Nissan scores surprising win ahead of Cadillac

With over a dozen Prototypes lined up on the grid, this year’s Sebring 12 Hours was bound to be epic, and after some very unpredictable round-the-clock action, through which nobody in either of the three classes marked themselves as a favorite, we can attest that IMSA competition has delivered yet again.

The break between Daytona and Sebring always seems longer than it really is and the same was the case this year, especially since we have such an amazing field in each of the three categories. Then, finally, race week was upon us, and we got to see some exciting practice sessions that saw Cadillac, Acura, and even Mazda top the timing sheets before everyone got themselves in line for qualifying. There was also the matter of refueling times that was addressed for Sebring with IMSA mandating a minimum refueling time for each class that varies between 30 to 40 seconds.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Qualifying

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Ferrari reigned supreme among all GT3s and Daniel Serra was the only one to go under 1:59 minutes

First up was GTD qualifying with almost 20 cars going out on the 3.74-mile-long road course. Ferrari reigned supreme among all GT3s and Daniel Serra was the only one to go under 1:59 minutes with a storming 1:58.710 that was more than enough for pole position. Right next to the No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari stood the No. 29 Land Motorsport Audi, which Chris Mies couldn’t get to within 0.5-seconds off the best time. Jack Hawksworth was third in the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus, the two Paul Gentilozzi-entered machines sharing row two ahead of the Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan in fifth.

After a difficult debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the new BMW M8 GTE received multiple BoP breaks from IMSA and the full scale of the aid was seen in the GTLM qualifying when both Jesse Krohn in the No. 24 and Connor de Phillipi in the No. 25 were on fire – but not literally. The latter tackled the 17-turn track in just 1:55.839, a new class record (just like Serra managed in GTD), and enough for pole. The margin, though, was slim since the No. 62 Risi Ferrari was just 0,058-seconds behind in second and Krohn was third quickest less than 0,2-seconds. The Ford duo followed suite while Porsche and Corvette filled up the back of the grid in this category.

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The 16-strong Prototype field rolled onto the much-respected bumps for their respective qualifying session

Finally, the 16-strong Prototype field rolled onto the much respected bumps for their respective qualifying session. Cadillac, Nissan and Acura were all in with a shot but, in the end, Tristan Vautier was fastest aboard the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona machine with a record-shattering time of 1:47.432. Olivier Pla was second in the No. 2 Extreme Speed Motorsport Nissan-Ligier with a 1:47.592, while Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 7 Acura after lapping in 1:47.773. The best of the LMP2 prototypes was down in 11th overall before both Mazdas, which qualified seventh and ninth, were penalized for infringements. The two Joest cars had duct tape covering the gaps between the bodywork and the front and rear decks, a move aimed at improving aerodynamics that is illegal in IMSA competition but allowed in the FIA WEC, the series were Team Joest ran previously which could explain the costly oversight.

The poor performance of the P2 breed had Paul Di Resta venting with frustration and stating that the BoP is, in his view, a waste of time if it doesn’t do what it’s designed to do: bring parity to the vastly different LMP2 and DPI prototypes. His feelings were echoed by team boss Zak Brown who admitted that the P2 runners can only hope for a gust of poor reliability to hit the DPI machines if there is any hope for them to progress up the order during the 12 hours.

The Race

In Car Camera from Sebring

Live in-car camera from the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts at Sebring International Raceway

Posted by IMSA on Saturday, 17 March 2018

For the first time in a long time, the distance record was within reach for the updated DPI and LMP2 machinery, the record being in place since the LMP1 days when diesel Audis used to thunder down the Ulmann Straight. For that feat to be achieved, a relatively low number of incidents was a must.

Prototype

It was action from the get-go as Olivier Pla tried to pass Tristan Vautier into turn one only for the two Frenchmen to make contact

Race day was awash with sunshine but that didn’t mean we had another Daytona-esque caution-free round. It was action from the get-go as Olivier Pla tried to pass Tristan Vautier into turn one only for the two Frenchmen to make contact, Pla sliding off and almost tagging the tire wall on the outside of the turn. One wouldn’t have made much of that first incident but the No. 2 Nissan refused to start thereafter and had to be pulled back to the garage where the team found terminal damage to the gearbox and the only exit for that crew was through the back door as the first official retirement.

