Tom Blomqvist Puts the Rolex 24 Winner Back on Top in the Afternoon Session
By Holly Cain and John Oreovicz
SEBRING, Fla. – Opening practices Thursday for the 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring mirrored results from the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, with Acura and Cadillac setting the pace in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class.
Tom Blomqvist, who drove the final stint to victory at the Rolex 24 in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-06, turned the fastest Sebring practice lap through the first two sessions, at 1 minute, 47.049 seconds (125.773 mph) in the afternoon practice. A third IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice was scheduled Thursday evening, with qualifying to set the 53-car grid taking place Friday morning. The 12-hour endurance race takes the green flag at 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday, with flag-to-flag coverage on Peacock and USA Network joining TV coverage at 4:30 p.m.
All eight GTP cars bettered their morning session efforts with laps turned in the afternoon on the always-challenging 3.74-mile Sebring International Raceway circuit. Last year’s polesitter, Sebastian Bourdais, was 0.026 seconds off Blomqvist’s pace in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. Louis Deletraz was third quick in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06, followed by Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. The top four were separated by 0.262 seconds.
Blomqvist was pleased with his effort, especially considering the No. 60 Acura was limited to seven laps in the morning practice.
“We didn’t have a smooth day to be honest,’’ he said. “We’re playing a little bit of catch-up. We’ve got a strong car, the package is good, we just need to keep working on it, understanding it. There’s still room for improvement and we just need to chip away.”
The majority of fast laps came late in the afternoon session. The headlining GTP class is still on a learning curve in its maiden season but comes off a strong showing at the Daytona season opener, where less than 12 seconds separated the top four finishers after the twice-around-the-clock race.
“It’s not super, super important, but obviously it’s nice to (top the time sheet),’’ said Blomqvist, who shares the No. 60 this week with Colin Braun and Helio Castroneves. “It shows we’re quick and obviously we’ll go out to try and achieve pole position. But the big points are scored on race day.’’
Danish driver Christian Rasmussen posted the fastest lap through the first two practices in the eight-car Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class. His lap of 1:50.506 in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 was 0.634 seconds better than Guido van der Garde ran in the morning in the No. 35 TDS Racing ORECA.
American Dakota Dickerson set the best lap in the nine-car Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) category with a lap of 1:56.349 in the No. 30 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P320. The No. 74 Riley Ligier was second fastest with Felipe Fraga at the wheel (1:56.417).
Parity Is the Word in GT Classes
Four different manufacturers topped the timing screens when results from the GT Daytona (GTD) and GTD PRO classes were tabulated after the first two of three Thursday practice sessions at Sebring.
Run in cooler conditions, the morning session produced the ultimate quickest laps of the day, topped overall by Trent Hindman in the No. 77 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R (992) from the GTD class. Hindman circulated the 17-corner Sebring course in 2:01.092 (111.187 mph) to best Kyle Marcelli (No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Acura NSX GT3 Evo) by 0.102 seconds.
The Vasser Sullivan Lexus team came away very happy from a recent test at Sebring, and that form carried over to the race weekend. Jack Hawksworth’s 2:01.156 effort in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 in the GTD PRO class gapped the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 by 0.238 seconds in the opening practice. Vasser Sullivan’s No. 12 Lexus that competes in GTD was third fastest in its class in both Thursday sessions.
“Our test at Sebring a couple of weeks ago was very positive,” said Ben Barnicoat, who shares the GTD PRO Lexus with Hawksworth and endurance driver Kyle Kirkwood. “We were at the top of the time sheets the entire two days, which gives us confidence for the race.”
The ambient temperature increased by 10 degrees prior to Thursday’s late-afternoon session. Russell Ward’s 2:01.218 lap (111.072 mph) in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the GTD class was the second session benchmark, with Corvette Racing endurance ace Tommy Milner notching 2:01.260 (111.033 mph) to pace GTD PRO in the No. 3 Corvette C8.R GTD and sit second to Hawksworth’s morning lap on the combined speed chart through the first two sessions.
“Today was a great day (to prepare) for the race because you get kind of all conditions,” said Milner, a two-time Sebring winner in GT classes. “This track has been very temperature sensitive in the past, so understanding what the car is going to do in different temperatures is important.
“Ultimate lap pace seems good for us, which is great,” he added. “The long run pace there at the end for me seemed good compared to the other cars that were out there. That’s what you want – to be fast over one lap and over a long run.”
Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America Opens Season
The opening rounds of the 2023 Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America at Sebring International Raceway produced a trio of dominant winning performances. Riley Dickinson (No. 53 Kellymoss Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, type 992) established himself as the Pro class championship favorite by driving from pole position to the win both races on Thursday. In the first of the two 40-minute races, Dickinson had a 7.925-second winning advantage over Tom Sargent (No. 17 McElrea Racing Porsche). The single-make contest with a total of 40 entries ran caution-free during both contests.
In the Pro-Am class, Moisey Uretsky advanced from qualifying third fastest to claim his first win in the Carrera Cup in the No. 44 Accelerating Performance entry, with a margin of victory of 5.059 seconds over Marco Cirone (No. 82 ACI Motorsports) in the first race of the day. Efrin Castro (No. 65 Kellymoss) took the afternoon win by 0.207 seconds over teammate Alan Metni (No. 99 Kellymoss).
Am class pole winner Scott Noble (No. 10 MDK Motorsports) built a 5-second lead before easing off to win by 1.608 seconds over teammate Mark Kvamme in the first race, but Kvamme battled back for the win in Race 2 with a dominating 12.988-second win over the No. 29 Goldcrest Motorsports Porsche driven by Jeffrey Majkrzak.