Sebring IMSA LMP2 preview: Reliable excitement

Jake Galstad/Lumen

Sebring IMSA LMP2 preview: Reliable excitement

IMSA

Sebring IMSA LMP2 preview: Reliable excitement

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Both the LMP2 and LMP3 classes begin their regular season at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Daytona having counted only for the Michelin Endurance Cup and not the full-season points. With its similar and usually reliable machinery of ORECA LMP2 07 chassis with Gibson power, LMP2 often puts on a good show in the races and usually ends in a tight fight for the championship.

John Farano and the No. 8 Tower Motorsports squad are seeking to defend their 2022 LMP2 championship. Farano had several different co-drivers last year and looks to repeat that pattern for 2023 with Kyffin Simpson and perhaps Scott McLaughlin along for the endurance races and likely Louis Deletraz on board for the sprint races when Deletraz isn’t on duty with Wayne Taylor Racing.

“We’re in for the full season, and we’re also doing Le Mans this year, so it’s going to be a pretty full schedule for us,” says Farano. “Do I believe that we can win this thing again? Absolutely, 100 percent. As long as we follow the methodology that we had last year, and there’s no reason not to, I think we’re in a very good position to repeat again this year and have the same level of fun and success.”

Farano has one big obstacle standing in his way: Ben Keating and PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. Widely regarded as the best Bronze-rated driver in the business, Keating is back for the full season with Paul-Loup Chatin while also driving for Corvette Racing in World Endurance Championship GTE-Am. However, Keating’s former teammate Steven Thomas has moved to TDS Racing, and taken Keating’s 2022 co-drivers, Scott Huffaker and Mikkel Jensen, with him. That’s a trio that could certainly do some damage to other team’s championship dreams. Era Motorsports’ Ryan Dalziel, who hopes that he and Dwight Merriman can insert the No. 18 into the mix as well and certainly will, believes those two teams may be the strongest.

“I think PR1 with Ben and Paul-Loup is without a doubt the strongest average pairing,” Dalziel says. “Paul-Loup was part of Era for a couple of years there, and we know just how good he is. And Ben just kind of continues to rewrite the Bronze driver rulebook. But I think Stephen Thomas, his package is good. And Farano has obviously stepped up, I think, in the last half of last season and into this season. I think everybody has.

PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and its strong driver lineup pose a formidable challenge, Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

“Having the European team being involved has raised the game a little bit in P2, but at the same time, I hope that people consider us also a threat. I don’t think there’s one car other than Keating that stands out as, let’s say, the dominant car; but then after them, there’s definitely three or four more cars that can all compete at the end.”

Dalziel, Merriman, endurance driver Christian Rasmussen and Oliver Jarvis suffered a rare blown engine at Daytona, while Tower was at the head of lineup of full-season regulars. But really it was PR1’s race to lose, and a penalty along with a late-race spin and stall by Nicholas Lapierre dashed the team’s chances. But it showed that whoever joins Keating in the car, they can contend and often dominate.

Keating himself referred to the 2023 crop of LMP2 teams and drivers as perhaps the best the class has yet seen, and the course of the season may prove him right. Beyond those mentioned already, there are several teams that could take the fight to the top contenders, and perhaps make a difference in the championship. Rick Ware Racing, last year competing in GTD, has Eric Lux and Pietro Fittipaldi — yes, he’s related to those Fittipaldis, being Emerson’s grandson and a test driver for Haas F1.

High Class Racing is one of those European teams that Dalziel was referring to, the Danish team having landed on the podium a couple of times last year. Dennis Andersen and Ed Jones handle the driving duties. Francois Heriau and Giedo van der Garde will drive the No. 35 TDS Racing ORECA — sister car to Thomas and Jensen’s No. 11 — and could be a threat as van der Garde is often absurdly quick, setting the record pole time for the class at Sebring last year.

LMP2 is often overshadowed by the GTP class; but the equality of the cars and the quality of the drivers make it a worthy headliner in its own right. The finish at Daytona, where James Allen had to pass two cars to win, and passed the second at the line to win by 0.016s proves that — and the contenders for the victory weren’t even full-timers, but MEC-only entrants. The class is close, and entertaining, full of current and future sports car racing stars. Whoever wins the championship this year will have surely earned it.

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