying session for that race – which starts at 4 p.m. ET and is expected to last approximately eight hours – followed WeatherTech Championship night practice.

"The good thing about this is, even if we had some misses earlier in practice, we went back out and followed the plan," Garcia said. "For sure, this was a qualifying run towards the WEC. This is maybe the only advantage we have, knowing we can do this right away before qualifying. Let’s see if the other car behaves exactly the same, because if it does, we might have a good chance."

The fastest overall time of the day came in the afternoon session, when Olivier Pla lapped the 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway circuit at 1:46.834 in the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P DPi machine. Pla and his co-drivers – Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell – also are pulling double duty, racing for Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in the WEC race.

Matt McMurry led all three LMP2 practice sessions, but his best lap was a 1:50.877 set this morning. He’s sharing the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA with Gabriel Aubry and Anders Fjorback.

And in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, the fastest time of the day went to Bill Auberlen in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Auberlen’s best lap from the afternoon session was 2:00.583 in the car he will co-drive with Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern.

Friday’s WeatherTech Championship schedule calls for a fourth practice session from 8 to 9:25 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying from 9:55 to 11 a.m. ET. The qualifying session will be streamed live with IMSA Radio commentary on IMSA.tv.

Mazda Moves to Top in Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts Practice 2

Thursday, 5 p.m. ET

Plenty of warm Florida sunshine greeted the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers and teams for the second of three practice sessions Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

And as the mercury rose, so too did the speeds in the hour-long session. Topping the charts was Olivier Pla in the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P DPi with a lap of 1:46.834 (124.695 mph) aboard the machine he shares with Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell. The lap was a tenth of a second quicker than Felipe Nasr’s session-leading time of 1:46.996 set this morning in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R.

"That was a very positive session for our team," said Pla, a three-time pole winner in the Twelve Hours. "The Mazda RT24-P is working very well around Sebring, and with the heat we have in the middle of the day, it gives us confidence for the race. I think the car can be very competitive here, of course it is a long race, but we are confident in the pace of the car."

Nasr’s co-driver, Pipo Derani, was second quickest in the afternoon session with a lap of 1:47.649 (123.751 mph). Jordan Taylor was third in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R at 1:47.651 (123.749 mph).

For the second consecutive session, Matt McMurry led the way in the LMP2 class, this time with a lap of 1:52.149 (118.786 mph) in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA.

Defending Twelve Hours of Sebring GT Le Mans (GTLM) class winner Nick Tandy topped the GTLM charts with a lap of 1:56.991 (113.869 mph). Tandy is co-driving the car with Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki, the same lineup that won the race last year.

Bill Auberlen was quickest in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 at 2:00.583 (110.477 mph). He’s going in search of his 59th career IMSA win on Saturday – which would move him to within one of all-time leader Scott Pruett’s total of 60 – and he’ll do it with Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern as his co-drivers.

The third WeatherTech Championship practice session goes off tonight from 7:45 to 9:15 p.m. ET.

Nasr Gets Off To Quick Start, Leads Sebring Opening Practice in No. 31 Cadillac DPi

March 14, 12 p.m. ET

Defending IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season champion Felipe Nasr and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R team were the quickest ones "off the truck" in Thursday’s initial practice session for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Nasr posted a best lap of 1:46.996 (124.507 mph) to top the overall and DPi class time charts in the car he’s sharing with new full-season co-driver Pipo Derani and Eric Curran, the driver with whom he co-drove to the 2018 WeatherTech Championship Prototype title who has moved to an IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup-only role with the team this year.

Derani has won the Twelve Hours of Sebring in two of the past three years – including last year in the No. 22 Nissan DPi with Johannes van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre – and is new to the No. 31 squad this year.

"Now that he’s in the car with us, we need to make sure he wins this race as well, which will be my first time here winning Sebring," Nasr said. "I really want to do it. I felt like we had an amazing car at Daytona and we started on the right foot here again. I’m really hoping we can get on that top step pretty soon."

Nasr’s best lap was 0.355 seconds faster than Dane Cameron’s time in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi that placed him second on the speed chart. Third was Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Renger van der Zande in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. The top three times were within less than four-tenths of a second.

