Toyota GAZOO Racing’s No. 8 shared by Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima dominated the 1000 Miles of Sebring Friday (March 15). The Toyota trio led all but one of the 253 laps run on the way to a one-lap victory. The race was originally scheduled for 268 laps, but a couple of safety car periods and rain late in the final hour meant that the eight-hour time limit was reached 56.1 miles short of the scheduled distance.
Going into the race, it was clear that the Toyotas were going to battle for the win in a two-car race. The No. 8 had the pace advantage over the No. 7 all weekend, but the No. 7 could keep pace. What ended up effectively giving the race to the No. 8 was the No. 7 having a three-minute pit stop due to issues with the floor of the car. At Sebring, a stop of that length will cost you the better part of two complete laps.
By the finish, the margin was cut down to one lap and 30 seconds over the No. 7 Toyota. SMP Racing’s No. 11 BR Engineering BR1-AER was third, best of the non-Hybrids. The trio of Brendon Hartley, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov were a full 11 laps behind.
LMP2 saw the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECAs dominate much of the weekend. The No. 38 started from the pole and looked good until a mechanical issue took it out of the hunt. On this day, No. 37 with the new-for-Sebring driving lineup of David Heinemeier Hansson, former INDYCAR driver Jordan King and Will Stevens was unassailable. Stevens took the lead on the first lap and that started a run that saw the team go flag-to-flag to take the win.
With a serious amount of attrition in the LMP1 class, Heinemeier Hansson, King (in his first-ever sports car race) and Stevens finished fourth overall, 14 laps down. They finished 27.421 seconds ahead of the Signatech Alpine Matmut No. 36. The DragonSpeed ORECA No. 31 with former Formula 1 grand prix winner Pastor Maldonado in the squad was two laps back in third.
The GTE-Pro class was a duel for much of the distance between Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK’s No. 67 Ford GT and Porsche GT Team’s two Porsche 911 RSRs. The three teams swapped the lead multiple times during the race. BMW Team MTEK has struggled quite a bit since they entered the WEC, but attempted to snooker the field on fuel mileage.
The strategy necessary to win required a fairly long caution during the final hour. That came in the final 10 minutes after the TDS Racing ORECA 07-Gibson nosed into the tire barrier in Sunset Bend, which brought out the safety car. Problem is, it came too late as Nick Catsburg was overtaken for the lead by Porsche GT Team’s Gianmaria Bruni three laps before the safety car came out. Bruni was able to hold on to give him and Richard Lietz the class victory.
The BMW No. 81 of Catsburg, Alexander Sims and Martin Tomczyk ended up eight-tenths of a second back in second. The No. 67 Ford ended up a lap down in third, but that is not a reflection of pace. It was a reflection of track position when the caution came out (the No. 8 Toyota was behind them and the two leaders when the caution came out).
GTE-Am saw much of the race dominated by Team Project 1, a squad that came into the race exhausted after a major fire last week during a test. During the race itself, the team’s No. 56 Porsche led for 137 of the 221 laps in class after claiming the lead on the first lap.
When it came time to get down to business, Dempsey-Proton Racing came to play. The pole-winning No. 77 Porsche of Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell took the lead when Patrick Lindsey pitted the No. 56 on Lap 196. Andlauer ran as fast as he could before pitting to hand over to Campbell eight laps later. That extra pace was enough for the No. 77 to jump the No. 56 in the sequence. From there, Campbell pulled away to take the class victory.
Dempsey-Proton Racing’s margin of victory was 12.538 seconds over the Spirit of Race Ferrari driven most notably by Giancarlo Fisichella. Team Project 1 ended up third.
WEC teams are off for the next six weeks, partly to allow for the required sea freight to get most of the equipment back to Europe. The Superseason will continue on May 3 with the second visit to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for a six-hour race.