1,000 Miles of Sebring: What to Watch in World Endurance Championship Race
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and World Endurance Championship shares the stage at Sebring International Raceway.
The event is the follow-up to IMSA's Rolex 24 at Daytona and the opening of the season at the WEC. The full weekend of racing at Sebring's main events are the WEC 1,000 Miles of Sebring (noon-8 p.m. ET on Friday) and IMSA's 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (10 a.m.-10 p.m. ET on Saturday).
Here's what we'll be watching in Friday's WEC race:
The Fight for the Third Podium Spot in WEC
Sebring International Raceway, where anything can and does happen, may be the toughest place in the world to run a major championship race.
As unpredictable as the ancient course in central Florida may be, the consistency, pace and proven reliability of the Toyota GR010 Hybrids will be difficult to beat in the WEC’s season-opening 1,000-mile race. Although limited on testing hours compared with the new Hypercars, the Toyotas were already well developed and have lost some weight. The drivers return with last year’s race experience.
There’s at least one other podium spot open. Who gets it will provide some insight about which of the new Hypercars and LMDh entries will be competitive against defending Le Mans winners Toyota three months hence in France.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s winning experience with the DPi Cadillacs last year in the 12-hour showed up in the Prologue when the Cadillac V-Series.R posted the fastest lap on a hot track in Session 2. The Ferraris were as smooth as any car gets on the concrete and heaves of Sebring, showing consistency, too—James Calado’s crash on cold tires notwithstanding. The new 499Ps arrive with F1 hybrid experience as well.
The Ganassi squad gets the pre-race nod at Sebring, at least, over Ferrari due to having the Rolex 24 race experience in its new LMDh and drivers with deep sports prototype experience compared to Ferrari, where the race will be the first for both car and drivers in the new prototype. The drivers at Ganassi are also used to leaving the pits in prototypes on Michelin tires not having the benefit of warmers thanks to their IMSA experience.
The Porsche 963s of Penske Porsche Motorsport looks like they will have to rely on consistency and longevity. Running at the finish of the new 1,000-mile distance would be welcome for a team still not certain if electrical problems at Daytona will reappear. The innovative Peugeot 9X8 relies on ground effects in place of a rear wing. It’s a formula likely better-suited for Le Mans.
The BoP was published before the Prologue and remains unchanged. The Toyotas (1,062 kilos) are the heaviest and the Glickenhaus received the lowest weight (1,030 kilos) as well as the best power-to-weight ratio. But a winter dedicated to reducing the weight down to the minimum without track testing has yet to produce results for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus.
The FIA has already published its BoP for the rounds at Portimao, Spa and Le Mans that features less weight across board for the hybrid prototypes than required for the season opener at Sebring and slight power reductions. The non-hybrid Glickenhaus will have no changes and the Vanwall will get a little more power.
Don't Underestimate the Action on Pit Exit
The officials of the WEC took the unnecessary excitement out of its new pit lane entrance by switching to last year’s version following the heavy crash of JOTA driver David Heinemeier Hansson’s Oreca LMP2 during the Prologue.
The abandoned new pit lane entry had drivers leaving the track at the high-speed Bishop’s Bend where GT drivers were braking in the passing lane used by the prototypes. For the race, last year’s entry will be used. It comes at the kink intended to slow drivers before entering the Uhlmann Straight. Both entrances lead to the improvised paddock and pits built along the Uhlmann Straight’s concrete used by the WEC.
This shifts the “excitement” to the pit exit, where drivers will rejoin a race on cold Michelin tires for the first time since tire warmers were banned by the WEC. It’s a rule designed to make an environmental statement, believed to be a silly way of going green by drivers, who believe blankets heated by energy from solar cells to be a better statement.
Cold tires caught out James Calado in the Prologue at Turn 1, the first top-end speed corner after the re-entry near Turn 17. That cost the No. 51 Ferrari a day of testing. The penalty for a big off during the race will be much steeper.
Hypercars, GT AM Class Will Make for Interesting Meetings in the Corners
After the banning of all-pro driving teams in GT by the Le Mans/ACO/WEC organizers in favor of all entries having one bronze gentleman driver, the on-track equation may change in the Hypercar era.
Based on this past weekend's Prologue, the Hypercars are about 10 mph faster than the GTs on the straights. But they tend to corner less nimbly than might be expected.
The benefit of the Hypercars’ front-wheel drive is limited to higher speeds usually found on the straights, making the heavier front ends that carry all the regenerative energy equipment and electric motors more of a handful in the corners. The restriction on deployment of front-wheel drive is an equivalency rule for the Hypercars and the LMDh entries that have arrived this year. The latter use so-called MGUs (motor generating units) to get their combined hybrid and standard power to the rear wheels.
"It's very busy out there,” said Nicky Catsburg, who will co-drive the Corvette Racing C8.R. “It feels more busy than usual. The way the Hypercars create lap time is very different than before. They are very fast on the straights but almost just as fast as us in the corners. There's not such a big difference. It will be interesting for the race.”
American Ben Keating will be making his debut for Corvette Racing as the bronze driver after winning last year’s championship trophy on board an Aston Martin Vantage AMR.