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Penske Hoping His Acuras Will Take Next Step This Weekend In Sebring

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2018

The No. 7 Acrua of Team Penske showed impressive speed on Thursday during free practice for this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours race.

When Roger Penske announced last July that he would return to sports car racing and field a prototype team in 2018, it was great news for the IMSA WeatherTech Series but ominous news for those would would have to compete against Team Penske.

Everybody in the racing world knows that when “The Captain” takes on a project, results ensue; that it’s just a matter of time.

Partnering with Honda-Acura and putting proven, winning drivers like Helio Castronevers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ricky Taylor in the cockpits would most likely mean that time element would be some where between quickly and immediately.

Immediately didn’t happen as the team’s debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January was dogged by things like a broken door handle and on-track scuffles. Both cars that the team fielded, however, ran well when they were running and finished the race.

After the Rolex, Penske said he was proud of his teams’ performance and added, “We were right there.”

Team Penske and his ARX-05 DPi cars will get their second shot at victory this weekend when the Sebring 12 Hours is conducted at the historic track carved from the bumpy runways of a former Air Force Base in central Florida.

Practice got under way at Sebring on Thursday and the results were terrific for Penske.

With Taylor – a past WeatherTech champion when he drove with his brother Jordan for his father’s Wayne Taylor Racing team – at the wheel of the car he is co-driving with Castroneves and Graham Rahal, the No. 7 Acura was fastest in two of the first three practices.

Taylor also had the fastest lap of the day at the 3.74-mile track. It was a 1 minute, 47.841 seconds (124.851 mph) job and it came in the afternoon session.

“We’ve done, I think, 10 or 11 days of testing here,” Taylor said, “so we’ve got a really good handle on this Acura DPi. We unloaded very strong and we’re just kind of fine tuning now. The car’s very good.

“I think qualifying is going to be a different story, and in the race, you’re going to have to face 85-degree temperatures and then 50-degree temperatures at the end. There’s a lot of work still to do. I don’t think we can read too much into this.”

You can’t blame sports car racing followers who may read plenty into what the team is up to. 

In 2005, Penske partnered with Porsche to put the RS Spyder on the track as a LMP2 car in the American Le Mans Series. Success that time around was immediate: The car made its debut in the final race of the season – at Laguna Seca – and won its class.

It went on to win LMP2 championships in 2006, ’07 and ’08. It won in its class at Le Mans in 2008 and ’09.

At Sebring in 2008, the RS Spyder (named in honor the iconic Porsche 550 Spyder) won  overall, giving it that rare bird of beating out the entries in the premier class.

Penske’s RS Spyder is now the stuff of lore.

Will Team Penske’s partnership with Acura produce similar results?

Honda Performance Development boss Art St. Cyr seems to think so.

“At the Rolex 24 in January, our Acura Team Penske ARX-05s definitely had the speed to challenge for the victory,” he said. “After qualifying one car on the front row, leading several times and running 1-2 at the 12-hour mark, a collision and a relatively minor mechanical issue ended up delaying both prototypes. We’re definitely looking to improve our results this weekend at Sebring.”

The second-quickest time of Thursday came during Thursday’s night practice session. Rene Rast led the evening session and was second overall with a best lap of 1:48.233 (124.399 mph) in the No. 77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P DPi car. Third on the day was Tristan Vautier in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R with a best lap of 1:48.387 (124.222 mph) in the day’s first practice session.

In the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, Dirk Mueller turned in the fastest lap of the day in night practice with a best lap of 1:57.371 (114.714 mph) aboard the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT he shares with Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais.

The fastest lap in the GT Daytona (GTD) class belonged to the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 and driver Lawson Aschenbach, who turned a 2:00.337 (111.886 mph) in the morning session. However, the Shank team now has its work cut out for it, as co-driver Justin Marks was involved in a heavy crash in the car in the afternoon session and the team is now trying to rebuild the car in time for Saturday’s race

U.S. television coverage begins on FS1 at 10:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 17 and includes complete domestic streaming throughout the 12 hours on FOX Sports GO. International, flag-to-flag coverage is available on IMSA.com and a variety of international television outlets, as well as IMSA Radio commentary on RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, March 16 2018
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