This year’s Sebring 12 hours proves that America’s oldest endurance race can still throw a curveball. This time, rain played hazards for the almost 50-strong grid. It got so bad that a little over two hours of the race were actually spent under red flag conditions, the first time since 1995.

The exquisite Prototype category boasted a strong field of 12 cars, six of which being DPs that were joined by five Le Mans-eligible LMP2 chassis. There was also the lone closed-cockpit DeltaWing that rebounded after a frustrating end to their Daytona 24 Hours race. The DPs proved quicker in the wet due to the quarter-inch larger radius of their front tires (a factor made relevant by the new belt design) but the P2s never gave up the fight.

Lower down in LMPC, the usual culprits were all present to add up to a seven-car grid. The novelty in this category was to be the newly updated electrical system which now offered traction control. This system, though, had not been tested by other teams but for CORE Autosport which was chosen by IMSA to play as chief developer. This meant that some teams declined the offer to run the new system, thus challenging themselves to run without TC. It proved to be a far less daring choice as some might have thought since most of the cars that did run the new electrical problems ran into countless problems such as dozens and dozens of spins.

GT-LM offered the closest ever class finish at Daytona between the two Corvettes and promised just as much excitement come Sebring – the second half of the “36 Hours of Florida.” Ford, BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari were all present and gave Corvette Racing a hell of a run for its money. How close was it? Well, if we are to judge by the qualifying times, very close! Pole-man Bill Auberlen was only 0.8 seconds quicker than the back of the grid.

After being penalized for sandbagging during the season opener at Daytona, the Huracans lacked the edge they’ve previously shown. Instead, Ferrari’s brand-new 488 GT3 shone by taking its maiden pole on debut with Scuderia Corsa. But the opposition proved to be strong, especially from BMW and Porsche, with the final running order being decided within minutes of the end.

Continue reading for the full story.

Race Report

Last year’s overall polesitter, Frenchman Olivier Pla, proved his prowess on the Sebring Raceway by setting the quickest lap time once over, this time heading Extreme Speed Motorsport’s identical Ligier handled by Brazilian young gun Pipo Derani.

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The first three hours flew by without major interruptions, although a quick shower that hit the back straight at the conclusion of the second hour took out Townsend Bell’s No. 11 Change Racing Lamborghini, Garcia taking evasive actions at the last moment to not collect Bell. Twenty minutes after the restart, Dirk Muller stuffed the No. 66 Ford GT in the tires at Turn 1, leaving only one Ford out running in GT-LM.

The rain picked up again shortly after Muller’s crash, which prompted the officials to stop the race by waving the red flags. All the cars were parked on pitlane, waiting for the rain-filled clouds to clear the sky. It took two hours and 15 minutes for this to happen and by the time the field went back out behind the Chevrolet Corvette C7 safety car, much of the track was still wet.

Green flags were finally shown thirty minutes before the halfway mark, the pack being slightly reshuffled by the many pitstops that went down while under caution. As such, the order with six hours to go showed a surprising entry on third overall: Alegra’s debuting Riley-BMW with Daniel Morad doing a great job behind the wheel. He was capable of running as quick as leader Oswaldo Negri Jr in Michael Shank’s Ligier and Scotsman Ryan Dalziel in the Racing Corvette DP running second.

As the track was slowly drying out, it became increasingly clear that whoever gambled on the right tires was going to edge away. Happily for us, the viewers, there was no sure strategy and each team decided on its own whether to keep the wets or go for slicks. Sudden but short showers made the job even harder, as exemplified by the Corvette Racing crew that sent both cars out on slicks, the call being reversed as both cars proved undriveable and understeered a bunch of times off the track.

Extreme Speed Motorsport chose to stay on slicks come the seventh hour as they were trying to get back among the leaders after losing out on the previous stint with Scott Sharp on board, who struggled with the same compound in slightly wetter conditions.

A few laps back, Magnussen managed to regain track position after changing on wets and was fighting hard with Porsche’s Fred Makowiecki in the No. 911 car. It all ended in disaster as the two GT-LM front-runners collided upon entry into T1 after lapping the GT-D Audi R8 LMS No. 9 of Stevenson Motorsport. The Frenchman chose to go on the inside, oblivious of the Corvette that picked the outer line. After meeting in the middle, the cars slid spectacularly in the tires. While the Porsche 991 RSR was there to stay, Magnussen managed to soldier on but the broken rear suspension meant that he didn’t go for long. The No. 4 car was brought back to the pits with a truck and did manage to return on the track towards the end of the race only to be further delayed by a broken oil line.

The crash, which obviously brought a full-course caution, left Ganassi’s Scott Dixon out in front. The Ford led the way for 18 laps and stayed within sight of a podium finish right until the end but couldn’t quite get the job.

Some more yellow flag periods followed as the race rolled into its final three hours. First, Kyle Marcelli had a bigger off with the No. 38 ORECA LMPC, one of the many sketchy moments for that entry. A little while later, Jan Heylen went straight into the tires on the exit of T1 which resulted in instant retirement for Park Place Motorsport.

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This latest caution period helped the DeltaWing which came back on the lead lap while also holding sixth place overall. It also helped the surviving Corvette which gradually clawed its way back from a lonely sixth in class at the time of the sister car’s retirement. The BMW’s were still the cars to beat, followed by the No. 67 Ford and Fisichella’s Risi-entered Ferrari 488.

