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Imola Thursday Notebook

Check out Sportscar365’s first notebook ahead of this weekend’s 6 Hours of Imola…

Photo: Porsche

***A total of 37 cars are entered for this weekend’s 6 Hours of Imola, with few changes to the entry list from the season-opening Qatar 1812km.

***The only changes to the driver lineups from Qatar are at Cadillac Racing, which is running a two-driver lineup comprising full-season drivers Alex Lynn and Earl Bamber, and at Alpine, where Jules Gounon replaces an injured Ferdinand Habsburg.

***Porsche Penske Motorsport and Hertz Team JOTA are among the Hypercar teams to have tested at Imola in the run-up to this weekend’s event. Ferrari AF Corse also has experience of the track with the 499P, but its most recent test at the venue came last November.

***Porsche’s Kevin Estre revealed that Porsche was able to gain experience of sharing the track with slower cars, including GT3s, during its test, and that passing slower traffic will be harder than it was in Qatar last month.

***The Frenchman said: “Definitely it’s going to be a hard track to pass, narrow, no real track limit situations. If you decide to go on the outside and the GT car pushes you wide, you will end up on the grass and normally in the guard rail.”

***Estre’s stablemate Matt Campbell is predicting that the Imola race will feature more disruptions in terms of safety car and Full Course Yellow periods at Imola.

***The Australian said: “Coming from Qatar where we didn’t have anything apart from one FCY, I would say definitely at Imola I would expect something. The walls are closer, there isn’t the same run-off you have in Qatar, so I would expect a lot more yellow possibilities which will mix things up a lot more as well.”

***TF Sport Corvette driver Charlie Eastwood highlighted the nature of the curbs at Imola as a leading factor that will make passing the LMGT3s even more of a challenge than usual for the Hypercar field.

***Eastwood said: “We were testing at Imola a few weeks ago in the Corvette, and the delta of lap time between GT3 and Hypercar was significantly smaller than most circuits. The main reason for this is that at Imola in the GT3 cars, you can take a lot of curbs.

***He continued: “There has been a completely new profile of the curbing around most of the circuit so that the GT3s can get right on top of the curbs, which the Corvette was handling very well at the test but the Hypercars cannot; they have to drive around them. So the laptime delta is going to be very small and I feel they are going to struggle to pass the GT cars very easily. So you’re going to see a lot of aggression into braking zones and things like that.”

***It has been suggested that the across-the-board changes to the Hypercar Balance of Performance for this weekend, with the eight existing cars all being given weight reductions compared to Qatar, are partly aimed at increasing the lap time delta between the Hypercars and LMGT3 cars.

***Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Hypercar project leader John Litgens told Sportscar365 that the Japanese manufacturer made the decision to pass up the chance to test at Imola in the run-up to this weekend’s race in favor of its preparations for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

***Litgens said: “It’s partly schedule-related, but it’s partly [about] how much you can learn. When our competitors came here to test, if you look at the ambient temperatures, it’s different to what it is here now.

***He added: “Tire learning is not that much, and we had to choose whether to test here or focus on endurance testing, which you can only do at about three tracks in Europe, to prepare for Le Mans, and we chose the second option.”

***Peugeot reserve driver Malthe Jakobsen told Sportscar365 that there has been no final decision on whether he will race for the French marque in the next race at Spa, with both Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne missing the race due to a clash with the Berlin Formula E round, but says he feels “ready” to step up should the opportunity arise.

***The Danish driver has been a regular part of the Peugeot test program in recent months, and was in action in the 9X8 during last week’s outing at Paul Ricard immediately prior to last weekend’s Barcelona European Le Mans Series season opener.

***Peugeot has become the first WEC manufacturer to earn a three-star environmental accreditation from the FIA. This gives the French brand recognition for its “commitment to protecting the environment, reducing carbon emissions, and establishing sustainable practices within the automotive world”.

***D’station Racing managing director Tomonobu Fujii is absent from Imola due to a clash with his commitments in Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia powered by AWS, which is hosting its first race this weekend in Sepang. Valentin Haase-Clot, who had been present at Qatar as a driver coach, is effectively replacing Fujii in the role at both Imola and Spa, which clashes with the Buriram round of Fanatec GT Asia.

***United Autosports McLaren driver Nicolas Costa is racing this weekend with a special tribute helmet honoring the memory of Formula 1 icon Ayrton Senna, who lost his life at Imola 30 years ago. The No. 59 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo is also carrying revised branding from sponsor PRIO, a Brazilian oil and gas company, as part of the tribute.

***The official WEC video game, ‘Le Mans Ultimate,’ is hosting an event in the fan zone this weekend at Imola, and will also have a presence in each of the next two rounds of the series at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans. Former WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, who is the game’s executive producer, is present this weekend to promote the game.

***Other notable visitors to the paddock on Thursday included SRO boss Stephane Ratel and former F1 team owner Giancarlo Minardi, who is President of the Board of Directors of Formula Imola, which runs the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

***A special presentation of the WEC drivers, including an autograph session, took place in downtown Imola at the Piazza Matteotti on Thursday afternoon. Unusually, the drivers’ briefing and team managers’ briefing were also held in the same location.

***Track action begins with Free Practice 1 at 12 p.m. local time (6 a.m. EDT), with Free Practice 2 set to follow at 5.15 p.m local time (11.15 a.m. EDT).

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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