imsa

Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Sebring 12 thoughts, musings, observations

1 Comment

Some final thoughts following this year’s 65th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring are below:

  • In terms of Cadillac’s dominance, don’t hate them for getting the car sorted this well, right out of the box. Despite IMSA’s pre-Sebring Balance of Performance adjustments, the Cadillacs only seemed to get better in the race, having been closer to the other DPis and LMP2-spec cars in practice and qualifying sessions. Getting through 36 hours at Daytona and Sebring with no major mechanical issues, and missing only two laps total at Sebring in a podium sweep, speaks to the incredible preparation that the car had to withstand the treacherous nature of the track. Said Ricky Taylor, who shared the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: “This car is unbelievable. I’ve never had a car that felt as good at the end as it felt on Lap 1. It was super strong, and solid; our’s just ran and ran. I hope (IMSA) doesn’t base BoP on reliability!”
  • By contrast, reliability at the car shredder of a track hit nearly the rest of the Prototype class field. Between starter issues, throttle issues, brake issues and other mechanical gremlins, seven of the 11 cars in class encountered some kind of problems during this race. Mazda scored its first top-five finish in class of the year with its new Mazda RT24-P, but 29th place overall, 29 laps behind the overall winner. Daytona saw the new cars more reliable than Sebring, which lived up to its brutal reputation on Saturday.
  • Great run for the JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA

    A sincere shoutout has to go to the privateer JDC-Miller Motorsports team, John Church’s operation having scored surprise fifth and fourth-place finishes in the two endurance races with a pro-am driver lineup in its “banana boat” No. 85 Oreca 07 Gibson. I’m not sure the sports car world fully appreciates the level of preparation Church’s team had within the open-wheel ranks where they won titles in the Mazda Road to Indy. Now having shifted exclusively to sports cars, running six total cars at Sebring this weekend (one WeatherTech LMP2, one Continental Tire ST BMW 228i, two Ligier JS P3s and two Elan DP02s in IMSA Prototype Challenge), the JDC-Miller team of Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller ran flawlessly and was unlucky not to score an overall podium finish, having lost the pace over the length of a 12-hour race to the Cadillacs. Miller’s early stint, when he ran within a few tenths of past Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, was particularly special.

  • French, O’Ward, Masson and O’Neill. Photo courtesy of IMSA

    Similarly, I’m not sure how much people will appreciate Performance Tech Motorsports‘ effort to finish P5 overall, 10 laps off the overall lead, after a second consecutive flawless run from its trio of young guns, James French, Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson, and the crew wrenching on the No. 38 Oreca FLM09 for the Brent O’Neill-led team. Performance Tech has been unlucky to have not won races in the past in the Prototype Challenge class the last few years but has made up for it in a big way these first two races. In a class which has been under the microscope for a lot of the wrong reasons in recent years, seeing what the Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based team has done has been a feel-good story that speaks to the true blood of sports car racing – a small team that puts everything together well and executes.

  • On a similar note, the Prototype Challenge class as a whole had a great day. Only six cautions in the race was a testament to the overall quality of driving in all four classes, and none of them came from a PC car. This was impressive given the heavily pro-am nature of PC, where there’s a lot of inexperience and ride buying going around to make up the seats. We touched on Performance Tech above, but Starworks Motorsport’s trio of Garett Grist, Max Hanratty and Sean Rayhall were only confirmed on Thursday and Mazda Road to Indy veterans Grist and Hanratty were making their Sebring 12-hour debuts. They finished sixth overall. BAR1 Motorsports’ lineups featured more gentlemen drivers but the pros took their shots when they had the opportunity, Gustavo Yacaman notably having done well to edge French for class pole. The maligned class has taken its licks in the past, but credit should be offered when it’s justified; at Sebring, it was.
  • Corvette and Ford head to the sunset. Photo courtesy of IMSA

    An air of shock came over the room when Corvette beat Ford for the GT Le Mans honors. It wasn’t supposed to happen. With Corvette down to one car and Ford still with all three of its GTs in the mix, how Corvette overcame a clear pace deficit came down to Antonio Garcia’s determination and the strategy and pit work from the Dan Binks-led No. 3 crew. It’s rare in sports car racing that the newest technology doesn’t rise to the top while the older cars fade; the Ford GT, in its second year and the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR in its second race had the measure of Corvette’s four-year old C7.R on pace. But that’s why you run the race, isn’t it? Corvette made up for its weakness in one area and overcame for a surprise, popular victory.

