Eight Months Later, No. 86 Acura Drivers Have More to Fight for at Sebring

By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
In March, Mario Farnbacher flew from his home in Germany to Florida to prepare for the 68th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. 
Thirty-four weeks after the race was postponed, he’s back in Florida, ready to compete in the famous endurance race. Needless to say, it wasn’t the way he had it planned.
“We had a normal Sebring test in February, and then I flew back over (to the U.S.) for the usual 12 Hours of Sebring,” Farnbacher explained. “That’s when everything started to get crazy. Everything got shut down. That’s when I knew we would get delayed.”
The reason for the delay, of course, was because of safety concerns surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season was rearranged and restarted in July, and – nearly eight months after the originally scheduled Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – Farnbacher will finally compete in it.
This time, though, he’s trying to wrap up a drivers’ championship. Farnbacher and his full-time co-driver, Matt McMurry, will team with Shinya Michimi next week as Farnbacher and McMurry attempt to share the driver championship in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3.
The team also is trying to help Acura win the manufacturer’s championship in GTD (it leads Lexus by two points) and the team championship (it leads the No. 16 Wright Motorsports team by seven points).
Since the season resumed in July with the IMSA WeatherTech 240 At Daytona, Farnbacher rarely has taken a weekend off. Aside from his IMSA duties, he competes with Team Honda Racing in the Intercontinental GT Challenge presented by Pirelli.  
“I kept doing the same thing,” Farnbacher said of his duties once racing resumed. “Ultimately, I was very busy since August on. Every weekend I was somewhere else with IGTC series, so in the end, I was on the road, jumping from racetrack to racetrack.”
Last week, that racetrack was WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Farnbacher and McMurry knew they needed a positive result to have a shot at championships in Sebring. They got it, winning the GTD battle and finishing 15th overall to keep themselves in position.
“We needed to execute right away if we wanted to have a shot at the last race,” Farnbacher said. “We pushed the whole way. On the first day, it didn’t look good, to be honest, but then overnight before qualifying we turned around the car 180 degrees. Apparently, it worked out pretty well.”
With 256 points, Farnbacher and McMurry are seven points ahead of Patrick Long and Ryan Hardwick, who co-drive the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R, in the driver standings. Telitz is one point behind Long and Hardwick. Hawksworth is two points behind Telitz and 10 behind Farnbacher and McMurry.
The key to Farnbacher and McMurry being on the point for the driver championship may have been McMurry’s pole-winning qualifying effort at WeatherTech Raceway.
“I was super surprised about it because last year at Laguna I didn’t expect too much,” Farnbacher said. “It was surprising that the car performed there with the Michelin soft compound. Matt made a really good qualifying session, which was the base for everything. From there, I just took over after his stint and drove it home.”
For Michimi, returning to Sebring – a track he calls one of his favorites in the U.S. – is a welcome challenge.
“There’s definitely pressure, but I’ve been in championship situations before, so I’m going to utilize that to help me through this,” he said. “At the same time, once you put the helmet on and start the car engine, it all goes away and you just do the job you’re assigned to do.”  
The assignment next week belongs to an entire team and two drivers hoping to repeat as champions. Last year, Farnbacher teamed with Trent Hindman to win the GTD title in the No. 86 car while McMurry was claiming the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) crown with PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. Teamwork, they point out, is the crucial element.   
“We all have to pull on one string,” Farnbacher said. “I think we’ve been quite good at this. We all have the same driving style, I would say. I think the combination of everything – the family atmosphere and pushing each other and motivating each other – all this stuff together brings success to the team, as well.”
On-track action at Sebring International Raceway begins Wednesday. NBCSN’s live race coverage begins at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 14. It moves to NBC at 3 p.m. before returning to NBCSN at 6 p.m. until the race’s conclusion. 
Adam Sinclair