After finishing second at the Rolex 24 back in January, Action Express’ #31 crew flipped the script at Sebring, beating the Daytona-winning Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac to the win in the 67th running of the 12 Hours to conclude the first ever ‘Super Sebring’ WEC-IMSA double-header.
The win, in which Eric Curran’s co-drivers Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani, who combined to drive for most of the race, starred, scored Cadillac it’s second ever win at the event as a marque, and it’s second in three years after Wayne Taylor won back in 2017. It’s also only the second win for Action Express in the race, it’s last back in the DP days, and its first IMSA Endurance Cup win in the DPi era.
It was a more than a convincing victory for the GM marque, which has started off the 2019 IMSA season with wins in the two Florida endurance races. As a contest, it was hard-fought in DPi, but the Cadillac DPi V.R continues to prove itself as the best car in the DPi field, its dominance at the endurance races remarkable since the formula started back in 2017. The proof is in the numbers, so far the Cadillac has won 14 of the 21 races in the DPi era and six of the nine Endurance Cup races.
The Acura, Nissan and Mazda entries in the class didn’t really feature on this occasion, particularly in the second half of the race, preventing this year’s edition from being an all-time classic. But, it was nevertheless close towards the end of the race between Action Express’ two Cadillacs and Wayne Taylor’s example.
The #31 car had the pace throughout to hold the lead, and it did for almost the entire race (all but 18 laps when the race originally went green), but Safety Car periods did keep the other contenders in with a shout until the end, the penultimate caution of the race during Hour 11 creating a three-way battle between Derani and later Nasr in the #31, Jordan Taylor in the #10 WTR DPi V.R and Brendon Hartley and eventually Filipe Albuquerque in the #5.
However, Taylor or the #5 drivers were never able to make a pass for the lead on the #31 despite all three running within a couple of seconds of one another. The #31 was able to ease away each time the win looked in doubt, and Nasr eventually crossed the line a second ahead of the #10 after the final restart with just minutes to go.
“Amazing, it’s my third win in four years here!” Exclaimed Derani after the win. “I can’t believe it.”
Despite missing out on the win, Wayne Taylor Racing, like Action Express, will be satisfied to have made such a strong start to the season, especially after its Caddy spent much of the opening hours of the race slowly rising up the order after the team opted to pit twice early for fuel at the start while the race was under safety car conditions due to the heavy rain, dropping it to the back.
Off the podium was the first of the other DPi chassis, the #7 Acura Team Penske ARX-05, which was fortunate to finish fourth after such a tough outing. As a whole, for the pole-winning team, it was a miserable day at Sebring, Roger Penske’s pair of prototypes struggling for pace in the wet and hitting trouble early.
With both ARX-05s unable to consistently match the Cadillac pace at the front, and so few chances to gain laps back under safety cars, making up for lost time and getting back into contention for the win proved a near-impossible task.
The CORE autosports Nissan DPi completed the top five after a quiet but outing, finishing ahead of the best of the Mazdas.
If Acura’s day was forgettable, Mazda’s was a total write off, the Joest team once again fielding cars capable of winning on pace, only to have them fall by the wayside with errors and reliability issues.
The #77 was first to hit trouble, the car suffering an electrical cockpit fire caused by the battery in the opening hours, forcing Timo Bernhard to park the car on the back straight and sprint to the nearest marshal post to grab a fire extinguisher. Remarkably, the car did finish after being taken back to the paddock and repaired, but 116 laps down.
Jonathan Bomarito meanwhile, ended the sister car’s chances of salvaging a result, with an error that he admitted to during a brief rain shower before the halfway mark, sliding off track into the tyres at Turn 10. After losing two laps, as a result, the car had its nose changed and finished sixth above the two JDC Miller Cadillacs that showed flashes of potential early but faded.
Harry Tincknell did come away with one achievement for the brand though, smashing the Prototype lap record (not including LMP1 or LMP2) of the circuit by two seconds during the closing stages of the race, the Briton reeling off a 1:47.472 on lap 300, the new Michelin tyres the catalyst for the feat.