The first big crash of the race came with some 90 minutes already in the books when Sebastian Saavedra spun his PR1/Mathiasen Ligier around through Turn 17 only to be collected by Frankie Montecalvo’s Ferrari 488 GT3 which climbed over the Ligier’s right-front wheel arch and rolled over into the tire wall. The Ligier took some sizable damage to the nose but Montecalvo and his teammates were out of the race for good thus reducing Scuderia Corsa’s attack on GTD to only one car, the No. 63.

The first big crash of the race came with some 90 minutes already in the books when Sebastian Saavedra spun his PR1/Mathiasen Ligier around through Turn 17

So, with two hours in the books, the prototype field was down by one car and Mazda soon added to that number their No. 77 RT24-P, which needed an unscheduled brake change. The car wasn’t out of the race as such but it never rebounded to fight for a good result. It did, however, set the fastest lap of the race with Oliver Jarvis behind the wheel who got down to a 1:49.002 well into the second half of the event.

Still, it was all to play for between the four Cadillacs, two Acuras and the lone Mazda and Nissan. You simply couldn’t pick a favorite although the Mazda seemed to always be better at saving fuel and team officials argued that the already positive pace would improve even more after it got dark. As it happened, the race was about who could keep their nose clean and quite a few were unable to do so.

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With two hours in the books, the prototype field was down by one car and Mazda soon added to that number

The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac, which managed to complete every lap at Sebring in the past four seasons, saw its chances of a good result dashed after clashing with the No. 38 Performance Tech ORECA in Turn 17. The Cadillac was taken behind the wall for extensive repairs after having already lost time earlier in the race when the two AXR machines came together and the No. 5 spun around.

Before that, though, there was massive drama in the Team Penske garage. After having led early, the No. 7 car driven at the time by Ricky Taylor slowed down to a crawl before stopping, just past the halfway point. It was a sudden loss of oil pressure that sidelined the car and, within another 60 minutes, the No. 6 was out as well. Juan-Pablo Montoya was going wheel to wheel with Tristan Vautier when the two made contact and the Colombian spun. He got going again but only for a short period of time as the car’s gearbox soon failed to respond. As it seems, certain – seemingly – light hits can cause big damage to vital components on the DPI as we’ve seen with both Montoya’s Acura and Pla’s Nissan.

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With just a couple of hours left to go there was still the No. 55 Mazda left to fight, the No. 31 and No. 10 Cadillacs and, last but not least, the No. 22 Nissan

So, with just a couple of hours left to go there was still the No. 55 Mazda left to fight, the No. 31 and No. 10 Cadillacs and, last but not least, the No. 22 Nissan with the always-fast Pipo Derani onboard. This group was then hit by another incident when Tristan Vautier crashed hard on the exit of Turn 17, with body parts flying everywhere, as did parts of the tire wall. The No. 55 Mazda was one of the first cars at the scene and actually collected one of the headlights of the wrecked Dallara-based prototype. This didn’t, though, stop Mazda Team Joest’s assault and the Multimatic car led lap after lap in the closing stages helped by its fuel consumption and pace.

It all came undone for Mazda at the very last pit stop when an ongoing clutch and battery issue came to haunt them. At every stop after half distance, the RT24-P was seen struggling to get going again and, at the last stop, it didn’t move at all. Harry Tincknell pitted from 2nd overall with just 41 minutes left and, when he tried to get going again, the battery went flat. By the time the Joest crew jump started the car and it rejoined the track it was one lap down and in sixth place. The sister No. 77 also required a battery change late in the race.

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With the Mazda out of the way, all that Derani had to do in the last few laps was hold off the No. 10 Cadillac

With the Mazda out of the way, all that Derani had to do in the last few laps was hold off the No. 10 Cadillac and that’s exactly what the Brazilian young star did en-route to his second Sebring 12 Hours victory in three years. He drove to victory in 2016 alongside Johannes Van Overbeek who was in the lineup this time around, while Nicolas Lapierre also got his second win after getting the laurels with Team ORECA way back in 2011. The No. 10 Konica Minolta car finished second and the No. 31 Action Express prototype took the last step on the podium. It’s noteworthy that the overheating issues that plagued almost all Cadillacs at Daytona did not reemerge for the second race of the season and only the No. 31 and No. 10 needed pressurized water refills during the race – a procedure that was done with a special piece of equipment made by the teams and checked by IMSA pre-race.

United Autosports was slated to finish as best of the non DPI runners before having to take a late sip of fuel that demoted the Ligier to fifth behind the No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA which came home fourth – another strong result after the podium finish at Daytona. This means that, now, Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr lead the driver’s championship in the Prototype category ahead of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett.