  • The BMW Team RLL team is a race and championship-winning program but its run with the M6 GTLM has been very tough lately. Even at Sebring, the car’s best finish of sixth in class, still on the lead lap, saw it more than one minute back of the winning Corvette (1:18), 20 seconds back of the third Ford in fifth, and nearly a minute behind the second Ford in fourth. This was a car that finished second at Sebring last year in its second race, and the GT3-spec M6 also finished second in its class. It’s been since September 2016, at Circuit of The Americas, that a BMW M6 GTLM has come in the top-five in the GTLM class (it’s only four races ago, but feels longer) and it’s been since August 2016, at Road America where it last stood on the podium.
  • Sun set on Lamborghini’s podium hopes. Photo courtesy of IMSA

    Meanwhile the deflation of disappointment came over Lamborghini, which lost its first endurance race podium in the final five minutes. Fuel miscalculations left both the No. 16 Change Racing and No. 11 GRT Grasser Race Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3s short in the last couple laps, ending what had been otherwise sterling efforts from both programs. Change Racing’s trio of Corey Lewis, Jeroen Mul and Brett Sandberg deserved their first top-three finish, Lewis and Mul having done the lion’s share of the driving before Mul’s car ground to a halt just a lap shy of the flag, leaving the new chassis an unrepresentative 11th place in class. As in Daytona, it was the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 that ended best of the brand, in fifth place.

  • While the Mercedes-AMG GT3 showed what it could do this weekend – Tristan Vautier’s speed in qualifying and the race did not go unnoticed in his No. 75 car, nor did the overall pace of the No. 33 car that won – it was a tougher second race for the Acura NSX GT3 and Lexus RC F GT3, respectively. The Acuras suffered a heavy lack of top-end speed and rallied to finish eighth and 14th in class, the latter after losing time to a shock failure, while the pair of Lexus entries (Lexi?) started fourth and fifth in class and ended 13th and 18th. New cars generally have a few months to get sorted and begin to hit their stride at midseason. And if Balance of Performance tweaks arrive, these cars may also find themselves dicing within the front part of the WeatherTech field.
  • How much does no rain, no red flags and only six full-course cautions help the overall lap count? Last year’s winning car, the No. 2 Ligier JS P2 Honda from Tequila Patron ESM, completed only 238 laps at Sebring. This year, the Taylor Cadillac ran 348 laps – or more than 400 more miles of the 3.74-mile circuit.
  • The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race again brought the fireworks in the ST class and the two-hour time window still had enough drama via pit strategy and caution timing. That said, the Balance of Performance there will likely need an adjustment in the GS class before Circuit of The Americas. The CJ Wilson Racing team executed strategy to perfection to get to the lead, but the pair of Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports were left for dead after a restart to the full, new GT4 cars, the McLaren 570S GT4 and the Ford Mustang GT4. ST, meanwhile, proves that older cars with small teams building and running them still puts on one helluva show. TCR’s potential integration to the series may produce a similar evolution as the GT4 car-to-GS one has had to start 2017.
  • It will take some getting used to calling the IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series that after having back-to-back name changes in 2015 and 2016, respectively, with the LMP3 and MPC class cars mixed in. It was an interesting style of racing and a good first U.S. outing for the LMP3 cars. Even though Indy Lights driver Nico Jamin was new to the LMP3 machinery, the Frenchman produced a jammin’ performance worthy of two rounds of victory donuts…
  • The field of competitors in this year’s Porsche GT3 Cup USA Challenge by Yokohama is also stacked. There’s a solid eight or nine race win/podium contenders at least and two of those who should contend for the title, in two more open-wheel veteran-turned-sports car drivers in Scott Hargrove and Haywood Scholarship recipient Jake Eidson split the two race wins.

After the two endurance races to kick off the year, IMSA heads West for one of its two shortest races of the year, the 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix from the streets of Long Beach on April 8. The additional series run next at either Barber Motorsports Park later in April or Circuit of The Americas in early May.

Garcia: Sebring win a ‘dream turnaround’ for No. 3 Corvette team

All photos: Richard Prince/Chevrolet
Leave a comment

Since Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brought the GT into its parallel IMSA and FIA WEC programs starting last year, it’s had strength in numbers against the two Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs.

And Saturday at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was to prove no exception, with three Ford GTs entered against the pair of Corvettes, with that yellow number then reduced to just one early on with a water temperature issue taking the No. 4 car out of the race.

All it did was set the stage for a dramatic toppling by Corvette over Ford that wasn’t in the pre-race script, authored in large part by a “superhuman” stint from Antonio Garcia in the team’s No. 3 Corvette C7.R and an outstanding effort in the pits from the Dan Binks-led crew.

