NASCAR Race Weekend Central

JDC-Miller MotorSports Wins Rough and Tumble 12 Hours of Sebring Despite Loose Rear Wing

JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Sebastien Bourdais, Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier charged back after getting involved in two separate on-track incidents to win the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts Saturday (March 20).  It is the team’s first overall victory since the 2018 Sahlen Six Hours at the Glen when they were racing an ORECA 07-Gibson prior to the DPi and LMP2 classes being split.

“At the start of my last stint everything was under control,” Bourdais said after the race.  “We were super strong at the beginning, went from P6 to P1.  Our sequence of pit stops was very strong.  We kept jumping people.

“Then the rear wing fell off with 10 laps to go,” Bourdais continued.  “That was the hardest 10 laps of my life.  The balance went way forward on the car.  I compensated with the bars and brake balance.  Still the car was unbelievably loose in the fast corners.  I can’t believe we won it.  Honestly, I could have crashed the car about 10 times.  Especially before I figured out there was something seriously wrong.  The rear tires started to degrade really bad.  I was just hanging on.  To stay in front of the field like this is one of my greatest achievements.”

Action Express Racing’s Pipo Derani led from the pole after dominating the weekend prior to the race.  They would not dominate this race.

15 minutes into the race, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Renger van der Zande was able to take advantage of traffic in turn 1 to sweep around the outside of Derani to take the lead.  A full course caution after Jimmie Johnson spun the No. 48 Cadillac and was hit by Duval shortly afterwards prohibited Derani from immediately trying to get it back.

A few laps after the restart, GT Daytona traffic allowed Derani to try to make a move on van der Zande entering Sunset Bend.  Van der Zande then turned down on Derani in order to avoid the slower Aston Martin of Ian James.  This forced Derani into the inside wall, breaking a suspension part.

Derani was able to drive the short distance back to the pits and to the aid of his crew.  At the time, the team was very angry and blamed van der Zande for the incident, but didn’t realize that James was there.  The repair cost Derani three laps and ended any chance for Action Express Racing’s No. 31 to claim victory.  The team was far from done with on-track problems, though.

Later on in the race, Felipe Nasr collided with Vautier exiting turn 1, resulting in both cars spinning out.  Luckily, damage was minimal and both drivers continued.  Later on, the gearbox turned traitor with Mike Conway in the car, ending their race.  They were never able to make up any of the three laps they lost in the first hour.

Endurance races tend to see much of the class take their time at the front of the field.  Saturday was no exception as Wayne Taylor Racing, Mazda Motorsports and Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian spent their time at the front.  Chip Ganassi Racing was the class of the field and appeared to be in position to claim the overall victory until disaster struck in the 11th hour.

Scott Dixon was due to come into the pits for a regularly scheduled stop and got distracted with the process of getting ready for a driver change.  As a result, he made a last minute dive into the pits.  BMW Team RLL’s Connor de Phillippi, who Dixon had just passed entering Sunset Bend, tried to re-pass Dixon.  Contact was made, breaking an upright on the Cadillac.  The contact ended any chance of a Ganassi win.

Once the round of stops was complete, Bourdais ended up in the overall lead.  SunEnergy1 Racing’s Maro Engel had a left rear wheel break and pitch him into the pit wall to bring out the eighth and final full course caution with 32 minutes to go.  That resulted in the top five cars in the overall standings being nose-to-tail for the run to the finish.

Mazda Motorsports’ Harry Tincknell and right in position to pressure Bourdais for the lead.  He got right up to Bourdais’ rear end while the French racer was dealing with a rear wing that had broken off from the left end plate, but never was able to get alongside.  In the final couple of laps, Bourdais was able to get a little distance on the Mazda and that was all that was necessary to earn the victory.

The margin of victory for JDC-Miller MotorSports was 1.435 seconds over Mazda Motorsports’ Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito and Oliver Jarvis.  Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi and Simon Pagenaud ended up finishing third on the road, but will place at the rear of the field overall.  Why is this so?  IMSA has drive-time rules that all drivers have to obey.  One of those regulations mandates that no driver can drive more than four hours in any six-hour period.  Pagenaud exceeded this limit by 50 seconds early on in the race.  As a result, the team knew that they would finish at the rear, but kept on plugging away.