Top 5 Prototype Class Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 22 Overbeek / Derani / Lapierre Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi 344
2 10 Taylor / Van Der Zande / Hunter-Reay Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Cadillac DPi 344
3 31 Nasr / Curran / Conway Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi 344
4 54 Bennett / Braun / Dumas CORE Autosport ORECA LMP2 344
5 32 Hanson / Di Resta / Brundle United Autosports Ligier LMP2 344

GT-LM

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BMW seemed to win the BoP lottery but it wasn’t to be for team RLL, as Porsche came good right when it mattered

The premiere GT category saw thrilling action all the way through as all five manufacturers held – at least – theoretical chances of victory. BMW seemed to win the BoP lottery but it wasn’t to be for team RLL, as Porsche came good right when it mattered.

Unusually, first to crack was the Corvette Racing effort, as the No. 3 C7.R spun early and had a myriad of different other issues during the race. It suffered from steering, alternator, and brake issues and finished eighth in class. The sister No. 4 was also unable to claim Corvette’s fourth win on the trot at Sebring after fading in the closing stages of the race. Sixth in class was the best that Corvette Racing could muster in (maybe?) the last year of the C7.R in works hands.

Ford’s day was just as bad, and that was evident as early as the second hour when the two GTs hit each other on pitlane

Ford’s day was just as bad, and that was evident as early as the second hour when the two GTs hit each other on pitlane. Then Dirk Mueller had a big incident collecting an unsighted car that stalled in front of him, the No. 66 ultimately pulling out of the event with 90 minutes left to go when it stopped on the track. That was the cause for the 11th full-course caution. The sister No. 67 had its fair share of time at the lead of the class before electrical gremlins meant an unscheduled pit stop was needed. That put Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon, and Ryan Briscoe down in fourth place, which is where they crossed line.

Just ahead, Porsche kept their cool and the star-studded lineup aboard the No. 911 991 GTE claimed the biggest victory in the mid-engined car’s career up until now. Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki, and Patrick Pilet fended off the best that the No. 25 BMW had to give and cruised to a double podium finish for Porsche, which brought its No. 912 to the podium in third despite suffering a rear-end crash that ripped the bumper off the car when Bruni was driving. The No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado, Davide Rigon, and Alessandro Pier Guidi was very much a contender, but couldn’t get the strategy just right in the end and had to settle for fifth.

Top 5 GT-LM Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 911 Pilet / Makowiecki / Tandy Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 328
2 25 Sims / De Phillippi / Auberlen BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM 328
3 912 Vanthoor / Bamber / Bruni Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 328
4 67 Briscoe / Westbrook / Dixon Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT 328
5 62 Vilander / Calado / Pier Guidi Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE 328

GTD

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After a frustrating 2017 when they saw its championship hopes ruined by a hefty penalty, Paul Miller Racing seems to be getting 2018 off to a good start

You couldn’t have guessed who would win in GTD out of a dozen of attempts. It was simply all too close between everyone in that class that it got down to who dialed their last stop perfectly. That ended up being the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan of Paul Miller Racing after Madison Snow pulled off an audacious move to get by Jeroen Bleekemolen who was first after the last round of stops. Balzan was on fire as well, moving from fourth to second but finding no dents in Snow’s armor towards the very end.

After a frustrating 2017 when they saw its championship hopes ruined by a hefty penalty, Paul Miller Racing seems to be getting 2018 off to a good start, but last year’s champions are there to take advantage of any mistake. Also, Bill Riley’s team enjoyed the third place finish they managed to get. Behind the Lambo-Ferrari-Merc trio on the podium there was more variety with the Land Audi coming home fourth, the No. 15 Lexus fifth, the No. 58 Wright Motorsport Porsche rebounding to sixth, and the No. 93 (rebuilt) Acura on seventh. It was the biggest variety ever seen in IMSA competition and it could’ve been up to eight different cars if the Turner Motorsport BMW would’ve finished three places higher than it did.

Top 5 GTD Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 48 Sellers / Snow / Lewis Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 321
2 63 MacNeil / Balzan / Jeannette Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 321
3 33 Keating / Bleekemolen / Stolz Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 321
4 29 Van Der Linde / Mies Mantaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 321
5 15 Hawksworth / Heinemeier Hansson / Rayhall 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 321

What’s Next?

After the two longest races of the season, the IMSA bunch move to the narrow streets of Long Beach in mid April where we get the first full taste of the full-season grid.

Full Results

Check out the full results from Daytona:

Imsa Results

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