Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Sebring victories for ESM, Porsche, and Paul Miller Racing

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A thrilling final three hours of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring saw the lead change hands multiple times and fuel strategy even come into play in the run to the checkered flag.

In the end, Tequila Patron ESM rebounded from early-race heartbreak – the No. 2 Nissan DPi dropped out after contact in Turn 1 – to take a Prototype victory with the sister No. 22 in the hands of Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre, and Johannes van Overbeek.

GT Le Mans honors went to the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for Porsche GT Team after Patrick Pilet passed the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander to take the lead, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead through the final stint to seal the victory for Pilet, third driver Frederic Makowiecki, and the Porsche team.

The GT Daytona victory went to Paul Miller Racing in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis.

Reports on all three classes are below.

Prototype

A terrifying accident for the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, in the hands of Tristan Vautier, set the stage for what looked like a late-race shootout between ESM, Wayne Taylor Racing, Mazda Team Joest, and Action Express Racing.

A cycle of pit stops saw the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac take the lead, with Felipe Nasr at the helm, ahead of Pipo Derani in the No. 22 ESM Nissan.

However, Derani, who held the lead prior to the pit sequence, made quick work of Nasr on the subsequent restart to retake the lead, and he took off into the darkness from there to win by over 11 seconds.

Renger Van Der Zande brought the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac home in second, a solid rebound after the team failed to finish the Rolex 24 at Daytona, while Nasr ended up third after having to save fuel on the last stint.

Mazda Team Joest seemed poised to challenge for victory with their No. 55 RT-24P, but a clutch problem that saw them struggle to exit the pits reared its ugly head again after their final stop, with driver Harry Tincknell unable to get the car going and losing a lap in the process. Tincknell ended up sixth at the checkered flag.

Of note: the aforementioned Vautier was not hurt following his massive crash, in which the car pushed out wide exiting Sunset Bend and made hard contact with the outside tire barriers, launching the car into the air on impact.

Vautier did climb from the No. 90 Cadillac unscathed, however the car was destroyed on impact. The incident ended a promising run for the Spirit of Daytona squad, which had been running inside the Top 5 after starting the race on the pole and leading early on.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

The finish looked set to come down to a Porsche vs. Ferrari duel, as Porsche GT Team and Risi Competizione battled for the GTLM victory in the final hours. Toni Vilander had the Ferrari in the lead with less than two hours remaining, but had a hungry Porsche driver in Patrick Pilet all over the back of him.

Eventually, Pilet was able to draft his way by Vilander on the Ulmann Straight, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead after taking over the car from there.

BMW Team RLL then emerged as a threat in the final hour, with Alexander Sims getting up to second the No. 25 BMW M8 GTLM, but could not get close enough to Tandy to mount a challenge, finishing more than six seconds behind.

Laurens Vanthoor brought the No. 912 Porsche home in third to put two Porsches on the GTLM podium.

Risi Competizione, with Alessandro Pier Guidi finishing the race, faded to fifth, with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing getting around for fourth.

GT Daytona

Paul Miller Racing enjoyed a comparatively smooth run to the finish, controlling the GTD lead for much of the closing stages, with Bryan Sellers having a strong final stint to seal the victory by a margin of over eight seconds.

The win is also an emotional one for the Paul Miller team, as it is their first triumph since 2016 and comes at one of the marquee events for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Alessandro Balzan put on a late-race charge in his No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 to finish second for Scuderia Corsa, while defending race winners Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports rounded out the podium, with Jeroen Bleekemolen bringing the car home in third.

Of note: Michael Shank Racing appeared to have a shot at the win following an effort of herculean proportions. The team’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 was destroyed in a practice crash on Thursday – driver Justin Marks suffered rear-brake failure and pounded the tire barriers in Turn 13.

The No. 93 team skipped qualifying to ensure the car was repaired sufficiently for the race, and their efforts were rewarded with a very strong performance that saw them leading as the final three hours began.

The sister No. 86 also ran strongly, running as high as third in the final hours.

However, both cars faded over the final stints, with the No. 93 finishing seventh and the No. 86 ending up eighth.

Results by class can be found here – overall race results can be viewed here.

IMSA continues its 2018 season with the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach on April 14.

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.