Sebring 12 Hours – Bumps, Twists, Turns in Oldest US Race

Ken Zino of AutoInformed.com on Sebring 12 Hours - New Twists, Turns in Oldest US Sports Car Race

Twice in the final 75 minutes, Cadillac driver Earl Bamber lost the lead in the oldest US sports car race. He got it back twice, too.

While General Motors has it doubters among stock analysts about its electrification strategy, Cadillac and Corvette posted convincing wins during electrifying racing at Sebring this weekend. It was an all-Cadillac podium in the premier DPI class, as it swept the top three spots in an incident and mistake-filled once around the clock race. The three Cadillacs finished within 14.616 seconds of each other. The 351 laps completed were a Sebring record for the DPi class, topping the previous one set last year by two laps. It was the 61st IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory for Chip Ganassi Racing and its second at Sebring. (Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Provisional Results)

Cadillac had plenty of electricity: Twice in the final 75 minutes of the race, driver Earl Bamber lost the lead before getting it back both times. Bamber survived two incidents and a penalty in the final minutes Saturday and twice worked his way back into the lead, eventually prevailing to win the 70th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Bamber’s win  in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R co-driven with Alex Lynn and Neel Jani was a brilliant demonstration of an old sport car racing adage – no matter what happens, just keep racing. “It was a team effort, not an individual one,” Bamber said afterwards. “I was just the one lucky enough to do the last hour. I could’ve probably made it a hell of a lot easier for everyone else, but hey, I made it. It was a good show, I think.”

With 1-hour 15 minutes remaining, Bamber replaced Lynn during a driver change with a lead of more than 30 seconds over the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R shared by Tristan Vautier, Richard Westbrook and Loic Duval. On the out lap, Bamber collided with the No. 13 AWA Duqueine D08 LMP3 car driven by Kuno Wittmer, drawing a drive-through penalty that gave the overall and Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class lead to Westbrook. Seconds after he passed Westbrook to retake the lead with 59:53 left, Bamber spun in a collision with the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Simon Mann. Bamber chased down Westbrook again and passed him with 45 minutes left – holding it to the finish 6.471 seconds ahead of Vautier, who replaced Westbrook on the No. 5 car’s final pit stop.

“It was some of the best driving I’ve done and some of the worst at the same time, all in about one and a half hours,” Bamber said. “I’m just really happy that we could recover and get back to the front.” After Vautier replaced Westbrook, Bamber made his last pit stop. He emerged 7.2 seconds ahead of Vautier, who wasn’t about to give up.

“I gave it all, mate,” Vautier said. “The 02 came out of the pits 7 seconds ahead and we entered the final lap 2.5 behind. Then I took it easy on the last lap. I knew it was over and we were tight on fuel. It’s a very solid day for the team. We were third at Daytona and second here. We can be proud.”

Pipo Derani brought the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac home third co-driven with Mike Conway and Tristan Nunez.

Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Will Stevens, in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 finished fourth. The team remains second in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi standings, having reduced the gap 11 points to the leaders who are now at 676.

“I’ve competed in the Twelve Hours of Sebring eight times,” said Ricky Taylor. “I’ve only been on the podium once. You either win, or you have a messy day. It’s so difficult, this race. You have to do every little thing right. I’m really proud of all the Konica Minolta guys and they gave us an amazing Acura all day. All the pit strategy was perfect. I can’t believe we got set back two-thirds of the way through and then, with 53 cars on track, we didn’t get a single yellow to bunch us back up. I feel like, if we could have bunched back up and had a shot to fight, we would have given it our all and perhaps put ourselves on the podium. Hats off to Ganassi. They were the class of the field today. I don’t know if we had enough for them, but we were fighting for really good points today and the car was really strong at the end when we wanted it to be. We’ve got little things to improve, but overall it’s a big positive.”

Ken Zino of AutoInformed.com on Sebring 12 Hours - New Twists, Turns in Oldest US Sports Car Race

Nicky Catsburg Corvette C8.R GTD Pro Winner, “We stuck to our initial plan. We didn’t try anything too crazy. The Lexus and Porsche were going out of sequence but we always stuck to our original plan. It worked out well.”

Corvette Racing also had a brilliant run after a disastrous GTD PRO class debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in January – the season opener. The C8.R lacked straight-line speed on the high-banked Daytona tri-oval. It also fought mechanical gremlins on the way to sixth in class. However, this is an experienced team that has its roots in racing on a track that hasn’t been repaved since Sebring was built as an airport.*

No surprise that Corvette Racing claimed its 12th victory here with drivers Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor, and Nicky Catsburg in the No. 3 Corvette C8.R. (Corvette is credited with a 13th Sebring win in the one-off Sebring “sprint” race that was staged in 2020 as a schedule addition due to COVID-19.) Garcia qualified the No. 3 Corvette third fastest in the GTD PRO class for the second race of the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, then assumed the lead 58 minutes into the 12-hour marathon in hot and humid conditions. Garcia and his co-drivers were flawless. The Corvette was fast and reliable. Clean, penalty-free pit stops were routine. The bright yellow C8.R was out front for 247 of the 323 laps completed by the GTD PRO class winner. (AutoInformed on: Corvette Racing Goes Global – IMSA, FIA WEC in 2022; Daytona This Weekend Starts 2022 IMSA Racing Season; Corvette Racing at Daytona – Same or Different?)

