SEBRING, Fla. (March 16, 2014) – IMSA cover photo — America’s oldest sports car race made history in many different ways on Saturday in the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup event at Sebring International Raceway.
The 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida marked the first victory for the brand-new Ford EcoBoost turbocharged engine. It was the first overall Sebring victory and the record 57th in North American endurance sports car competition for Scott Pruett, coming 28 years after a GTO class victory in the 1986 Twelve Hours.
Co-drivers Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti also made Chip Ganassi Racing – in its first Twelve Hours of Sebring appearance – the first team to win Sebring, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
“It’s incredible,” Pruett said. “After all those victories you hope to get, this was still one on my bucket list. I’ve won here in class but never won overall. It’s even more exciting to win it overall, and to win it for Ford both times. I can’t say enough about the Ganassi group. We all worked together as a team and kept digging.”
A race that featured 30 lead changes –one shy of the event record – among 11 different cars came down to the final pit-stop sequence in the final hour. When Ryan Dalziel brought the No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD ARX-03b/Honda onto pit road for its final service with just less than 40 minutes remaining, Marino Franchitti steered the No. 01 Telcel Ford EcoBoost/Riley DP to the front of the field, having completed its final service with just more than 50 minutes to go.
The race’s 11th and final full-course caution set up a final, 20-minute shootout between Franchitti and Dalziel. Franchitti managed to hold off his hard-charging fellow Scotsman to secure the victory by 4.682 seconds in the closest “contested” finish in race history, topping the 2005 event. (An “orchestrated” team finish had a 0.482-second margin of victory in 2001.)
“It wasn’t too bad on the final restart,” Franchitti said. “I had a break with a couple of GT cars that helped me get a break on the first lap. To rebound from Daytona like this, and to bring Chip the victory in his first Sebring Twelve Hours, and to follow cars like the GT40 for Ford, is an … exciting day.”
The Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning trio of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais completed the podium with a third-place run in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.
Chip Ganassi Racing also celebrated a victory in the second round of the four-race Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. No. 02 Ford EcoBoost/Riley DP teammates Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Sage Karam earned the most points from Sebring’s three segments toward the $100,000 prize for the top-performing team in endurance races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen International on June 29 and the Road Atlanta season finale on Oct. 4.
In Prototype Challenge (PC), The No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 team and drivers Jon Bennett, Colin Braun and James Gue could not have asked for a better start to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the Patrón North American Endurance Cup in the PC class.
After taking the maiden PC class Rolex 24 At Daytona victory in January by more than a lap, the No. 54 teammates had a much tougher time at Sebring in what became a battle between them and the No. 09 RSR Racing ORECA FLM09 shared by Bruno Junqueira, Jon Bennett and David Heinemeier Hansson.
The two cars traded the lead throughout the second half of the race before Braun took the lead for good with just under 40 minutes remaining. Braun beat Junqueira to the stripe by 2.428 seconds to secure the race victory and the team’s second-straight round win in the Patrón Endurance Cup, worth $50,000 to the winner at season’s end.
“The CORE autosport guys did a heck of a job,” Braun said. “We had good pits, had a good car and we were able to stay the course with our plan. We were able to win in both of these classes again. We had no glitches. It was great top to bottom.”
Third in PC went to the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09 foursome of Renger van der Zande, Sam Bird, Martin Fuentes and David Cheng.
In GT Le Mans (GTLM), Porsche completed a historic sweep at two of North America’s most prestigious road circuits Saturday by winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.
Led by sound pit strategy and an impressive final stint by factory driver Joerg Bergmeister, the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR crossed the line 5.296 seconds ahead of No. 93 SRT Motorsports driver Jonathan Bomarito in the GTLM class to remain undefeated in its debut factory season, run in conjunction with CORE autosport.
Patrick Long and Michael Christensen joined Bergmeister in the victory. Wins in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona with the team’s No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR and Sebring give Porsche North America victories in two of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s premier events and the first two races in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
“We were really fast all day, but we knew if we got in a different strategy the other guys would have to make their last pits and we could use that to our advantage,” Long said. “We got the final yellow which let us separate from the pack and then we could just play smart.”