“I have to give most of the credit to Antonio. That was a Superman drive,” said Jan Magnussen, who along with Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller co-drove the No. 3 Corvette to the GT Le Mans class victory. “It was a lot longer in the car than any one of us would want! As the sun went down and track cooled off, we picked up some pace, and Antonio made the most of it.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

So how did the “King of Spain” earn this crown? It all boiled down a fascinating few hours of the race as the sun set.

With two hours and 27 minutes remaining in the 12-hour race, the No. 3 car ran fifth. Garcia had taken the reins of the car over from Magnussen with two hours and 53 minutes remaining in the race; a time frame with just enough of a window where the “King of Spain” could drive to the finish without the need for another driver change. The maximum drive time limit is four in six hours, and seven hours total.

The team had been caught out by a yellow flag earlier in the race that required both an emergency fuel stop and a subsequent full stop not much later, which required the comeback to begin with.

Alas, what went down in those final 150 minutes of the 12-hour race will enter Sebring and Corvette Racing lore. With a car that was better suited for the cooler nighttime conditions at Sebring, with the ambient and track temperatures both dropping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Garcia was unleashed to the field. Teammate Tommy Milner, who’d been in the No. 4 car but was resigned to being a spectator, and the official IMSA Twitter account called attention to what was to come.

Garcia restarted fifth behind the three Ford GTs, which ran 1-2-3, and James Calado in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE.

Over the next 16 minutes and 10 laps, Garcia made three of the most incredible passes of the race on Calado in the Ferrari, then Olivier Pla and Scott Dixon in the Nos. 68 and 67 Fords.

Garcia recalled the dynamic driving on track with a simple calm serenity after the fact.

“I had 10 laps to figure out where I could follow them, or determine the speed I could produce to get ahead of them,” Garcia told NBC Sports. “I had Dixon I think seven, eight or nine seconds up the road, and then Calado in the Ferrari a bit further away. In those 10 laps my engineer told me the pace I was carrying. Whenever the yellow came, all three Fords stayed out, I knew when green I had to make the moves as soon as possible. I knew the pace was there. They struggled on cold tires. I made the moves on Ferrari in two laps, then got behind the three Fords and went after them.”

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

Strategy and great pit work from there got Garcia past the No. 66 Ford into the lead. He’d got up to second on track and then once the next round of pit stops happened occurred, under green, he’d leap frog the field to where he had 10 seconds in hand over the No. 66 Ford with an hour, 40 minutes or so remaining.

“Everyone on the crew is part of the plan, and you need to maximize that part of it,” Garcia explained. “I figured out we were good the first five laps of every stint, with the cold tire temperature. We had a little advantage there between that and our pit crew. We still didn’t make it to pass (the Ford) on track. But to know you have that feeling, you can do your strategy towards to the end of the race and the tire change won’t slow it down.”

With just over an hour remaining though the epic previous stint on track came into doubt again. Garcia had toppled the Fords on strategy but then had to deal with Patrick Pilet’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, which was flying. Pilet had dispatched of Joey Hand in the Ford, and gained two to three tenths per lap on Garcia within a three-lap period.

But a left front puncture from debris ended Pilet’s charge and helped Garcia through to the finish. Although this denied a potentially epic scrap between the two cars, Garcia said he would have relished the challenge.

“With the Porsche it might have been a bit of a ‘COTA race,’ but I’d seen a few laps of their race, and I had the Porsche two to three tenths behind me. I think I was still picking up the pace. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy for him to pass me anyway!” Garcia laughed.

Corvette Racing; Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring; Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida; March 18, 2017; C7.R #3 driven by Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Mike Rockenfeller; C7.R #4 driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler (Richard Prince/Chevrolet photo).

The aforementioned ‘COTA race’ Garcia brought up was in 2013, in a similar-type scenario where his Corvette didn’t have the outright pace of cars behind him – at the time a Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R and BMW Z4 GTE – but held them off with better racecraft in the 2013 American Le Mans Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

This race ranked right up there as a time when Corvette also won in the face of adversity, and with a pace deficit to the competition. Garcia said this was similar to that day in 2013, but not entirely.

“It was similar, but it wasn’t!” he said. “At COTA, I couldn’t perform the pace the others were doing. This one, I could. I still don’t know how I did it. But I had the pace to stay ahead.

“From the last three hours in the car, I was so happy with the moves I made on both the Fords and the Ferrari to clear them very fast. I knew it had to be done if I wanted to have any chance of winning this race. Once the team put me in advantage, track-position wise, I just worked ahead.

“COTA, it 100 percent was defensive mode, while this was offensive mode. I charged all I had, instead of defending. The gap between us and the Ford was going up, one and two tenths per lap, and I kept it going 100 percent. I survived and let him kill the tires!”

