Cadillac fill podium, Corvette beats Ford to GT-LM win, Mercedes flies to GT-D success ahead of Ferrari

The 65th Annual Sebring 12hrs race proved to be one of high attrition in the Prototype ranks that produced a result that most of us could’ve predicted to a certain extent and, on top of that, amazing battles towards the very end in both GT-LM and GT-D. Weather was fine throughout and, as a contrast to Daytona, there was a clear lack of caution which made it possible for strategies to play out as time went by.

The almighty Cadillacs received a hit in qualifying as Porsche works driver and 2016 WEC Drivers’ Champion Neel Jani slipped past to claim pole for Rebellion Racing and their ORECA 07 P2. The Swiss managed a 1:48.178 which was a record lap time in itself and was also better than Christian Fittipaldi’s fastest lap by only 0.095-seconds. Fittipaldi might’ve bettered Jani’s time with his last flyer but the No. 5 Action Express Racing Dallara-built Cadillac ran out of fuel while out on the track.

However, Fittipaldi still beat team-mate Dane Cameron who started third in the No. 31 Cadillac, ahead of Jose Gutierrez in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Ligier JS P2-17. Fifth sat the highest of the Extreme Speed Motorspot Nissan, specifically No. 22, while Wayne Taylor’s car was sixth. The other Nissan’s times were erased as the team pitted during the 15-minute-long session to fix some boost-related issues which is against the rules.

Gustavo Yacaman of BAR1 Motorsports was the fastest of the four-car Prototype Challenge field, his last lap attempt, a 1:53.506, besting James French’s quickest run on the famed road course. Buddy Rice was third in the sister BAR1 Motorsports entry, but his lap was some 2.5 seconds off pace.

Down the order in GT-LM, Ford set the pace, with two of its three GTs claiming first and second. Ryan Briscoe was the benchmark, his 1:55.939 in the No. 67 Ford also being a new track record in his class. Bill Auberlen held the previous record, his time being nearly 2.5 seconds slower. Tommy Milner was third, beaten also by Dirk Mueller’s Ford. Next to Milner sat Kevin Estre’s No. 911 works Porsche. It was again very close in GT-LM as the top six were separated by just 0.5-seconds.

Mercedes-Benz claimed its first ever Sebring podium as Tristan Vautier stormed to pole in the SunEnergy1 AMG GT GT3 posting the only lap in the 1:59 bracket. The lap time was another record and it was almost 0.8 seconds quicker than the best that Connor de Philippi could do in the Land Motorsport Audi. Corey Lewis was third in the quickest Lamborghini Huracan.

Looking at qualifying, it seemed like it was all to play for, although Cadillac in Prototype and Ford in GT-LM respectively seemed to have a certain advantage over their in-class rivals.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Race

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The race got underway under sunny blue skies, the weather staying that good all the way through the 12-hour length of the event.

The race got underway under sunny blue skies, the weather staying that good all the way through the 12-hour length of the event. Neel Jani kept ahead of the opposition up until the first round of pit stops, at which point the Swiss outfit lost first place in favor of the No. 31 Whelen-sponsored Dane Cameron-driven Cadillac. The American leap-frogged Jani who lost time due to the team moving slowly and then lost even more time after having to serve a penalty for the aforementioned stop. This meant that by the end of the first 60 minutes, Cameron led followed by team-mate Christian Fittipaldi and Ricky Taylor in the No. 10 WTR Cadillac.

Dirk Mueller led GT-LM at the end of Hour 1 despite having to start from the back of the grid and serve a drive-through after encountering a mechanical problem right on the starting grid. The No. 67 had to miss the formation lap but still rebounded to take the lead as the field made its way into the second hour. Tristan Vautier had similar problems down in GT-D, the SunEnergy1 Mercedes leaking fuel prior to the start. This meant that it had to start from the back and serve a drive-through penalty. Other cars also went behind the wall in this time frame, more precisely the No. 2 Nissan due to persistent overboost-related problems and the No. 24 BMW with heavy vibrations being reported by the team.

The second hour went by quite smoothly, but for a crash in the Mazda camp.

