***Stevan McAleer has replaced Jim Norman in the No. 7 Forty7 Motorsports Duqueine D08 Nissan, in a late driver change. McAleer, who made his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in Muehlner’s Duqueine, joins Austin McCusker and Daytona class winner Oliver Askew.
***Antonio Garcia and Jan Heylen have repeated as pole winners from November’s rescheduled Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, with Heylen inheriting the top spot in GTD after the No. 19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo was found to have had a wifi hotspot installed in the car, which is a breach of the GTD telemetry rules.
***Sportscar365 understands that such a device could have the capability of providing two-way telemetry to the car. It’s unclear if the Austrian squad was using it for that purpose.
***GTD top qualifier Jack Hawksworth said he “didn’t really know how hard” his competitors were trying in the debut of the new two-stage qualifying format for the class. Hawksworth scored maximum points by setting the fastest time in Q2 while Grasser Racing Team’s Tim Zimmermann qualified on pole in the Am class portion that sets the class grid.
“It seems like there were a lot of games being played,” Hawksworth said. “I’d really like to see this session be more of a combined, so it’s the starting driver and the second driver time’s combined to create the grid for the race tomorrow rather than just the points. I think that would entice people to push a bit harder. We played with a straight bat, but I didn’t see a lot of people doing that.”
***Stephen Simpson told Sportscar365 that it’s been a “bit of a whirlwind” since getting the call Wednesday morning to fill in for Misha Goikhberg in the No. 19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, in what has marked his first laps in a GT car of any kind on Thursday.
“I feel like it was the first day of school yesterday with tons of information coming in,” he said. “Franck [Perera] and Tim [Zimmermann] are great teammates and the team have been great in helping integrate me very quickly. I’m learning a lot very quickly and want to make sure I do a good job for them tomorrow.”
***Champion Porsche has come on board as a sponsor on the No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche 911 GT3 R this weekend (pictured above). The Pompano Beach, Fla. dealership, known in racing circles for its storied past in sports car racing, is the largest Porsche dealership in the country.
***Champion recently announced a return to racing with an effort in this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with four-time event winner Romain Dumas in a Porsche 911 GT2 RS Clubsport race car.
***The Heart of Racing has ramped up its engineering program this year according to Ian James. The team is coming off a fifth place class finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and finished second at Sebring last year with its Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
“I think TF [Sport] coming [for Daytona] was a good benchmark for us in the Aston world to show the level we’re operating at,” James told Sportscar365. “We’re working real hard behind the scenes. We’ve got some more engineers on board and we’re doing a lot of programs away from the race track to make this a better GT team.”
***James said they need to find ways to overcome the inherent disadvantage of being the only full-season Aston entrant when compared to other GT3 manufacturers that have “four or five” cars in the class that offer additional data and testing opportunities. GTD teams are limited to four test days per year.
***Honda Performance Development President David Salters has likened Acura’s victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona to “winning the Indy 500 for sports car racing in North America.” The luxury automaker achieved its first overall Daytona win in January with Wayne Taylor Racing.
***Porsche Motorsport factory director Pascal Zurlinden told Sportscar365 it’s “too early to say” whether its new LMDh car could run several end-of-season races in 2022 ahead of a full-season debut in 2023. IMSA has left the door open for manufacturers to run their new cars in the second half of the season next year.
***Acura appears to be in a similar non-committal situation. “There’s still a lot to do,” HPD’s Salters said. “2023 seems like a bit of a stretch right now to be honest! But never say never.”
***Jordan Taylor said he will not be venturing back into the Sebring infield this week after being able to meet fans during last November’s race while in a beekeeper’s suit. “It’s not going to make it out this weekend,” he said of the suit. “That also was the finale last year, so I think I got away with it. This weekend would have taken some more negotiating!”
***Taylor, however, could be rewarded with a culinary treat from GM sports car racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser, who bakes for the Cadillac DPi and Corvette Racing teams when they achieve success on the track. Klauser’s website, carsandchocolates.com, highlights some of her culinary exploits such as “win biscuits” and black-bottom cupcakes.
***NBC Sports’ coverage of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring kicks off on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. joining Leigh Diffey and Calvin Fish in the booth along with Dave Burns and Townsend Bell. Marty Snider, Brian Till and Kevin Lee will be reporting from pit lane.
***All 12 hours of the race will be streamed live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.
***Bell told Sportscar365 that this event marks his first time being at Sebring where he’s not driving. The multi-faceted driver/broadcaster took part in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 and remains a brand ambassador for the luxury automaker. “You feel a little bit helpless initially out on pit lane because you’re just naturally geared towards going out and challenging this great track,” said Bell.
***IMSA Radio will also provide flag-to-flag coverage, in sound and vision for international viewers with the regular commentary team of John Hindhaugh, Jeremy Shaw and Shea Adam.