Garcia said this was a magical win for him in his Corvette Racing career, his eighth with Magnussen under the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship banner since the series merged in 2014 and first since a dominant performance last August at Virginia International Raceway. Corvette seems to have a knack where when one car goes out or doesn’t start, the other seems to pick up the slack.

“As a driver, for us as the 3 car, it’s a dream turnaround basically,” he said. “We were coming from last year’s crash at Sebring. We finally won at VIR when we dominated. Then it was a little bit frustrating leading twice at Daytona last month and not being able to do anything to keep them behind us.

“Halfway through the race here, we didn’t expect to have the pace to really win this race. But as we always say, between the drivers and our engineer, we need to do 100 percent and see if it’s enough or not. That was a perfect boost for the 3 car and for the race overall.

“It’s just how Corvette Racing reacts to trouble. Instead of everyone getting upset and it feels like it goes the other way, it pushes the other car forward.”

From validation to domination for Taylors in Daytona, Sebring sweep

Taylors on top. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

A star guest driver, a legend signing off, and end-of-race controversy didn’t allow the true talent assembled by Wayne Taylor Racing, with its No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R to shine through, after the Rolex 24 at Daytona to kick off both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup seasons.

Jeff Gordon integrated into the team and his presence generated a lot of headlines. He was always in as a one-off driver, and the driver who’d run the fewest amount of hours in the quest to deliver the team a win at Daytona. That being said, Gordon watched Sebring when he could while at Phoenix, where he was on his NASCAR commentating duties for FOX Sports, so he remains a key member of the “10 team” in his post-full-time NASCAR driving career.

Max Angelelli was in his final drive before hanging up his helmet. He was the veteran sage – the Obi-Won Kenobi if you will to young Jedis Ricky and Jordan Taylor – throughout their career development.

Ricky Taylor earned his graduation from apprentice to full Jedi with his pass on Filipe Albuquerque for the win at Turn 1. Controversial though it may have been to some, it was a move he had to make in order to take that next step in his career.

The story line at Daytona revolved around the people involved in the effort finally breaking through after years of oh-so-close, elusive heartbreak.

The story line at Sebring, by contrast, fixated on the people that made the car as dominant as it was at the brutally demanding, physical 3.74-mile circuit that chews out cars and often reduces them to rubble.

There were no questions asked about this win for the Taylor brothers and their new Jedi-in-training, English driver Alex Lynn, who was making his U.S. debut.

This win was earned from the start, via a mix of excellent pit work from the Wayne Taylor Racing crew, the engineering from Dallara, power from ECR engines, aero efficiency from the Cadillac bodywork and consistent driving from all three stars who are just 27 years of age or younger.

The No. 10 team in pits. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Despite Ricky Taylor only qualifying sixth, he’d gotten the car up to third by Lap 19 in the eventual 348-lap race, and the car never dropped outside the top two from Lap 71. The No. 10 car led 123 laps in the race, and the Cadillac DPi-V.R in the hands of the Taylors and the two Action Express Racing led all bar 18 laps total in a second consecutive dominant performance.

This one came after IMSA’s pre-race Balance of Performance adjustment actually saw the cars given a 20kg minimum weight addition and 0.6mm reduction on its air restrictor, adjustments that were meant to slow the Cadillacs down.

Instead, the three Cadillacs were bulletproof on IMSA’s most notorious circuit, and the Taylors defeated the rival Action Express team – both its Mustang Sampling and Whelen Engineering cars – handily. And the three of them, along with the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, were the only four cars of the 11 in the Prototype class that didn’t encounter any issues all race.

“The Daytona win may have been controversial, but I wanted this one to be convincing and have no one ask any questions,” Ricky Taylor said in the post-race press conference. “I kept wanting to build it and solidify it as a dominant win for our team. No one can question this. From top to bottom, the team did an incredible job. Sebring is the hardest track in the world, and we never missed a beat.”

Christian Fittipaldi, who co-drove the No. 5 Mustang Sampling car with Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque, backed that assertion up.

“My two colleagues said it, we got beat fair and square. The 10 ran a flawless race,” said the veteran Brazilian.

Quite how effortless the Taylor team made this one look though is perhaps the most impressive story to emerge from Sebring.

We knew what Jordan and Ricky Taylor could do but for Lynn, a talent in the GP2 and GP3 ranks who made a handful of FIA World Endurance Championship starts last year in a similar but not identical LMP2 chassis, the Oreca 05, seeing how he got on in his U.S. racing debut would tell the tale as to whether the No. 10 car could pull it off again.

