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Sebring WEC Thursday Notebook

Daniel Lloyd’s Thursday notebook on eve of the FIA WEC season-opener at Sebring…

Photo: Jonathan Grace

***With Antonio Fuoco’s qualifying result aboard the No. 50 Ferrari 499P, AF Corse becomes the first team to take pole position in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s top prototype division, LMP2, GTE-Pro and GTE-Am.

***Fuoco set a new Hypercar lap record at Sebring with his time of 1:45.067. Last year’s record had already been broken by Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi in Free Practice 2. Ferrari improved on its best lap time of the week by 1.7 seconds in qualifying.

***When asked if Toyota was surprised at Ferrari’s surge to pole, the Japanese manufacturer’s technical director Pascal Vasselon said: “Yes and no. We knew our colleagues from Ferrari had something in the pocket.”

***Similarly to much of 2022, the battle for pole in GTE-Am was fought between Sarah Bovy and Ben Keating, but Bovy expects that the rest of the class will become involved in the battle for qualifying honors in future rounds. “It was the first quali of the year, it was the first quali with the cold tires,” she said. “I’m quite sure that there is some potential for some other driver to come into that close fight.”

***Bovy gave Porsche its first GTE-Am pole since Julien Andlauer at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2021, ending a run of eight qualifying sessions without such a result.

***LMP2 polesitter Oliver Jarvis claimed his first WEC class pole since the 2017 round at the Nürburgring. The British driver also earned United Autosports’ eighth WEC pole.

***Jarvis admitted that he was surprised to be the only LMP2 driver to break the 1:50 barrier. “I wouldn’t say it was an incredible lap,” he said. “I still had a little more on the table, but that’s Sebring. It’s so hard to get the perfect lap.”

Finot also gave the reason why Jensen stopped the No. 93 Peugeot on-track at the start of qualifying, before continuing.

***Head of Stellantis Motorsport Jean-Marc Finot gave the reason why the No. 93 Peugeot 9X8 stopped on-track at the start of Hypercar qualifying. “He had a lock on the rear tires and had an issue on the gear,” Finot told Sportscar365. “It’s the reason why he had a lower lap than [Free Practice 3]. But it will be easily fixed.”

***Toyota’s Jose Maria Lopez told Sportscar365 that he had “no warning” before his crash at Turn 17 during FP3. The Argentinian driver spun on his second lap, but dismissed cold tires as the possible root cause. “Maybe [temperatures] were a bit low, but I don’t think it’s 100 percent what happened. I take the blame and it was something about the line and a bump that I hit when I braked.”

***The Vanwall Vandervell 680 Gibson encountered an electronic control unit problem during FP3 when it stopped shortly after leaving the pits. Tom Dillmann went on to qualify 11th in Hypercar, 4.2 seconds off pole. “Quali was more of a Free Practice,” Dillmann told Sportscar365. “We were chasing setup session after session. A finish would be a good result – we haven’t done more than two hours of [continuous] testing”.

***The WEC on Thursday announced an agreement with rental car company Avis which has become the Official Vehicle Rental Services Premium Partner of the championship. Avis electric-powered rentals will be promoted as an “option for fans to travel sustainably to each event” as well as for WEC and team personnel.

***Michelin and Goodyear have set the minimum tire pressure requirements and camber limits for Hypercar and LMP2 respectively. Hypercar’s minimum tire pressure is 1.8 bar on the front and rear, while the lowest permitted pressure in LMP2 is 1.8 bar all around.

***The static camber range for Hypercar is -3 degrees to -1 degree on the front and -2.8 degrees to -1 degree on the rear. For LMP2, the minimum camber values are -2.6 degrees on the front and -1.6 degrees on the rear.

***ACO competition director Thierry Bouvet and FIA Director of Circuit Sport Marek Nawarecki outlined why the Hypercar BoP values Sebring are slightly different than the values for Portimao, Spa and Le Mans. “It’s the same BoP, but we have a slightly different value for this track,” he said. “Just to have a more accurate balance.” Bouvet added: “That’s the result from the simulations.”

***There are three new nationalities competing in WEC this year. Liechtenstein’s Matthias Kaiser, Oman’s Ahmad Al Harthy and Romania’s Filip Ugran are all making their full-season debuts. Flags of nationalities represented on the grid are flying above the temporary team offices in the WEC paddock.

***Olivier Pla and Christian Ried are the only drivers in the field to have participated in all four of the championship’s Sebring rounds in 2012, 2019, 2022 and 2023. Kevin Estre has also been at all three, however his participation in the 2012 race came as a member of the American Le Mans Series field.

***MDK Motorsports team owner Mark Kvamme said he is “working through” a prospective GTE-Am effort at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in GTE-Am with an already confirmed entry. Kvamme teamed with Jason Hart and Renger van der Zande in a JMW Motorsport-run Ferrari 488 GTE Evo in last year’s edition.

***Kvamme told Sportscar365 that he’s eying a potential full-season WEC effort next year, under the MDK banner, although admitted he’s cognizant of the world championship’s rumored limitation of two cars per GT3 brand in the new-for-2024 LMGT3 category and the likely high demand for entries.

***Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Stephen Mitas is also calling strategy on the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R this week. Mitas is working with lead engineer Carlo Vermeulen, performance engineer Carlo Miano and crew chief Dane Beamsley.

***CGR is keeping its WEC Hypercar and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTP crews separate for the Sebring double-header event.

***Cadillac’s Alex Lynn unusually pitted at the start of qualifying, before going on to set the fifth-fastest lap time. “We just wanted him to get a little bit of a feel and then give him a set of tires for quali, and find a gap to try and do the best we could,” said Mitas, who said the CGR squad came away “happy” with its performance.

***Van der Zande is excited about the prospect of taking part in the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with CGR, competing his native Europe with his ‘American racing family.’ “Sometimes in Europe or in Holland, it’s hard to explain what we’re doing here sometimes,” the Dutchman told Sportscar365. “To go with [Ganassi] with them to my European grounds and try to fight for overall wins is something very special.”

***Inter Europol Competition is yet to fill its second LMP2 car for Le Mans according to team principal Sascha Fassbender. Charles Crews is named in the No. 32 Oreca on the entry list but it’s understood that the American is a placeholder. “We have chances to go Pro-Am or to go with a Pro lineup but the numbers always need to be right,” said Fassbender.

***The 1000 Miles of Sebring will take place exactly on the 11th anniversary of the WEC’s first race, which was also held at the Floridian circuit in 2012.

John Dagys and Davey Euwema contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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