SEBRING, Fla. – The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship took to the track with its first open test on Saturday, with 19 teams taking to Sebring Int’l Raceway for an all-day test session.
Joao Barbosa led the testing with an unofficial lap of 1:53.266 (118.871 mph) in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP co-driven by Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais in the Prototype (P) class.
Pickett Racing’s No. 12 ORECA FLM09/Chevrolet led Prototype Challenge (PC) with a lap of 2:00.909 (111.356 mph). Other class leaders were BMW Team RLL’s No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE in GT Le Mans (GTLM), 2:01.798 (110.544 mph), and Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 458 in GT Daytona (GTD), 2:05.058 (107.662 mph).
The No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP was clearly the center of attention at Sebring on Saturday. Barbosa earned the distinction of turning the first laps with the modified Daytona Prototype carrying a new diffuser, dual-element rear wing and carbon brakes, along with other modifications.
The modifications made a good first impression on the Portuguese racer.
“It was a lot of fun, much more than I was actually expecting,” Barbosa said. “It is the first time we are testing here with the DP. We were just bottoming out a little bit on the bumps in the first few laps, but we addressed that and the car felt really great. For the first few laps we have around here with carbon brakes, new aero and all the new stuff, it felt really good. I was really surprised how it felt from the first few laps.”
This morning also represented Barbosa’s first laps in a Daytona Prototype at Sebring, so he could not yet make a direct comparison to the DP’s 2013 configuration. However, he definitely felt a difference.
“It’s very hard to compare, but you definitely feel the power around the corners and the high-speed corners seem to be better, obviously, with higher downforce,” Barbosa said. “It just drives good. The car felt really good. I had a great time driving this car around here. I’m looking forward to going to Daytona and see exactly how we compare and stack up with what we ran last year and how we stack up with the P2 cars and how balanced all this is. I’m just looking forward to go back out there and drive the car again to see how much we can get.”
Barbosa’s co-driver, Fittipaldi, got a few laps in the car in the afternoon, but intermittent rains throughout the session limited his opportunity.
For those who followed the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series last season, seeing Scuderia Corsa at the top of the GTD charts Saturday morning was no surprise. The 2013 Rolex Series GT champions picked up right where they left off, with Toni Vilander posting the session’s fastest time with an unofficial lap of 2:05.058 in the No. 63 Ferrari 458.
While Vilander is no stranger to Ferrari – he competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship in a Ferrari 458 for AF Corse each of the past two seasons – the morning session marked his first laps in the GT3-based Ferrari which will compete next season in the TUDOR Championship GTD class.
“It’s certainly different driving the GTD class Ferrari for the first time after driving in WEC,” said Vilander, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari 458 in 2012. “It’s no easier or harder, it’s just different. The basic setup of the car is in the right window. I was able to start trying things at the end of the session.”
Alessandro Balzan, the 2013 Rolex Series GT champion, is expected back behind the wheel of the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari for next week’s test at Daytona Int’l Speedway, while Vilander is expected to shift over to a GTLM version of the Ferrari 458 on the 3.56-mile Daytona circuit.
“I think the plan is for me to drive the GTLM car at Daytona,” he said. “We’re all interested to see how the GTLM class Ferrari runs on the banking.”