Lynn had a few hairy moments when going through lapped traffic but otherwise never missed a beat. His best laps in the race were near a second off Ricky and seven tenths off Jordan, but he’d been consistent enough to keep the car within striking range to hand it back over to Jordan and Ricky to bring the car home.

“I anticipated it to be hard. I knew it would be,” he told NBC Sports post-race. “I came here quite humble knowing the challenge it might be.

“Ricky and Jordan taught me a lot very quickly and it was how to get through the stints, and race cleanly. They always fed me good advice. In the end, I was happy with my last couple stints. It’s a big thank you to Wayne Taylor Racing and Cadillac for this opportunity, and calls from (technical director) Brian Pillar were very aggressive and bold.

“I’d come here dreaming it’d be cool if we won, but never thinking it could happen!”

The No. 10 car at sunset. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Jordan Taylor, who now adds this Sebring win to past either class (Le Mans) or overall (Daytona and Petit Le Mans) wins at other marquee endurance race events, reflected on what this means to his family. The two sons match father Wayne, who won the 1996 IMSA prototype title after starting the year with Daytona and Sebring wins back-to-back.

“It’s special. We were at both those races as kids, running around in paddock and getting in trouble,” Jordan said. “At Daytona a couple months ago, we’d been second a few times before, and we’ve been second here before. So it’s been heartbreaking to be so close and not win. It’s special for Ricky and I because we’re so close. We knew it was win or lose. We were in tears after Daytona; it’s the same after Sebring.”

And for Ricky, his banner start to what’s already becoming a career season in sports car racing rolls on. In the last three months he’s made the pass for the win at Daytona, tested an IndyCar for Team Penske, been confirmed in a Le Mans LMP2 seat (which means he and Jordan, who isn’t officially confirmed but expected to return for Corvette Racing in the GTE-Pro class, will both race there) and now won at Sebring.

Knowing he just had to bring the car home in one piece was the goal and it was again, mission accomplished.

“It’s tough. When you watch Jordan and Alex doing such a good job, I’m sitting on the timing stand, I’m thinking, I don’t want to mess it up. You can only mess it up!” Ricky told NBC Sports after the formal press conference. “That might be the wrong attitude. But I did have the confidence to pull it off.

“This car is just unbelievable. It feels as good at the end of the race as it does on Lap 1. It’s a huge testament to Cadillac and everyone that makes it possible.

“These times are extremely rare when you’re in this type of situation. I’m so lucky to have the guys I do around me. I just need to enjoy these moments. It’s been an amazing three months.”

2017 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Rolling Updates

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

SEBRING, Fla. – We’ll have updates as they come from the 65th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, below.

8:20 p.m. ET (9:40 into race): The race had a caution for the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 stopping on course, and it presented an opportunity to watch a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. No, seriously, it did.

Now that an actual rocket has been launched, it’s time to watch the theoretical rocketships on track compete in the last two hours and change of this race.

6:40 p.m. ET (Hour 8): Two-thirds of the race complete, and the next round Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points for the race get awarded. The race is now under its fourth full-course caution for the No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 stopped on course at Turn 14, ending a stretch of more than two hours since the last caution.

Here’s the top three in each class at the two-thirds distance mark:

  • P: 1-No. 10 Cadillac, 2-No. 5 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 68 Ford, 2-No. 911 Porsche, 3-No. 67 Ford
  • GTD: 1-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 2-No. 63 Ferrari, 3-No. 11 Lamborghini

Potentially interesting times lie ahead as the track will start to cool once the sun starts to set. The next two hours are about getting into position for the finish and then the next two hours might be mental.

First and second place are on the lead laps in P and PC. There may be a battle for third between the No. 85 JDC-Miller Oreca and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac once the two cars are on the same lap.

The overall lead battle nearly ended once Alex Lynn, in his first U.S. race, had quite a moment at seven hours, 42 minutes into the race trying to lap through GT class traffic going into Turn 7, the hairpin. Lynn got on the grass but corralled the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac in a straight line, and didn’t lose control.

Meanwhile the top six are on the lead lap in GTLM and the top five are on the lead lap in GTD.

With further yellows come the opportunity for further wave-bys and a chance to get back a lap.

4:40 p.m. ET (Hour 6): We are halfway home. And the race definitively settled into a rhythm before Nick Catsburg appeared to have a failure on his No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM that sent him into the Turn 1 wall with six hours and 23 minutes remaining, to end a near three-hour run (two hours, 57 minutes) of green-flag running before the third caution of the race.