Down in LMP2, the #30 Performance Tech ORECA took an easy class win, Brent O’Neil’s team taking home the winners’ trophies almost by default after a suspension issue for its only challenger in the class fielded by PR1 dropped it out out contention.
Surprise win for Porsche in GTLM
From a position of disadvantage, Porsche GT Team stole victory in GTLM, in a display of resilience, dogged strategy and raw pace, Patrick Pilet, Fred Makoweicki and Nick Tandy winning the factory GT class for the second year in a row.
It really was a wild ride for the team. Pilet found himself missing his Porsche teammate Laurens Vanthoor on the front row of the GTLM grid at the start, Vanthoor having to start from the pit lane having failed to report to scrutineering after setting his P2 qualifying lap.
After 43 minutes under yellow in treacherous conditions, Pilet lost out at the green flag, the #911 Porsche dropping to the back of the entire field to join Vanthoor who was also struggling badly for grip. Both were immediately into the pits for a full set of new wet tyres, pressures too high for the conditions. The Porsche team conceded their car was not at its best in the wet, as indeed they had found at Daytona.
Richard Westbrook’s #67 Ford GT, therefore, took the GTLM lead from Tom Blomqvist’s #25 BMW and Dirk Mueller’s #66 Ford. The #24 M8 GTE followed, ahead of the #3 and #4 Corvettes, the latter of which would fall out of contention, the car into its pit with a drive issue.
After the first round of stops, the Porsches were bringing up the rear of the GTLM field. Tom Blomqvist’s #25 BMW featured briefly in the lead before a lurid tank-slapper nearly put him into the wall, allowing Westbrook to retake the lead for the #67 Ford GT.
Surface conditions remained tough until around the 2-hour mark when slick tyres were readied. Westbrook had extended the #67 Ford’s lead to twelve seconds over Blomqvist’s BMW, Dirk Mueller riding shotgun for Ford in third, the #3 Corvette trailing the #24 BMW in the fight for fourth.
Both Porsches were a lap behind until Nick Tandy got the #911’s first break, a bonus pit stop for the car taken under the Safety Car, putting the Porsche back on the lead lap.
Ryan Briscoe pushed on in the lead, the #67 Ford GT setting the fastest lap of 1:57.478, ahead of the improving Sebastien Bourdais in a Ford 1-2. As the halfway mark approached, Scott Dixon had doubled the lead for the #67 Ford as the chasing group of the two BMWs and the #3 Corvette traded places as the pit stops churned. But improvement had come from Fred Makowiecki in the recovering #911 Porsche. The French driver pushed on hard and hauled the car back in touch with the field.
The rain came again, bringing with it an FCY as a Mazda DPi found the tyre wall. Significantly, everyone headed for the pits with the exception of the #911 Porsche, Fred Makowiecki staying out. His teammate Vanthoor wasn’t so lucky, driving around the Safety Car and into the pit lane, unable to exit and losing the opportunity to improve.
Though the stops cycled through and track positions churned accordingly the leading #67 car still seemed to have something in hand; Westbrook, Dixon and Briscoe putting in consistent stints without interruption by caution periods.
Indeed, it was nearly four hours before the #8 Starworks GTD Audi stranded itself on the circuit in darkness and brought out the next course caution. Everyone took to the pits including the #911 Porsche. Makowiecki had been doing back-to-back stints, grinding his way back up the order, consistently lapping in the low 1:57’s and low 1:58’s and aggressive in traffic.
Handing the car over at the stop, Tandy seemed the perfect choice to continue the charge. Slick pit work and just enough fuel to the end saw the Porsche jump the #24 BMW for 4th, the field ahead conveniently compressed under the safety car.
At the release, Tandy made fairly short work of Joey Hand in the #66 Ford for third and pressed on hard for the #3 Corvette. Three laps later Tandy was through, charging on to take two seconds out of Ryan Briscoe’s lead in the #67. The Aussie responded while Joey Hand got the call to defend Ford’s threat, moving into less than five seconds of the now third-placed Porsche.
One hour remaining and the final stops came: cars taking fuel, tyres and no driver changes. The #3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia would hang out longer though, trying to build a net advantage and eventually pitting on fumes.
