Drivers Seeking Fond Farewells Lead WeatherTech Championship Practices at Sebring

By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
Farewell was the theme of practice sessions Thursday as preparations got underway for the 68th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts at Sebring International Raceway.
Renger van der Zande, who won’t be returning to Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021, recorded the fastest lap of the second practice session – 1 minute, 47.478 seconds (125.271 mph) around the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit – in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, the fastest of the first two practice sessions and best in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class.
The team battled back from mechanical issues earlier in the day to turn the fastest lap.
“We had a gearbox issue, but somehow we got it fixed just before this session,” van der Zande said. “I got in at the end just for a tire run, and I was fastest. I would say (that’s) not too bad for a driver without a job.”
Van der Zande will share the No. 10 car with Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon when the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale gets underway shortly after 10 a.m. ET Saturday. The team is two points behind the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi driven by Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi.
Taylor posted the fastest lap of Thursday’s 90-minute night practice session at 1:48.358. The session ran under green-flag conditions throughout.
While van der Zande was making his statement, so were two Porsche drivers in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. Laurens Vanthoor had the fastest lap in class in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 at 1:57.975 (114.125 mph), followed by Nick Tandy in the team’s sister car.
Porsche announced earlier this season that it would be discontinuing its factory GTLM program after the season. The team’s other entry – the No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 – had the second-fastest lap of the second session with Tandy behind the wheel (1:58.172, 113.935 mph).
Vanthoor will co-drive the No. 912 with Earl Bamber and Neel Jani. Tandy – who also led night practice – will share the No. 911 with Bamber and Fred Makowiecki.
The team held a farewell dinner Wednesday night, and Vanthoor echoed the sentiment of sadness surrounding the final race.
“It’s a program I really love to do,” Vanthoor said. “It’s coming to the end, to the last race. There’s quite a lot of goodbyes. … It’s kind of cool to have been a part of it. Beside that, we’re racing. We’re trying to go out with a bang.”
Mikkel Jensen had the fastest lap of Thursday in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class at 1:50.127 – set in night practice – aboard the No. 8 Tower Motorsport by Starworks ORECA LMP2 07. He’ll share the car with John Farano and David Heinemeier Hansson.
In the GT Daytona (GTD) class, Steijn Schothorst was fastest at 2:02.352 (110.042 mph) in the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 that won the Twelve Hours of Sebring last year. The car he’ll share this weekend with Franck Perera and Richard Heistand has only competed in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Grand Prix at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta this season. With its best finish of eighth this season, Schothorst said the team is seeking some redemption to close the season.
“This year, we haven’t been having the luck on our side, I would say,” Schothorst said. “We’ve been fast pretty much all weekend we competed but didn’t get any good results. Since this is our last chance, we are very motivated to get it this time.”
Qualifications are scheduled to begin 10:15 a.m. Friday, and can be viewed live on IMSA.TV. NBCSN’s live coverage of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts begins at 10 a.m. ET Saturday. It moves to NBC at 3 p.m. before returning to NBCSN at 6 p.m. until the race’s conclusion.
Auberlen to Miss Sebring Weekend after Possible COVID-19 Exposure
The all-time winningest driver in IMSA history will miss the 68th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Turner Motorsport announced Thursday that Bill Auberlen, whose 62 victories are the most in premier series annals, will not compete this weekend after a possible exposure to COVID-19.
Auberlen is quarantined at his home awaiting test results. He was scheduled to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge races this weekend at Sebring International Raceway.
“Missing any race, much less the Twelve Hours of Sebring, is very disappointing,” Auberlen said in a statement released by the team. “This year is the 35th anniversary of my father’s win in 1985 as well as my first Twelve Hour win in 1995 – 25 years ago. You can’t imagine how hard it is for me to miss this race, but this COVID situation is such that we all need to remain as safe as we can. I will certainly be tuning in to cheer on the Turner Motorsport team and will be back behind the wheel of a BMW as soon as I can.”
BMW Motorsport driver Nick Yelloly will substitute for Auberlen in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 in the WeatherTech Championship race on Saturday. Cameron Lawrence, a 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona champion in the GT Daytona class with Riley Motorsports who also drove for Turner in the 2018 Rolex 24, replaces Auberlen in the No. 95 BMW M4 GT4 for Friday’s Pilot Challenge race.
Porsche Says Thank You with Car Liveries for Final GTLM Race
The Twelve Hours of Sebring will be the final race for the Porsche GT Team in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class following a highly successful seven-year run. To commemorate the farewell, both the No. 911 and No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR-19s are sporting a special “Thank You” livery as Porsche North America expresses its gratitude for the manufacturer works program.
The all-American design features the Porsche crest echoed in a blue ribbon with white stars crossed by red and white stripes running the length of the No. 911 driven this weekend by Fred Makowiecki, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. The No. 912, which will have Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Neel Jani at the wheel, has the crest in a red ribbon with red and white stripes over the rear fenders, with a stripe of blue and white stars spanning the hood over the roof and onto the rear bodywork. Both cars are displaying “THANK YOU” messages on the rocker panels and the underside of the rear wings.
Saturday’s race will mark the 75th for the team in GTLM competition. Over that span, Porsche has accumulated 20 race wins, 20 pole positions and two class championships (2015 and 2019). The No. 911 is also the two-time defending GTLM champion at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“After seven very successful years, we’re wrapping up our works program in North America with the upcoming race at Sebring,” said Pascal Zurlinden, Porsche director of factory motorsport. “With this special vehicle design, we want to underline our connection to this tremendous racing series and also want to say a big thank you to the loyal fans.
“While racing the 911 in the GTLM class, we experienced firsthand the excitement that our brand inspires in the USA. The spectators were always full of passion, they love the 911 RSR and they were unfailingly supportive. We’d also like to thank everyone involved from Porsche AG, Porsche Cars North America, our motor racing colleagues in the USA, the operations team CORE autosport and, last but definitely not least, our loyal partners. The huge successes over the last seven years would not have been possible without their trust and dedicated cooperation.”
Nasr, Derani Returning to Drive No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac in 2021
Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani will return as full-time drivers of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in 2021, as announced by Action Express Racing earlier this week. It will mark the third straight season that the duo will team in the No. 31 Cadillac. Mike Conway, who has been part of Action Express Racing’s driver lineup for endurance races since 2017, will rejoin the No. 31 in the same capacity in 2021.
Nasr won the 2018 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) championship in the No. 31. He and Derani finished second in last year’s standings. The No. 31 has also finished on top the past two years in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup consisting of points earned in the four endurance events on the schedule.
Heading into Saturday’s race, Derani is third in the driver standings and the No. 31 is third in the team standings, both nine points out of the lead.
“We are very happy to announce that we will back in 2021 with the same full-time driver lineup as this year,” said Gary Nelson, Action Express team manager. “We have a great core of technical and mechanical staff who communicate well with our drivers. In racing, people move around a lot, so keeping our core has been one of the keys to our success.
“Felipe and Pipo round out that core. They are both fast and complement each other on and off the track.”
Adam Sinclair