Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

12 Hours of Sebring part of United SportCcar future

For racing fans, the new United SportsCar Championship means a simplified schedule and only one major North American series to follow.

For St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais and two teammates in today's 12 Hours of Sebring, it means something simpler: the chance at the first Florida double in more than 15 years.

IndyCar regular Bourdais teamed with Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi to win January's 24 Hours of Daytona in a Corvette Prototype for the Action Express team. The trio goes into today's race with a shot of sweeping Daytona and Sebring, America's two longest and most prestigious sportscar races, which are now under one sanctioning body.

"There's no questioning that it's always better to be unified," Bourdais said this week. "I think it's only going to get better from there. It's too small a world to have too many series."

The Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series divided loyalties, with Daytona as the top race in the former series and Sebring headlining the latter.

"It's a big deal. It never should have been any other way," Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "Obviously there's a massive amount of money and manufacturers pulling the political strings. That's how we got off on the wrong track. But unification is priceless. … You can really feel the energy in the paddock, that everybody wants to make this work."

Fort Lauderdale's Hunter-Reay, racing the SRT Viper in the GT Le Mans class today alongside Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens, is among several IndyCar standouts at Sebring. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson and Ryan Briscoe are only a few of the open-wheel drivers competing at Sebring.

Bourdais, who grew up in the shadow of roads used for the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, is happy with his team and the opportunity at Sebring. But he's a bit concerned that the unified format is so appealing that, at more than 60 cars, the field might be too big.

"There's no easy pass at Sebring," Bourdais said. "There's only two short straights, it's twisty, it's tight, and it gets tricky at night because it's not so well-lit, though the corners are."

That produces an intensity that is already magnified because, as reliability rises, endurance races are producing finishes with three or more cars on the lead lap, rather than the multiple-lap margins of victory that used to be the norm. The depth of talent is also notable.

"The endurance races are just becoming longer sprint races," Hunter-Reay said. "One stint you could be driving against the best in sportscar, the next you're driving against the best in IndyCar, at times some of the best in NASCAR."

So it won't be easy, but Bourdais, Barbosa and Fittipaldi can become the first tandem since Didier Theys, Gianpiero Moretti and Mauro Baldi in a Ferrari 333 in 1998 to sweep Daytona and Sebring in one season (Arie Luyendyk was also part of the driving lineup at Daytona).

They took a step toward that goal Friday, with Bourdais earning the pole by 0.169 seconds with a lap of 1 minute, 51.917 seconds (120.303 mph) around the 3.74-mile track.

"This was great qualifying for us," Bourdais said. "It's been very difficult to get a read on the car (in practice sessions); traffic has been very difficult. It's been tough to get the balance of the car, tough to get into a rhythm. But in qualifying, you could string a few laps together. I was able to do that and by the end of qualifying the car was pretty optimized."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Comments
Bucs awarded compensatory draft pick in seventh round

Bucs awarded compensatory draft pick in seventh round

The Bucs finally have a compensatory draft pick.For the first time since 2011, Tampa Bay has played the free-agent game well enough to be awarded a comp pick — after the seventh round, 255th overall, the next to last in the draft.Comp picks hav...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays open exhibition season with 6-3 win over Pirates

Rays open exhibition season with 6-3 win over Pirates

The Rays won the home game of their opening-day, split-squad set, beating the Pirates, 6-3.1B Brad Miller, with an opposite-field double off the wall, and CF Kevin Kiermaier, with a bloop single to shallow center, provided the early offense.2B D...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?

Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?

When it comes to the Tampa Bay Lightning these days, there's only question that really matters:Can the Lightning win the Stanley Cup?That's it. That's the big question. That's the only thing on everyone's mind.Will it or won't it?Does this team, whic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Split-squad Rays hold on for 6-3 win at Orioles

Split-squad Rays hold on for 6-3 win at Orioles

SARASOTA — A split-squad team of Rays held on for a 6-3 victory Friday against the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.Yonny Chirinos, making his debut as a Ray, tossed a pair of scoreless innings. He allowed an infield single to former Ray Tim Beckham...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Impact of Tommy John surgery cuts deeply for Brent Honeywell, Rays

Impact of Tommy John surgery cuts deeply for Brent Honeywell, Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE – Two things that tell you a lot about Rays cocksure top prospect Brent Honeywell given Friday's crushing news that he indeed tore a ligament in his prized right arm and is headed for Tommy John surgery that will sideline him wel...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Erik Karlsson-to-Lightning talk won’t die down until deadline is over

Erik Karlsson-to-Lightning talk won’t die down until deadline is over

MONTREAL — Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson sure seemed chatty with his Lightning friends as he left the Canadian Tire Center on Thursday night.Karlsson, 27, took his time talking up several members of Tampa Bay's staff in the hallway out...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A lot rides on soccer for Plant City’s Eric Ugarte

A lot rides on soccer for Plant City’s Eric Ugarte

PLANT CITY — Eric Ugarte was beaming as he prepared to play on high school soccer's biggest stage. If nearly a full week of hoopla leading up to Saturday's Class 5A state championship game had worn the Plant City senior out, he hid it well.Eric...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Medal haul well short of U.S. Olympic Committee projections

Medal haul well short of U.S. Olympic Committee projections

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — It was a sweeping goal, spelled out on a colorful, full-screen slide and presented to leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee in a meeting last year. Sports executives in America targeted athletes on Team USA to win 37 medals...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

The Rays open the exhibition season with not one, but two games today.Non-roster pitcher Vidal Nuno will start against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. in Port Charlotte. Denard Span, Matt Duffy, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos, Mallex Smith and Adeiny Hechava...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bucs need a backup plan at quarterback; best bets are Ryan Fitzpatrick or (maybe) Mike Glennon

Bucs need a backup plan at quarterback; best bets are Ryan Fitzpatrick or (maybe) Mike Glennon

TAMPA – Finding a quarterback is a big priority for the Bucs this off-season. That's not a misprint. No, they're not looking to replace Jameis Winston. Far from it. But they may need to find their version of the Eagles' Nick Foles — excep...
Updated: 4 hours ago