Crucially, Tandy got out in front of Briscoe’s Ford, the #67 trailing by 5 seconds as a forecast of rain in the last 15 minutes loomed menacingly. Garcia hauled in John Edwards’ BMW, passing the #24 car for fourth, while at the front Tandy’s lead was down to just over one second, Briscoe charging the Porsche down hard.
Another full course yellow was thrown with 15 minutes to go, another GTD car in trouble. Bunching the field again, the GTLM class would deliver yet another cliff-hanger and a dash for victory in the race’s final minutes…
The green was given with 7 minutes to go precisely. Tandy burst away, the following five GTLM cars covered by just 4 seconds. Ryan Briscoe misjudged his move on the Porsche, carrying too much speed and spinning out of second place at Turn 17, leaving Joey Hand to take on the fight for Ford honours in the #66, finishing second at the end. Garcia took third for Corvette, ahead of the #24 BMW fourth. Amazingly, the situation had placed the #912 Porsche fifth, Laurens Vanthoor in touch with the race again.
Tandy stuck it out and pulled away from Hand to take the chequered flag, an incredible achievement for the #911 crew and for Porsche to defend last year’s Sebring win and add to the 911 RSR’s increasingly impressive CV.
GRT Lamborghini unbeaten to start the season with GTD win
The #11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo of Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, and Rik Breukers won the GT Daytona class after the team played its hand perfectly in a late race strategic roll of the dice. It’s a huge win for the team, and it’s second in two races to start the season after it won the Rolex 24 Hours back in January.
When the late Full-Course Yellow came out for the stalled #8 Starworks Audi R8 LMS and set up a two-hour dash to the finish, the top runners in GT Daytona split into two different strategy groups. One that would short fuel on their penultimate stint, believing they would need two stops. The other, ran as long as possible on their penultimate stint, to try and make it to the finish on one stop.
The #11 Lamborghini as well as the #44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo that finished second elected to take the second option; run long. Bortolotti in the #11 Lamborghini and Andy Lally in his #44 Lamborghini ran nearly one hour and seven minutes on one tank, an astounding number as the average stint had been around 55 minutes.
With the two Lamborghinis one-stop strategy putting them far ahead of the rest it set up a dogfight to the finish between Bortolotti and Lally with the Italian Lamborghini-ace getting the best of the two.
“It’s such a difficult race to win, I’m so proud of everyone. The last two hours were so hard, I made the move for the lead stick into Turn 1 with an hour and 40 to go. The Safety Car spiced it up, but we ran it straight home and won!” Bortolotti said after the race.
The best of the cars who elected to two-stop the race’s final two hours was the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, and Jeff Westphal. Vilander ended the race and moved the car into the final podium position after passing the #29 Montaplast by Land Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the last dash to the finish.
The #29 Land Audi had played the same strategy card as the two Lamborghinis but lacked the late-race pace to challenge for the win. Nevertheless, the call still played in its favour and netted Daniel Morad, Christopher Mies, and Ricky Feller a fourth-place finish.
Land’s R8 was followed across the line by the #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3. Jeroen Bleekemolen, Felipe Fraga, and Ben Keating came home fifth in class after showing potential for an even better result throughout the race.
The #73 Park Place Porsche appeared to be well on its way to a top-five finish in the class. A puncture with seventeen minutes to go appeared to erase their chances of a good finish, but things changed on the last restart. Patrick Long gained a handful of stops and ended the race in sixth.
The #57 Acura of Katherine Legge, Bia Figuerido, and Christina Nielsen struggled in the race’s final two hours. Legge had the car in the lead before dropping to fifth on strategy and falling even further down the order after the late-race restart. They ended the race in eighth behind their teammates in the #86 Acura who finished seventh.
The #96 Turner Motorsports BMW brought out that late-race Full Course Yellow with just fifteen minutes to go. Bill Auberlen’s front left suspension appeared to collapse on the run down to Turn 3. He stopped the car on the grass on the exit, where he was eventually towed behind-the-wall.
The issue that plagued the #8 Starworks Audi was found to have been an issue with the car’s left-hand drive shaft. It was repaired, the car was sent back out, and it ended the race fourteenth in class.