At Hour 6, halfway, here’s the top-three in each class:

  • P: 1-No. 5 Cadillac, 2-No. 10 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 67 Ford, 2-No. 68 Ford, 3-No. 62 Ferrari
  • GTD: 1-No. 11 Lamborghini, 2-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 3-No. 29 Audi

Some notes thus far on a race that hasn’t been a classic, but has still seen some interesting moments:

  • The race is again Cadillac’s to lose and is shaping up as another fight between the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing and No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.Rs. The rest of the Prototype field doesn’t have the outright pace or driver lineups to match at this stage and with attrition having taken a heavy toll (see the below notes), the pair of Cadillacs appear well-poised for a neck-and-neck fight.
  • Tough day for the Patron ESM team, which just had the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi retire with a mechanical after the No. 2 car had been delayed earlier in the race and is just out circulating. The team’s primary sponsor is an appropriate drink of choice to soothe what has ailed them on-track.
  • Additionally, with both Mazdas (water coolant and accident) and the Rebellion (starter cable) and Visit Florida (starter motor and throttle) cars having issues, Sebring has proven way more of a brutal test for the new DPis and LMP2s than did Daytona. The temperatures are higher here than they were at Daytona all race, although the change will come this evening when the cooler temperatures return when the sun sets.
  • A shout has to go to the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, which in the first six hours posed a good threat to the Cadillacs at the front of the field. Chris Miller, the less experienced third driver for the team, did an outstanding job to stay as close to Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac as he did. Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg have done well too.
  • So far, PC hasn’t PC’d – which is to say cause a bunch of incidents. I may regret writing that sentence later on if they do. Performance Tech and Starworks are still on the same lap, Starworks doing particularly well with a lineup that wasn’t even confirmed until Thursday and two drivers making their Sebring race debuts (Garett Grist, Max Hanratty).
  • GT Le Mans has been a Ford show thus far, the GTs well clear of the Porsches, Corvettes and Ferraris, while BMW’s rough start to 2017 rolls on.
  • GT Daytona? As always, if you stay close, you’ve got a chance. After a forgettable Daytona, the Lamborghini Huracán GT3s from Change Racing and GRT have put up a good fight while Audi (Land Motorsport), Mercedes-AMG (Riley Motorsports), Ferrari (Scuderia Corsa) and Lexus (3GT Racing) also seem in it. Don’t count out the Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 either if that car stays on the lead lap. Acura is fighting with a car that isn’t quite there on pace this week. Stevenson’s charge may have just been halted by a stop-and-hold plus four minutes, six second penalty for an improper wave by.

And some quotes thus far:

“I never expected Johannes van Overbeek in the Patron car to go to pit lane when I was on the inside,” said Eric Curran, driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, who had contact with the aforementioned JVO at Turn 17. “He got caught up in some GT traffic and I was on the inside, usually when you are going to pit lane you give some notice as opposed to just coming across, I was already on the inside when he turned into Pit Lane. I was already there and we hit. Then the car wouldn’t fire up. We got it behind the wall and the guys push started it and we are back in the race. Our team works so hard, I can’t believe my luck lately. Long way to go. We will see where we end up.”

“Obviously not the day we hoped for with the No. 2 car,” Patron ESM’s Scott Sharp said earlier in the race. “We started to have multiple issues, some of which were the same from qualifying. Ultimately, it was a mechanical failure that put us out.”

3:00 p.m. ET (4:20 into race): At the four-hour mark, the first round of Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points for the race get awarded (Hour 4 Results).

Here’s the top three in each class at the one-third distance mark:

  • P: 1-No. 5 Cadillac, 2-No. 10 Cadillac, 3-No. 85 Oreca
  • PC: 1-No. 38 Performance Tech, 2-No. 8 Starworks, 3-No. 26 BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-No. 67 Ford, 2-No. 66 Ford, 3-No. 3 Corvette
  • GTD: 1-No. 33 Mercedes-AMG, 2-No. 63 Ferrari, 3-No. 50 Mercedes-AMG

Not a ton more to report at the moment as the race has sort of settled into a rhythm? It’s always nervous typing that because then things start to happen.

Case in point: the No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3, which was running third at the four-hour mark, had a left-front suspension break and is in the process of limping back to the pit lane. The No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 also had a spin at Turn 17. And the No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 has right rear quarter panel damage.

Of note, temperatures are a bit warmer than they were at the start, per Michelin. At race start, temperatures were 59 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and 65 on track, while now they’re 77 and 115, respectively.