As a result of the Ally Cadillac’s penalty, Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Olivier Pla were credited with third.  Wayne Taylor Racing’s Filipe Albuquerque, Alexander Rossi and Ricky Taylor were fourth while Dixon, Kevin Magnussen and van der Zande ended up two laps down after their contact in fifth.

The LMP2 class was dominated early on by WIN Autosport.  Team owner/driver Steven Thomas won the pole on Friday and ran very well early on.  Thomas Merrill was able to follow up.  PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, the team’s primary competition, was late to the grid due to a suspension part failing during the 20-minute morning warm-up session.  As a result, they had to start from the pit lane and perform a drive-through penalty at the end of the first lap.  That put the Wynn’s-sponsored ORECA 07-Gibson a minute behind almost immediately.

Things went swimmingly for WIN Autosport until they didn’t.  With Tristan Nunez in the car and leading the class towards the end of the third hour, the team’s ORECA 07-Gibson suddenly became stuck in second gear with the pit limiter on.  Nunez was able to limp the car back to pit road for repairs.  The thought was that it was simply a steering wheel issue.  The wheel swap didn’t fix the issues.  An attempt to recycle the master switch resulted in the car being unable to start.  Hours of work in the paddock proved fruitless, resulting in the team retiring.

One of the scariest moments of the race occurred in the 10th hour when Tower Motorsport by Starworks’ Timothe Buret went wide exiting turn 1 and plowed into the tires.  This rollover was the result.

The demise of WIN Autosport’s No. 11 didn’t give the victory to PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, or even the lead at the time.  It went to Era Motorsport until the second full course caution of the race came out a couple of laps later.  During the round of stops that followed, Keating took over the class lead.  From that point on, the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA 07-Gibson led the rest of the way.

Era Motorsport’s Ryan Dalziel got up to Mikkel Jensen‘s rear end in the final minutes thanks to Engel’s crash that brought out the yellow.  However, he could do nothing with Jensen, who held on to take the win for himself, Keating and Scott Huffaker.  Era Motorsport’s Dalziel, Dwight Merriman and owner/driver Kyle Tilley were 2.587 seconds back in second.  United Autosports’ Matt Bell, Wayne Boyd and Jim McGuire ended up 11 laps down in third on the road, but post-race inspection bit them.  The legality plank attached to the bottom of the chassis showed too much wear.  As a result, the team was put back to the rear.  Despite their rollover crash, the penalty moved the Tower Motorsport by Starworks entry of Buret, John Farano and Gabriel Aubry up to third.

In GT Le Mans, Corvette Racing had dominated the weekend entering the race.  In the race, the No. 4 Corvette was effectively eliminated from contention right away.  First, Tommy Milner was judged guilty of changing lanes at the start, which resulted in a drive-through penalty.

The class ultimately came down to the last 10 minutes.  Garcia was leading and de Phillippi made a move for the lead in turn 7.  Contact was made exiting the turn, spinning out Garcia.  Additional contact damaged the left front of de Phillippi and allowed WeatherTech Racing’s Mathieu Jaminet to attempt to slip past.  De Phillippi was able to hold off Jaminet, but slid off-course in turn 15, allowing Jaminet to take the lead.

De Phillippi was then penalized for the contact on Garcia, resulting in an easy stroll to victory for Jaminet, Matt Campbell and Cooper MacNeil.  It is the first GT Le Mans class victory for WeatherTech Racing and the fourth straight Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring GT Le Mans class victory for Porsche.

De Phillippi, Bruno Spengler and Philipp Eng ended up second after serving their drive-through penalty in the closing laps.  Due to the position of the overall leaders, they were officially one lap down.  The No. 24 BMW of John Edwards, Augusto Farfus and Jesse Krohn ended up third despite their car catching fire during a pit stop in the 11th hour.  Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg had to settle for fourth.

LMP3 saw Performance Tech Motorsports’ Rasmus Lindh lead early from the pole and staked out a 45-second lead over the rest of the class.  That advantage was whittled away due to a spin for teammate Dan Goldburg.  The team was still running very competitively until the muffler came loose on the car.  That resulted in what the team described in a press release as “extreme heat damage to the electrical harness controlling the car.”  That, along with the threat of a melting brake line resulted in the team retiring the car.

