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Action Express Leads After Three Hours, #77 Mazda Suffers Fire

Cockpit fire ends the day for Bernhard and co.

We’ve reached the quarter mark of the 2019 Sebring 12 Hours and Action Express is still in control up front. However, with the track almost dry now the rain has stopped, the field has been bunched up and it’s no longer a 1-2 up front for AXR.

The #31 still leads, but Felipe Nasr, (in for Pipo Derani), after creating a 50-second lead over the rest of the pack behind the sister car, has just a 7-second advantage over the #85 JDC Miller Cadillac that’s climbed to second.

A safety car during the third hour bunched up the field, and unfortunately, it was called for the first major incident of the race. Timo Bernhard in the #77 Mazda pulled off the circuit on the back straight due to an electrical fire in the cockpit.

The German dashed out the car and had to sprint to get a fire extinguisher. But by the time he had returned to the stranded RT24-P, it was too late and the car had to be taken back to the pits on a flatbed.

That leaves the #55 sister car as Mazda Team Joest’s only hope of a win, and Harry Tincknell is currently seventh in the class.

Third, on the road behind the improving #85, JDC Miller Cadillac is the #5 Action Express car driven now by sportscar returnee Brendon Hartley, after dropping to third during the pit stops during the Safety Car.

The second JDC DPi V.R is fourth, ahead of the recovering Wayne Taylor Racing example which is still very much in the mixed, and climbed as high as second during the third hour.

For Acura, it continues to be a very disappointing run. While it’s not over – a wave by during another safety car would put the two ARX-05s on the lead lap – the two cars are still a lap down after their struggles in the first hour in the wet and continue to be unable to keep up with the pace up front.

Since the move to slicks, the pace has become blistering, Felipe Nasr set the fastest lap just before the start of hour 4, a 1:48.693, a new DPi record at the circuit.

LMP2 meanwhile, is no longer a race. Performance Tech led early while PR1’s ORECA struggled with its tyres in the wet, but when the rain let up Anders Fjordbach was able to claw his way back into the lead.

However, the Dane would suffer a rear-left suspension failure, which forced the team to push the car behind the wall. Performance Tech can take it easy now.

In GTLM, after the first round of stops, the Porsches remained on the lead lap, albeit bringing up the rear of the GTLM field.

Having set the fastest lap in class, a 2:17.556, Tom Blomqvist was the first to dive to the pits, taking fuel and tyres some ten minutes ahead of the rest of the class. The #25 BMW lost its lead though, Blomqvist having a big moment on the start straight. Wrestling a lurid tank-slapper and doing very well to avoid the wall his recovery was swift, but Westbrook retook the lead for the #67 Ford in the process.

Surface conditions remained very tricky even with climbing temperature and the beginnings of a drier line appearing. A spin for Vanthoor at Turn 17 didn’t help the #912, which then pitted for tyres and fuel and dropped off the lead lap in class.

As the race reached its two-hour point and slick tyres were being readied, Westbrook had extended the #67 Ford’s lead to twelve seconds over Blomqvist’s BMW. Dirk Mueller was riding shotgun for Ford six seconds off as the Chevrolet pair trailed the fourth place #24 BMW. Westbrook braved it out longest as everyone else took slicks and changed drivers, the British driver staying aboard.

As the FCY was given for the Mazda’s retirement, the order in GTLM had changed post pit stops. Westbrook still led the class, the two BMW’s, #24 and #25, now second and third having switched order. Phillipp Eng had done the fastest class lap in the drying conditions, 2:00.151 for the #24.

Sebastien Bourdais was now fourth with the #66 Ford GT. The Corvettes had also switched order behind, #4 and #3 running together on track. Both Porsches were now a lip behind, though Nick Tandy got a bonus pit stop for the #911 under the Safety Car.

Sebastien Bourdais’ Ford split the BMW’s for third as the race went green again, chasing Phillipp Eng hard as the lap times tumbled, the best of these by Westbrook; 1:58.732, who was rebuilding his lead in the #67 Ford GT. Meanwhile, the #64 Corvette had its rear engine cover off in the pits.

GTD has seen plenty of shuffling at the head of the pack.

Currently, the Pfaff Porsche leads, the team spending the opening hours in the top three almost exclusively, with Lars Kern now at the controls.

Second and third are the Riley Mercedes (with Jeroen Bleekemolen now installed) and the Grasser Lamborghini, both cars enjoying having a quiet rise up the order during the change in conditions.

The Turner BMW, which has been a contender from the start, is just outside the top three in fourth ahead of the #57 MSR Acura which dropped to fifth during the last pit cycle, after Ana Beatriz climbed in for Christina Neilsen.

The sister MSR Acura, which led early, is now down to eighth, the car losing lots of places when Justin Marks had a spin at the final corner after the restart.