The GTLM race heated up in the final hour. Jonathan Bomarito’s SRT Viper GTS-R held a two-second lead over Bergmeister and Oliver Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R when Gavin suddenly spun with 55 minutes remaining.
At the same time the No. 31 Corvette DP of Eric Curran stopped on the track with no power. Anticipating a full-course caution, the No. 912 team called Long onto pit road for the final pit stop and driver change of the event. The yellow flag flew shortly after and when pit stops cycled through, Long’s co-driver Bergmeister found himself in the lead.
“The stint was very exciting,” Bergmeister said. “The team made a very smart move, we came in very early and as soon as the yellow came out I had a nice cushion of cars between me and the Viper. I tried to relax and told myself just don’t mess it up. ”
The late-race spin was followed by fuel pick-up issues for Gavin who wound up finishing sixth alongside co-drivers Tommy Milner and Robin Liddell. That sixth-place result and the win by the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR led to a tie in the Patrón Endurance Cup points at Sebring, giving the No. 912 team the Round 2 win.
Bomarito and his No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R co-drivers Kuno Wittmer and Robert Bell settled for second while the No. 55 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE of Bill Auberlen, Andy Priaulx and Joey rounded out the podium. Krohn Racing was the last car on the GTLM lead lap, with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Andrea Bertolini finishing fourth in the No. 57 Ferrari F458 Italia.
In its first event of the season the No. 17 Porsche 911 RSR of Team Falken Tire finished fifth driven by Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Marco Holzer.
And Andy Lally was in the right spot at the right time and his No. 44 Porsche 911 GT America team made the right call to help give Magnus Racing the GT Daytona (GTD) class win Saturday in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.
Running in the top three with just under one hour remaining, Lally was coming off the 17th and final turn at Sebring International Raceway when he was ordered to pit road. Lally did just that, barely beating the yellow flag that ultimately positioned him into the lead when pit stops cycled through. That was all he needed to hold on for the victory for he and co-drivers John Potter and Marco Seefried in Round 2 of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.
“We didn’t have it dead away on pace, but we had the right strategy that put us up front,” Lally said. “We had a day moving forward and back moving through the pack, but we were so well- handled by the Magnus Racing crew. This Magnus crew is absolutely the best team.”
One of the GTD-class teams that had to pit under the caution was the No. 555 Ferrari 458 of AIM Autosport. The team finished second in its first event of the season and was able to win the Sebring round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup by leading in the race’s second segment and finishing second at the conclusion of the event.
While under a different team name, the No. 555 was driven by Rolex 24 winning drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal, as well as co-driver for Sebring, Maurizio Mediani. The trio of Sweedler, Bell and Segal lead the driver standings in the Patrón Endurance Cup.
“We’re looking forward to Watkins Glen,” said Sweedler. “AIM has been amazing. To be second, and to be a second behind the win, is really awesome.”
Third place went to the No. 23 Porsche 911 GT America team of Ian James, Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas while the No. 22 Porsche 911 GT America of Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen and Philipp Frommenwiler for Alex Job Racing finished fourth.
Rounding out the top five was the Audi R8 LMS from Flying Lizard Motorsports. That entry was driven by Seth Neiman, Dion von Moltke and Filipe Albuquerque.
During the race, IMSA officials utilized in-car camera footage to review separate incidents attributed to the No. 22 GTD car and the No. 911 GTLM car, resulting in penalties. “We believed this footage provided conclusive evidence of each car’s involvement in incidents,” said Scot Elkins, IMSA vice president, competition and technical regulations. “However, after the penalties were applied, we learned that the footage reviewed was taken from the wrong in-car cameras, as multiple cars were utilizing the same radio frequency. This was a unique situation, but we are unable to retract the penalties once served (stop plus time added). We will review our process and do what’s necessary to ensure such a situation does not occur again.”
The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship now takes nearly a month off before returning to action on April 11th and 12th for the Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach.