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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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

Follow @JerryBonkowski