1:40 p.m. ET (Hour 3): We have completed three hours. Here’s your leaders:

  • P: No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
  • PC: No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
  • GTD: No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3

Some quick notes:

Contact between Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac and Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi resulted in a synchronized spin in Turn 17, Curran having then lost two laps upon restarting and bringing the car back to the pits. It brought out the second full-course caution of the race.

Two issues for two of the LMP2-spec cars. Rebellion had a power issue with its Oreca 07 chassis and the No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson also went behind the wall after getting up to third.

Good news, bad news for Mazda Motorsports. The No. 70 car has returned to the track following repairs after Joel Miller’s accident… but the No. 55 car has gone behind the wall with coolant issues.

And we have another class where we won’t have a repeat winner, in GT Le Mans. The No. 4 Corvette C7.R was the race’s first official retirement with a water temperature issue, which takes Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler out of the race. After winning both Daytona and Sebring last year in a dream start to 2016, 2017 has thus far offered up a nightmare.

1 p.m. ET (2:20 into race): We have completed two hours in the race. Leaders by class at the two-hour mark are as follows:

  • P: No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
  • PC: No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09
  • GTLM: No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
  • GTD: No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3

Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup points are awarded at Hours 4 and 8 in the 12-hour race.

Rebellion Racing has been delayed with the engine cover off on its most recent stop, after its Oreca 07 battled with the Cadillacs for the lead of the race. This has brought the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson up to fourth as best of the rest behind the Cadillacs.

Joel Miller is OK as his Mazda Motorsports team makes repairs to his No. 70 Mazda RT24-P after its accident at Turn 17.

The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi will not repeat its win of a year ago, when it had an Ligier JS P2 Honda, as it has now gone behind the wall once again.

11:40 a.m. ET (Hour 1): The first hour of the race is complete, with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R of Dane Cameron out front at Lap 31 by 10.533 seconds over the sister No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac driven by Christian Fittipaldi. The polesitting No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson fell back to fourth after the first round of pit stops.

Gustavo Yacaman (No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09) leads from James French in PC, French looking to deliver Performance Tech Motorsports a “36 Hours of Florida” sweep with co-drivers Pato O’Ward and Kyle Masson.

Dirk Mueller has led from the off in GTLM in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT over the No. 3 Corvette C7.R and No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. Despite missing the grid at the start, the No. 67 Ford has risen up to fourth.

American standout Connor De Phillippi leads in GTD in the No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS from fellow ex-Pro Mazda driver Corey Lewis in the No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

Two cars with issues – apparent power loss for the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi with that car having gone behind the wall, and the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM with a driveline issue. The BMW is back out but the Nissan is not.

Just after the first hour of the race the first full course caution flew, with a brake issue pitching Joel Miller straight into the tire barriers at Turn 17 in the No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Miller got out of the car under his own power but it was a heavy impact.

11 a.m. ET (20 minutes after green flag at 10:40 a.m. ET): The green flag is out for today’s race. Live TV coverage kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1, with FOX Sports Go doing the whole thing from the start and IMSA Radio carrying radio coverage flag-to-flag.

Here’s the start:

A couple quick notes from the start:

The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and No. 4 Corvette C7.R were both moved to the back at the start of the race owing to Sporting Regulation violations, while the No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R changed tires and also moved to the back.

Two of the class polesitters, the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GT Le Mans) could not fire to get going and had to go into the pits on the first lap, but resumes with starting driver Ryan Briscoe at the back of the field. Teammate and co-driver Scott Dixon tweeted the update below:

The GT Daytona polesitter, the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, also missed the pre-grid owing to a fuel leak sustained in the morning warmup. That left Tristan Vautier to take the start at the back of the field.

Both those two cars plus the No. 27 Dream Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 went into the pits on the first lap.

Jonathan Bomarito had to pit the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P with a flat left rear tire on Lap 2, but resumed shortly thereafter at the back of the field.

Ford GT goes for the endurance race ‘triple sweep’ in Sebring

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

SEBRING, Fla. – A year ago, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and its pair of Ford GTs merely looked for reliability in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring after a nightmare debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona when issues that hadn’t arisen during preseason testing all popped during the race itself.

A year later, the team, and the car, stands on the precipice of winning endurance racing’s “triple crown” of major endurance races all in a row.

Ford dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais emerging as the trio that delivered Ford a win 50 years after their famous 1-2-3 victory in the 1966 race, a goal that Ford outlined that it wanted to complete.

Then at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Ford won again, but this time in a dogfight against three of the other four manufacturers entered in the field. All of Chevrolet with the venerable Corvette C7.R in its fourth season, the emerging No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE in its second, and the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR on its race debut, put up a threat to the Fords, but the Blue Oval emerged with its second win in a row, and with the same trio of Hand, Mueller and Bourdais. Mueller’s pass of James Calado in the Ferrari into Turn 1 in the final half hour was the ultimate pass for the win, and Mueller held on against Patrick Pilet’s Porsche to the flag.