In the GTLM class, 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro winner Laurens Vanthoor led the way with a lap of 1:56.983 (113.877 mph) in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR he shares with Earl Bamber and Mathieu Jaminet. Vanthoor saw his teammates in the No. 911 team win the GLTM class win here last year, and he’s eager to flip the script in 2019.

"Obviously, Porsche won last year, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like it to be 912 this time," he said. "Porsche has a really big history at Sebring, it’s the most wins ever (95 wins), so we’ll try to continue that."

Matt McMurry was quickest in LMP2 practice with a lap of 1:50.877 (120.148 mph) in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA he is co-driving with Gabriel Aubry and Anders Fjorback. In GTD, two-time class winner Mario Farnbacher led opening practice in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 he’s sharing with Trent Hindman and Justin Marks. Farnbacher’s best lap was a 2:00.793 (110.285 mph).

The next WeatherTech Championship practice starts at 2:40 p.m. ET.

Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Teammates Return to Site of Biggest Triumph To Date

March 13, 7 p.m. ET

There’s been no bigger victory so far for the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini team than last year’s GT Daytona (GTD) class win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

That victory was a key to propelling the team to its first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD title at the end of the season. Two of the three drivers who won for the team at Sebring last year – Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis – are back to defend the title, but it’s not going to be easy.

"Sebring is a difficult race to win," Sellers said. "Last year, we were strong. We had good pace, had a good car and we were able to sort of wait around the whole race until the very end to be in the fight. I would say as the series is starting to evolve, the opportunity to do that becomes less and less. The competition this year is higher than it was last year."

Ryan Hardwick is Sellers’ new full-season teammate in the No. 48 and was the 2018 Lamborghini Super Trofeo AM world champion. It will be Hardwick’s first race at Sebring, but he likes the team’s chances.

"We tested here and after my very first laps, honestly, I surprised myself on how confident I felt here," Hardwick said. "I think it’s a lot of testament to the car and all the work that these guys have done on this car. Even with all the bumps and all the technical sections of this track, it really was – this track is not easy – but our car was very confidence-inspiring as I was getting up to speed."

Baptism By Fire for Bomarito in Sebring Double

March 13, 7 p.m. ET

Most of the 11 drivers competing in both the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Friday’s 1000 Miles of Sebring FIA World Endurance Championship are racing in cars that are familiar – or at least in a similar class to the ones they race regularly in either the WeatherTech Championship or the WEC.

That’s not the case for Jonathan Bomarito. Yes, he’s very familiar with the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT-24P DPi car he’s sharing on Saturday with Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla. But on Friday, he’s racing the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT for the first time, sharing the car with Tincknell and Andy Priaulx.

Bomarito is confident in his abilities to quickly adapt to the car, but he reckons he’ll need to make a few adjustments between racing in the WeatherTech Championship and WEC.

"Driving the car was a bit of an adjustment, but with Harry and Andy Priaulx being on and looking at some data, I think I adjusted fairly quick to the driving style," Bomarito said. "The biggest things is procedurally with the WEC compared to IMSA. There’s a lot of different rules and regulations, how the full-course yellows are done, slow zones, safety cars, you have to turn off the engine when you do pit stops in that series, it’s a different pit lane.

"There’s a lot of logistical differences. Believe it or not, as a driver, that’s harder for me to wrap my head around than actually driving the car. I think it’s a bit of an advantage going from a slower-paced car on Friday to the faster car on Saturday. It’s usually easier to do it that way. At least on Saturday, if you miss the braking zone, you’re probably not going to slide off the track. It’s going to be fun. There is some transition, for sure."

Potter Recalls Capturing "Crown Jewel" Sebring Win in First Year of Merged IMSA Series

March 13, 1 p.m. ET

Back in 2014, a North American sports car racing dream became reality.

The biggest endurance races in North America were on the same schedule. Thanks to the merger between GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) – the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans – were finally all part of the same series and schedule.

With it came the opportunity for teams who had been competing in one series or the other to chase the glory of additional crown jewels that were previously part of the other series. Such was the case for Magnus Racing.

The team won the GT class in both the 50th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the inaugural GRAND-AM race at the hallowed ground of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012. But 2014 brought the team’s first shot at a Twelve Hours of Sebring win.