The second hour went by quite smoothly, except for a crash in the Mazda camp. SpeedSource’s No. 70 car lost its brakes as Joel Miller was coming into Turn 17. The car then crashed head-on into the barriers resulting in heavy front end damage that took the car out of contention. This was the first caution period of the race. It took the team 40 laps to fix the front of the Mazda DPi and, by the time it returned to action, the race had already gone through another yellow flag period.

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The latter took place well into the third hour when then-leader Dane Cameron came into contact with Johannes van Overbeek. The two were traveling through Turn 17 and the contact left Cameron stranded on track, unable to refire the Chevrolet-built engine.

As such, Filipe Albuquerque took over the lead in the No. 5, followed suite by Alex Lynn who was driving the No. 10 WTR prototype. Misha Goikhberg was third in the highest-placed of the LMP2-spec cars, the car in question being JDC-Miller’s ORECA 07. The other ORECA also spent time in third place but Jani lost time in the pits due to starter motor trouble that struck Rebellion.

Kyle Mason was leading PC going into the third hour while Sebastien Bourdais led GT-LM in the No. 66 Ford.

Kyle Mason was leading PC going into the third hour while Sebastien Bourdais led GT-LM in the No. 66 Ford and Jeroen Bleekemolen led GT-D in the No. 50 Riley-entered Mercedes. By that time, Corvette Racing’s chances of winning Sebring third third time on the trot were already looking slimmer after the No. 4 C7.R went behind the wall, shot down by overheating issues. It was, in the end, declared as a retirement – the first of the 2017 edition of the race.

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Albuquerque was first in the overall classification after four hours, which was when the first points counting for the Patron North-American Endurance Cup were awarded. Chris Miller was running third in the JDC-Miller ORECA, the No. 85 car fighting the No. 10 Cadillac hard at that time in a bid to secure more NAEC points. Rebellion Racing ran fourth, but a lap down on the leaders, while the No. 22 Nissan ESM was fifth with a deficit of two laps.

Westbrook and Bourdais still led the way for Ford in GT-LM, their different pit stop strategies allowing both of them to lead at different times through their stints. Riley were in command in GT-D, although Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Barzan did try to contest Bleekemolen for the lead.

More notable contenders fell by the wayside during the fourth hour, such as the No. 55 Mazda and the No. 52 Ligier.

More notable contenders fell by the wayside during the fourth hour, such as the No. 55 Mazda which was pushed behind the wall during Spencer Pigot’s stint and the No. 52 Ligier that suffered from gearbox gremlins.

Two hours later it was still the No. 5 AXR Cadillac that was leading, albeit with Joao Barbosa now driving. Only two seconds separated Barbosa from Ricky Taylor who was truly in hot pursuit mode. It was, in fact, a Caddy affair by that point, as most of the other contenders were already out of the fight. ESM’s No. 22 was out with mechanical problems as was Rebellion’s ORECA which would go on to change no less than three alternators during the event!

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Performance Tech’s No. 38 ORECA FLM 09 led in PC while Ford’s 1-2 stranglehold was untroubled in GT-LM. The lead, however, had changed by the six-hour mark in GT-Das Richard Antonucci led for Grasser Racing. The field was at that time under caution following a crash for the No. 24 BMW M6 GT-LM driven by Nick Catsburg. The BMWs again failed to feature in the fight in GT-LM, while also being slowed down by reliability woes.

Other problems occurred further down the order. Cooper MacNeil lost a wheel on the No. 50 Mercedes, effectively ending the car’s bid for class honors. Sebring’s rough nature also took its toll on the No. 14 Lexus whose suspension proved insufficiently tough for the job.

After eight hours of racing, and four caution periods it was WTR out in front.

After eight hours of racing, and four caution periods, the latest of which being caused by the on-track stopping of the No. 14 Lexus, it was WTR out in front. Alex Lynn had moved past the AXR Cadillacs during the pit stops and gained a four-seconds advantage over their arch rivals.

