The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will unveil its exciting new qualifying format Friday at Sebring International Raceway.
With championship points now awarded for qualifying, the precursor session for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts takes on more importance in addition to setting the starting grid for Saturday’s race.
The new format will add a layer of excitement by offering two qualifying segments for the GT Daytona (GTD) class. Each segment is 15 minutes in length. The first will see a Silver- or Bronze-rated driver in each GTD car vying for race starting position decided by the best timed laps, with the fastest qualifier earning the Motul Pole Award. The second segment mandates a driver change, likely to a Platinum- or Gold-rated professional, to determine the team and driver qualifying points – again set by the fastest laps turned.
Zacharie Robichon, co-driver of the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R along with Laurens Vanthoor and Lars Kern this weekend, said qualifying has been a hot topic of conversation among the drivers and team.
“We’ve been exchanging lots of emails about it,” Robichon said. “It’s certainly going to be different. I think the way we prioritize time during practice will be a little less straightforward than it has been in the past with the two separate qualifying sessions. I think what you’ll see is perhaps a differentiation on how you approach it depending on which race it is. Where the focus will stand over who gets the qualifying stint may change on the individual track and the characteristics.”
The GTD driver who participates in the first qualifying segment must start the race. Teams have the option to change tires between segments but must start the race on the Michelins used in the first segment.
Qualifying for the other WeatherTech Championship classes – Daytona Prototype international (DPi), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) and GT Le Mans (GTLM) – will each remain a single segment that decides both points and race starting position. The pole winner in every class earns 35 points, with 32 for second fastest, 30 for third and downward from there. With 10 races scheduled for DPi, GTLM and GTD, that means the maximum points equivalent of a race win is available for the taking in qualifying throughout 2021.
“I think it definitely adds a strategy point,” Robichon said. “You can always make up places on the racetrack but you can’t make up points, so I think that’s something that you have to keep in mind.”
This is the first weekend that the new format will be conducted. Qualifying points and race starting position for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January were determined by results of the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race.
Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring qualifying begins at 11:15 a.m. ET Friday and streams live on IMSA.com. The 69th edition of the famed 12-hour race begins at 10:10 a.m. Saturday. NBCSN has live coverage from 10 a.m.-noon and 7-10:30 p.m., with a shift to the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com from noon-7 p.m. The entire telecast is available on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. Find IMSA Radio’s race coverage on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius channel 216, XM 392, Internet 992).