Despite George Kurtz stopping on course early on and drawing a full course caution, CORE autosport found themselves in the class lead late with Colin Braun at the wheel of the team’s Ligier JS P320-Gibson.  Riley Motorsports teammates Jeroen Bleekemolen and Spencer Pigot were close behind, while Forty7 Motorsports’ Oliver Askew was in the hunt until his car shut off in the closing laps.  An ECU reset got him back underway, but put him out of the hunt.

Braun was able to open up a small gap in the closing laps and that was all he needed to claim the class victory for himself, Kurtz and team owner/driver Jon Bennett.  The margin of victory was 2.685 seconds over Bleekemolen, Jim Cox and Dylan Murry.  Pigot, Scott Andrews and Gar Robinson were third, while Forty7 Motorsports’ Askew, Stevan McAleer and Austin McCusker were a lap down in fourth.

GT Daytona started off similarly to GT Le Mans.  After GRT Grasser Racing Team’s Tim Zimmermann‘s qualifying time was thrown out due to a Verizon Wi-Fi Hotspot being discovered in the car during inspection, Wright Motorsports’ Jan Heylen started from the pole.  He then changed lanes on the start and copped the same penalty that Milner received.

The penalty elevated Vasser Sullivan’s Aaron Telitz into the class lead with teammate Frankie Montecalvo right behind.  The two Lexus RCF GT3s had significant pace and were the cars to beat for the first one-quarter of the race.  Neither would ultimately finish up front.  Jack Hawksworth was hit by Ricky Taylor in turn 7 and spun.  The contact broke the right rear suspension on the No. 14 Lexus.  Hawksworth tried to limp back to the pits, but stopped on course to draw a caution.  After getting towed back to the paddock, the Vasser Sullivan team got the No. 14 fixed, but they lost seven laps in the process.

Another scary incident happened in the fourth hour when Franck Perera suffered brake failure on his Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO.  As a result, he flew off-course and took Alegra Motorsports’ Billy Johnson with him into the tire barrier.  The impact pushed the concrete wall behind the tires back significantly, which resulted in a 30-minute caution to fix the wall.  Both drivers were ok.

The No. 12 Lexus was right up in the hunt until a restart with a little more than 90 minutes remaining.  Zach Veach was able to get past PFAFF Motorsports’ Laurens Vanthoor for the lead.  However, it turned out that Veach jumped the restart and made the pass too early.  That resulted in a drive-through penalty.  Before that penalty was assessed, Vanthoor ran in the back of Veach in turn 10, resulting in a tire rub.  Veach had to visit the pit lane twice and dropped from the lead to a sixth-place finish in class.

Paul Miller Racing’s Lamborghini was a strong contender for the class victory in the middle of the race.  However, their charge came to an end right after losing the class lead to the PFAFF Porsche.  Corey Lewis was hit from behind by Team Hardpoint/EBM’s Earl Bamber and spun in Sunset Bend.  While the incident seemed rather harmless, Bamber hit Lewis directly on the right rear wheel.  This led to mechanical issues later on that put the team out.

Much of the race ended up being a battle between the Porsches of PFAFF Motorsports and Wright Motorsports after they recovered from their penalty at the start.  The contact with Veach (and his subsequent penalty) moved Wright Motorsports back into second.  Engel’s crash brought the class back together for a sprint to the finish, but Vanthoor was able to hold on to take the win for himself, Lars Kern and Zacharie Robichon.

PFAFF Motorsports’ margin of victory was 2.112 seconds over Heylen, Patrick Long and Trent Hindman.  The Heart of Racing’s James, Roman DeAngelis and Ross Gunn were third in their Aston Martin.

Magnus with Archangel’s Andy Lally, John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly finished fourth, quite the accomplishment given the team’s general lack of pace for much of the weekend.  Team Hardpoint/EBM’s Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen and Ana Beatriz (aka Bia Figueriedo) were fifth, but they were on the podium with four laps to go before being assessed a penalty for avoidable contact after a collision with Lally.

IMSA WEATHERTECH SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONSHIP MOBIL 1 12 HOURS OF SEBRING PRESENTED BY ADVANCE AUTO PARTS UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

From there, teams were originally scheduled to travel to Long Beach, Calif.  Since that race weekend has been postponed to September, the next race is scheduled to be the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio on May 16.  The race will air live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

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