This driving trio has a chance to become the first trio in major endurance sports car racing history to be the same three drivers to hold those three race titles at the same time, even though Ford would not be the first manufacturer to complete the endurance race triple at the same time.

In fact, Corvette Racing pulled off the feat with five consecutive major endurance race wins in 2015 and 2016. Corvette won Daytona and Sebring with the trio of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe – incidentally, the last of whom drives for Ford now. Then following Magnussen’s crash in practice, that car was withdrawn from Le Mans before it even had the chance to complete the triple. But Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor scored an emotional win at Le Mans with the sole remaining Corvette left.

Corvette then won at last year’s Daytona and Sebring with Gavin, Milner and Marcel Fassler. Gavin’s win in a photo finish over Garcia at the 2016 Rolex 24 will live in sports car racing lore. But Ford’s dominance at Le Mans stopped the Corvette win streak in its tracks.

It’s with that setup that Ford, with partners Chip Ganassi Racing, Multimatic and Roush-Yates Engines, can now match Corvette in holding the Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring titles all at once. Ford looks to win 50 years after Mario Andretti won here in 1967. And Ford has three cars with which to do it.

No. 67 Ford GT. Photo: Ford Performance

Hand, Mueller and Bourdais are going for their own hat trick as well. Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon will look to stop them in their tracks in the No. 67 Ford, which qualified on pole position. Then a third Ford, the UK-based No. 68 car for Olivier Pla, Stefan Muecke and Billy Johnson, will look to play spoiler from a bit further back in the grid.

“The journalists have told us it’s a ‘triple sweep,’ but we can’t think about that,” Ganassi managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “We’re just doing our job at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Working for Chip over the years, having Ford, Multimatic, Roush-Yates and Michelin have provided us the opportunity to do this the right way. I can’t tell you how much fun that is to do. I love the history of Sebring. From a historical significance, and being a fan of Sebring, a fan of racing, it’s just an honor to be part of and terrific opportunity for us.”

The funny thing is, if Corvette stops them, Corvette will have completed its own hat trick, with a third straight win at Sebring.

Mike O’Gara, Joey Hand, Sebastien Bourdais, Dirk Mueller, Mike Hull. Photo: Tony DiZinno

All three of Hand, Mueller and Bourdais have won at Sebring before, with the first two having had class wins and Bourdais being part of the overall winning lineup in 2015. They downplay the history aspect and instead are more keen to look on the mantra established by team boss Ganassi of his liking winning when it comes down to today’s race.

“We always want to win every race. It doesn’t change,” Hand told NBC Sports. “I was excited to make history at Le Mans. Excited to win Daytona. And to get in the history books again would be awesome. I love the fact my kids will get to read a book about what we’ve done.

“But of course we want to do it. Dirk and I have won a couple times, and been close others. The team is good here. Compared to last year, we have a much better shot. I feel pretty good about it.”

Bourdais, who only races with Ford in the endurance races and has a shot at his own Florida triple crown as well as being a part of Ford’s, downplayed how important his own role has been to the success.

“I don’t race for stats… but obviously you look back, and these big events mean a bit more than the others,” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “I only get to do the big ones so it makes it easier! It’s a great honor to be racing the works car and have the chance to contend for wins.”

Mueller got the car into this position to begin with, following his pass for the win at Daytona on Calado in the waning stages. That was after he’d won the pole at Le Mans, then started and finished the race.

“Sometimes to the outside it looks like it’s just someone is sticking out, when it’s about the team,” Mueller told NBC Sports. “It’s who gets tires. Who’s in traffic. Then who does the start. That’s what I liked about Le Mans. I was lucky to do the pole on my last lap. It was cool. I started and closed the race, and when I got it all and that’s not usually the case!

“(At Daytona), Joey did fantastic in the beginning. Seb and everyone did a great job to keep on track. Then you had everyone who has to finish. It was good fun.”

Hand’s 2012 heroics against Olivier Beretta’s Ferrari will live on in memory and the cool Californian expects a similar ending today, even if the Corvette is known to be very good in cooler evening conditions.

“This track and race is a case where I’m pretty much expecting a dogfight at the end,” said Hand.

But it’s Briscoe, who won the pole on Friday in the No. 67 car, that had perhaps the funniest line about his colleagues in the No. 66 car going for the triple.

“Those guys don’t need to win ‘em all,” Briscoe laughed.