JDC-Miller Motorsport’s lone LMP2 entry remained the last non-Cadillac contender on the leading lap and was running second due to different pit stop strategies at the eight-hour mark. The No. 66 Ford led in GT-LM while Mercedes was first in GT-D again, this time courtesy of the other Riley-prepared AMG GT GT3. More NAEC points were awarded for the respective class leaders after eight hours.

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As darkness started to fill the sky above Sebring Raceway, it was Wayne Taylor Racing that still had the reins of the race. But it wasn’t as easy as you’d think, Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque ferociously fighting for P1, the American getting the better of it after a pass made in T17. Mike Conway was back in third, albeit a lap down, in the No. 31 while JDC-Miller was fourth, three laps down.

Ford was running 1-2 in GT-LM by that time as well, No. 66 leading No. 67. Corvette’s surviving car was third ahead of the top works Porsche driven by Fred Makowiecki. James Calado’s Risi Ferrari which had enjoyed up until then a strong and clean run was on the lead lap just as well.

WTR eventually crossed the finish line after 12 hours as race winners, claiming unofficial honors in the "36 Hours of Florida’" after also finishing first at Daytona.

WTR eventually crossed the finish line after 12 hours as race winners, claiming unofficial honors in the "36 Hours of Florida" after also finishing first at Daytona earlier in the year. The final piece of the puzzle took place when the team decided to short-pit the No. 10 with little over an hour left to run. This gave Ricky Taylor track position that proved vital come the final, and sixth, full-course caution. This meant that AXR’s cars could do no better than second and third while JDC-Miller crossed the line a respectable fourth given their lack of pure pace in comparison to the DPi Cadillacs.

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Ford’s hopes for the Triple Crown (Le Mans, Daytona & Sebring all in 12 months) hit the wall metaphorically. It all went sour in the last sixty minutes as Antonio Garcia found extra pace in the colder hours of darkness to move from fourth to first after the final caution period. The Spaniard crossed the line first and claimed Corvette Racing’s third consecutive GT-LM win at Sebring in the past three years. Ford was also denied a second car on the podium as behind the No. 66 Ford finished the No. 62 Ferrari. Porsche also had a good bid for victory but Fred Makowiecki’s No. 911 Porsche suffered an unfortunate puncture with 30 minutes left to run.

In GT-D, Mercedes-Benz claimed a historically-significant double podium with the No. 33 Riley car winning and the SunEnergy1 pole-sitting car finishing third. Sandwiched by the two Mercs was last year’s winning team, Scuderia Corsa.

Top 20 Results

Overall In Class No. Class Drivers Team Car Laps
1 1 10 P Taylor/Taylor/Lynn Konica Minolta Cadillac Cadillac DPi 348
2 2 5 P Barbosa/Fittipaldi/Albuquerque Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi 348
3 3 31 P Cameron/Curran/Conway Whelan Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi 346
4 4 85 P Miller/Simpson/Goikhberg JCD-Miller Motorsports ORECA 344
5 1 38 PC French/O’Ward/Masson Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09 338
6 2 8 PC Grist/Hanratty/Rayhall Starworks Motorsports ORECA FLM09 336
7 1 3 GTLM Garcia/Magnussen Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 334
8 2 66 GTLM Mueller/Hand/Bourdais Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT 334
9 3 62 GTLM Vilander/Calado/Fisichella Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE 334
10 4 67 GTLM Briscoe/Westbrook/Dixon Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT 334
11 5 68 GTLM Mucke/Pla/Johnson Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT 334
12 6 25 GTLM Auberlen/Sims/Wittmer BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM 334
13 7 911 GTLM Pilet/Werner/Makowiecki Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 334
14 8 912 GTLM e\Estre/Vanthoor/Lietz Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 332
15 3 26 PC Drumwright/Ducote/Yacaman/Thompson BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 328
16 1 33 GTD Keating/Bleekemolen/Farnbacher Riley - Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 325
17 2 63 GTD Nielsen/Balzan/Cressoni Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 324
18 3 75 GTD Vautier/Habul/Said SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 324
19 4 29 GTD De Philippi/Mies/Gounon Mantaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 324
20 5 48 GTD Sellers/Snow/von Moltke Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 324

Click here for the full results.

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