Catsburg was notable by taking the front of the field after a mid-race duel with the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M4 GT3. He had a 3-hour, 20-minute triple stint and emerged from the car fired up after his highlight reel battle with Eng. The BMW and the Corvette were locked together in a sequence of corners before the torque of the Chevrolet small-block V-8 pulled the C8.R ahead entering Big Bend. “That was awesome going side-by-side for that long,” Catsburg exclaimed. “The good thing about racing with these guys is that they let you live, and you let them live. Then you can make an awesome show.”

Taylor completed the last race stint for Corvette win by 5.464 seconds over the No. 63 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 shared by Mirko Bortolotti, Marco Mapelli, and Andrea Caldarelli of TR3 Racing.

Taylor said a two-day test at Sebring in early February helped the team and drivers understand how Michelin’s GTD PRO control tire responds to changes on the new-for-‘22 GTD PRO homologated Corvette. “To have zero issues around here is a big feat in itself, because 12 hours around here is harder than 24 hours at Daytona or Le Mans,” said Taylor, now with his second Sebring 12 Hours trophy. “I was surprised how quick we were, especially in clean air. Once we got to the front, the name of the game was to maintain track position, whether by saving fuel and extending windows or saving tires… The guys nailed the strategy, and I think that’s really what kept us out front all day,” he added. “It’s nice to get another endurance race win for the C8.R and start our championship fight again.”

This was Garcia’s fourth win in the Twelve Hours of Sebring. “Obviously at Daytona, we were not quite there,” he deadpanned. “Our testing here recently really paid off, and it’s nice to complete some unfinished business from last year.”

The No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 shared by Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat, and Aaron Telitz slowed in the final minutes, allowing the No. 97 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo manned by Cooper MacNeil, Jules Gounon, and Alessio Picariello to claim the final podium finish.

WEC: Corvette Racing also put on a great show, so to speak, in its first race as a full-time entrant in the FIA World Endurance Championship on Friday with a runner-up GTE Pro finish for Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and the No. 64 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C8.R in a rain- and thunderstorm-shortened 1,000 Miles of Sebring that was red flagged three times. Three red-flag sessions impacted the race, the final two coming inside the 70 minutes for continuous lightning and inclement weather in the vicinity of Sebring International Raceway. Milner was in the midst of a double-stint to the end when the race stopped just outside the five-hour mark. He enjoyed a five-second gap to Richard Lietz’s Porsche in third place and was about 35 seconds behind class leader Michael Christensen. The second red flag turned into a safety-car period, which brought Milner right on the rear of Christensen’s car. Unfortunately for Corvette Racing, the third and final red flag came only minutes after with officials halting the race. The Corvette C8.R led early with a strong opening double-stint from Tandy and his  apparently durable Michelin tires. In his opening two hours, Tandy set the fastest race lap –  he bettered twice later in the race – in the first two hours before handing off to Milner. He led for a significant portion of his stint and by as much as 24 seconds, even while running his second stint with used left-side tires and new right-side tires, before the race’s first red flag for a heavy accident for one of Toyota’s Hypercars.

The stoppage destroyed the team’s tire strategy for the end of the race. On the restart, the GTE Pro field was mired in traffic with Milner getting hit from behind by an LMP2 car. The contact knocked the driver’s side door on the Corvette askew, and the team lost time getting the door to relatch when Milner stopped for a change back to Tandy with 3:15 left. The Corvette moved back up to second when one of the Porsches had a pit-stop issue of its own. Tandy swapped back over to Milner with 1:45 left with the American holding off a challenge from Richard Lietz in the 91 Porsche before the red flag.

IMSA GTD Class

Forget about favorites and pole winners, 12 hours is a long time. Friday’s Motul Pole Award winner, Zacharie Robichon, part of the defending Sebring winning GTD class team, had immediate after the green flag. He pitted the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 only nine minutes into the race. The car  eventually had to go behind the wall for repair and returned to take 10th place in class.

With the Wright team’s exit, the begging of the race went to the No. 96 Turner Motorsports and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW teams to fight it out. Three Mercedes teams – Alegra Motorsports, Winward Racing and Gilbert Korthoff Motorsports took turns out front throughout the middle of the race in what was an extremely competitive classes. More than once, the Top-10 GTD cars were all on the same lap and separated by less than 10 seconds. Finally, four cars finished on the lead lap.

The No. 47 Ferrari 488 GT3 team took the lead for good in the GTD class with just under an hour and 20 minutes remaining in a bashed-up car with borrowed red door from Ferrari that didn’t match team colors. It was good  end for the team that started fifth in class and endured a busy day of on-track and off-track repairs for with its driver lineup of Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Semagiotto and Antonio Fuoco.

“Sebring is one of the most legendary races in the world, one I dreamed of when I was young,’’ Semagiotto said after the champagne. “I didn’t understand exactly why Sebring was legendary, now I understand why, because it is so difficult, so tough for the drivers, the cars, the teams. It is crazy… And 12 hours is very long. Anything can happen.’’

For a time, it looked like longtime racer and favorite, Bill Auberlen, would finish his  500th start with BMW with a win, but the No. 96 Turner Motorsports team fell out of podium contention in the closing hours. The No. 32 Gilbert Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 – with drivers Mike Sheen, Stevan McAleer and Daniel Juncadella – finished second to the Ferrari by 49 seconds. The No. 21 AF Course Ferrari 488 GT3 – with American driver Simon Mann, Argentinian Luis Perez Companc and British driver Tom Gamble – completed the GTD class podium.

The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, set for April 8-10 on the downtown Long Beach street course.

*Sebring International Raceway is North America’s oldest permanent road racing facility, established in 1950. The 3.74-mile racing circuit is on what was originally Hendricks Field, a United States Army Air Forces base which served during World War II as a Heavy Bomber Training School for B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator pilots.

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