Battered No. 5 Cadillac rallies for victory in the Twelve Hours of Sebring despite damage

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Overcoming collisions caused by two rival contenders, Sebastien Bourdais drove the No. 5 Cadillac of JDC-Miller Motorsports to victory Saturday in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Bourdais scooted away on a restart with 19 minutes remaining and fended off a furious charge by runner-up Harry Tincknell, who was trying to deliver a second consecutive Sebring victory for the No. 55 Mazda with co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, but the car was relegated to the back of the DPi class because of a drive time infraction, putting Dane Cameron in the final podium position with the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura and co-drivers Olivier Pla and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“If you want to look why (the victory was) improbable, the rear wing is missing,” Bourdais told NBCSN pit reporter Kevin Lee. “After the restart, I lost the rear element, and the center of pressure shifted about 6-8 percent forward. I thought I was going to crash it going into the last corner. And I had no idea I’d be able to drive it. I just hung in there.

RESULTS: Finishing rundown and full stats package for the 2021 Twelve Hours of Sebring

“Man that thing was so quick, then I thought we lost it because the rear wing was gone.”

The victory by the all-French driver lineup of Bourdais, Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval in the 69th edition of the iconic sports car race at Sebring International Raceway was the first in nearly three years for the Mustang Sampling Cadillac, whose last trip to victory lane was at Long Beach in 2019.

Tristan Vautier (left), Loic Duval (middle) and Sebastien Bourdais celebrate their Twelve Hours of Sebring victory (Cadillac Racing).

Bourdais and Duval each became two-time winners of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, and Duval was a first-time winner of the endurance race.

After being involved in multiple incidents, the No. 5 Cadillac dropped two laps behind at one point.

“It was not an easy one,” Duval told Lee. “We get caught a few times like in Daytona. At the end, the pace was getting better and better. The track was coming to us. We were able to come back on the lead lap and saved some fuel to fight with the guys at the front. At the end, it was the right strategy, and Seb was on it, and you know how good he is when he feels comfortable with the car.

“I think we deserve it in a way we’ve had so much bad luck.”

There were seven entries in the top DPi division, and every car sustained significant damage in at least one major incident, but yet each took a turn at the front and being highly competitive for the victory.

The No. 5 Cadillac was the last of the seven to take the lead on Lap 319 and was in front for 28 of the final 31 laps around the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit, which dished out its typical abuse over its bone-rattling surface.

The first contender to suffer major problems was pole-sitter Pipo Derani, who was strong early but lost three laps after the steering on his No. 31 Cadillac broke in a collision with the wall while racing the No. 01 Cadillac of Renger van der Zande (who also blamed Derani).

After making up a lap, the No. 31 encountered more trouble in the eighth hour when Felipe Nasr briefly lost control over the bumps and swerved into the No. 5 Cadillac being driven by Tristan Vautier, who was exiting the pits. Both cars spun, and the No. 31 suffered more steering problems while Nasr also served a drive-through penalty.

The No. 5 already had required a front wing replacement after Duval collided with the No. 48 Cadillac being driven by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who spun 15 minutes into the race while passing a GT car on the outside in Turn 17.

After a wing change, Johnson was able to take the lead with an off-sequence refueling, but the No. 48 team got bad news with three hours left in the race.

IMSA officials ruled the Action Express/Hendrick Motorsports effort led by Chad Knaus had violated drive time regulations by keeping Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel for 50 seconds too long during a six-hour window.

The No. 55 Mazda and No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura also had a collision that caused both cars to spin without sustaining damage.

One of the most significant incidents happened with just over an hour remaining in the race. After leading a race-high 115 of 349 laps, the No. 01 Cadillac of Chip Ganassi Racing was knocked out of the race when Scott Dixon collided with the No. 25 BMW while trying to dart into the pits.

It was the second consecutive endurance race disappointment for the Ganassi car, which was running down the lead in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona before suffering a puncture with less than 10 minutes remaining.

“I’m not sure (what happened),” Dixon told Lee about the incident with the BMW. “It was a very late call for the pits. I was scambling to get everything undone in time, by the time I turned back, there was a car there.

“It’s done. I feel bad for the team. Everyone was doing a fantastic job, and the car was fast. I thought we had a good run there.”

Other class winners:

LMP2: No. 51 ORECA LMP2 07 of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports

GTLM: No. 79 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of WeatherTech Racing

GTD: No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3R of Pfaff Motorsports

LMP3: No. 54 LIGIER JS P320 of core Autosport