"There were GRAND-AM and ALMS teams, and an ALMS team had just won Daytona, so coming in here, no one knew which way it was going to go," remembers Magnus Racing owner/driver John Potter. "Being from the GRAND-AM side, people thought maybe the ALMS teams might be a little better, a little more familiar having Sebring practice. Certainly, any time at Sebring is helpful with all the bumps.

"Setting up the car and everything is an experience game, so we came in here sort of as underdogs, sort of unexpected. But we were hungry for more. We had won all the big races over on the GRAND-AM side and Sebring was the biggest jewel on the ALMS side, so we were determined."

That determination paid off in a big way. Potter and his No. 44 Porsche co-drivers, Andy Lally and Marco Seefried, came away with the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory after an eventful 12 hours of racing.

"The short version is, we fought a long race, and managed to – with some good strategy calls and quick driving by everybody – pull out a really amazing win here," Potter said. "Having won those other big races, there’s still nothing that compares to a Sebring win on top of that podium with that silver plate."

He’ll go for another one this Saturday in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 alongside longtime co-driver Lally and Spencer Pumpelly. Potter likes his chances, especially considering that a Lamborghini won last year’s GTD race in the hands of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing squad and drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Corey Lewis.

"Andy and I have driven together so many times," Potter said. "It’s always great to drive here with him. Spencer and I have driven together many, many times too. Both great drivers. I think we’ve got a great driver lineup for it.

"As far as the car, our Lamborghini is ready to go, right? Lamborghini has got some history here too, I believe, in fact, winning last year. We just hope to repeat it, but with the Magnus Racing name on it instead of that other team that also happens to be back."

Eleven Drivers, One Team Set for Double Duty at "Super Sebring"

March 13, 11 a.m. ET.

Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts is widely considered one of the most grueling races in motorsport all by itself.

But for 11 drivers and one IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team, the Twelve Hours represents about 60 percent of the battle with the 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway circuit. That’s because they’ll also compete in Friday’s FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) 1000 Miles of Sebring as part of the first "Super Sebring" (#SuperSebring) event.

Corvette Racing is the only complete team running cars in both races. Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller will be in the familiar No. 3 with the No. 4 manned by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler for Saturday’s Twelve Hour. On Friday, Magnussen, Garcia and Rockenfeller will co-drive the No. 63 Corvette in the GTE Pro class.

"In a way, it’s a good thing because I love both championships and to be able to race more is always good," Garcia said. "But to be here at Sebring, where it’s probably one of the most physical racetracks, it can get a little bit hard."

IWSC DPi class points co-leader Renger van der Zande will be in his No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac for the Twelve Hours with Jordan Taylor and Matthieu Vaxiviere and the No. 10 Dragonspeed BR01-Gibson with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman in the LMP1 class on Friday.

"It’s going to be tough," van der Zande said. "We are used to racing for 24 hours, but at Sebring twelve hours is normally enough, and for sure it would have been enough for me as well."

Other prototype drivers doing the double are Brendon Hartley in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi (IMSA DPi) and the No. 17 SMP Racing (WEC LMP1); Vaxiviere in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi (IMSA DPi) and the No. 28 ORECA-Gibson (WEC LMP2); and Gabriel Aubry in the No. 52 PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA (IMSA LMP2) and the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA-Gibson (WEC LMP2).

Mazda Team Joest’s Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito are pairing up in the No. 67 Ford GT in the WEC GTE Pro class alongside co-driver Andy Priaulx. Olivier Pla – a three-time pole winner for the Twelve Hours will join those two as part of the team’s IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup lineup. He’s in his usual No. 66 Ford GT.

Patrick Lindsey is in his No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 in the WeatherTech Championship race with Patrick Long and Nicholas Boulle, and the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 with Joerg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti on Friday.

The 1000 Miles of Sebring takes the green flag Friday at 4 p.m. ET time. The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts starts at 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

Live television coverage of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring begins Saturday, March 16 at 10:30 a.m. ET on CNBC, with continuing coverage on the NBC Sports App and NBCSN. IMSA Radio will have live coverage throughout race week on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and the IMSA App, with IMSA Radio’s race call available on SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 216/XM 201/Internet 972).

Tickets for "Super Sebring," are still available on SebringRaceway.com. The race week also includes the two-hour Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 for the IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge on Friday, March 15; and a one-hour and 45-minute IMSA Prototype Challenge race on Thursday, March 14.