In GT-D, Lamborghini’s last shot was taken out of contention by a hefty four-minute-long penalty for an illegal pass while under yellow flag conditions. It came after Corey Lewis built himself a lead of roughly one lap courtesy of not pitting under that same yellow flag period. Turner Motorsport took full advantage of this as their two M6s moved into first and second.

Wayne Taylor Racing’s run of bad luck did not end at Sebring, with the No. 10 Konica Minolta-sponsored, Dallara-built car retiring after stopping trackside with less than three hours to go. It came after the car was delayed with electrical maladies. The ensuing caution helped the Michael Shank Ligier which rejoined the lead lap after losing a bunch of time in the rain-drenched portion of the running.

By the time the cars saw the green flag again, Corvette’s last C7.R had gotten right up behind the BMWs. Milner dully passed the No. 100 car to move into the lead. The other BMW, No. 25, found itself into trouble at the end of the 10th hour. Bill Auberlen was called in to serve a drive-through penalty for a technical infraction: exceeding boost limits (which can now be measured in real-time). This effectively took away BMW’s best chance at winning as Auberlen came in second at the end of the race. One can only think of how it would have unfolded had BMW not been penalized.

Leh Keen was the next man that felt the harsh nature of Sebring’s concrete slabs, his Weathertech-sponsored Porsche 991 losing a wheel with ninety minutes before the end. He managed to drive on three wheels a full lap and brought the car back to base. He did lose five spots in the process but managed to claw all the way back to fifth by the end of the race.

Derani’s awesome final stint turned even better as he passed Dane Cameron for the overall lead with little over an hour to go. He held the lead until he had to make the final pit stop with 36 minutes left on the clock. The GT-LM and GT-D cars had pitted for the final time some 15 minutes earlier, Ganassi getting the job done in record time which gave Richard Westbrook third place. Back to the leaders, Derani took tires and fuel while the Action Express Corvette of Cameron only took in fuel.

With half an hour to go, Tom Kimber-Smith moved into the PC class lead. Up ahead, Nicolas Lapierre was fighting for second, despite his DragonSpeed Oreca 05 lacking some 70 horsepower compared to the ESM Ligier. The thirteenth caution of the day came with only 20 minutes to go following the crash of the Highway To Help Riley. On the restart, Colin Braun moved past Kimber-Smith to lead PC.

The final minutes proved to be incredible: The DeltaWing retired with steering failure, a huge blow for the team which was literally minutes away from its best finish ever. Derani made his way from fourth to first, initally passing Lapierre on the outside of Turn 1 and then Albuquerque on the inside. Just before the checker was shown, he also passed Dane Cameron’s Whelen/Action Express No. 31 Corvette.

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Ford’s brilliant pit work was undermined by a poor restart by Westbrook who lost two spots, falling behind Rigon’s Ferrari. Corvette’s Milner managed to stay ahead leading his class by a slim margin when it all ended. It was another success for this crew that also won, by an even smaller margin, at Daytona. Even more amazing is that Gavin and Milner also won at Le Mans in June of last year.

At the sharp end of the field, Derani edged away in the final three laps to cross the line 2.9 seconds clear of Dane Cameron while Olivier Pla had to retire minutes before the end with broken rear suspension. It was a historical result for Scott Sharp’s outfit which becomes the first since 1998 to win both Daytona and Sebring in the same year. It’s also worth noting that three of the four wins recorded by P2 machinery in the history of the United Sportscar Championship since its inception in 2014 are by the ESM squad (the first win came at Laguna Seca in 2014).

Colin Braun won LMPC for CORE Autosport which had the cleanest run of all the runners in the spec category.

In GT-D, Alessandro Balzan managed a late move past Jens Klingmann who proved brilliant in defense despite being down on top speed. He crossed the line in second giving the BMW M6 GT3 its first podium finish. As Balzan won, Christina Nielsen became the first woman to score a victory in the IMSA-sanctioned championship. As it happens, a lady was part of Turner’s lineup as well – Ashley Freiberg. Daytona winners Magnus Racing rebounded from a steady but otherwise lackluster race to finish third.

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The following round in the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship is the one at Long Beach but it’s only at the fourth round at Mazda Speedway Laguna Seca that the field will get back together.

2016 12 Hours of Sebring Results

Position Class No. Drivers Make Laps
1 P 2 Sharp/Brown/van Overbeek Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 238
2 P 31 Cameron/Curran/Pruett Chevrolet Corvette DP 238
3 P 5 Barbosa/Fittipaldi/Albuquerque Chevrolet Corvette DP 238
4 P 81 Hedman/Lapierre/Minassian Nissan Oreca 05 238
5 P 90 Goossens/Dalziel/Hunter Chevrolet Corvette DP 238
6 P 55 Bomarito/Nunez/Pigot Mazda Prototype 238
7 P 60 Pew/Negri Jr./Pla Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 237
8 P 70 Long/Miller/Devlin/Ihara Mazda Prototype 237
9 PC 54 Bennett/Braun/Wilkins ORECA FLM09 236
10 PC 52 Kimber-Smith/Gutierrez/Alon ORECA FLM09 236

For the complete results click here.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert -
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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