Respect the bumps. That’s the mantra for racing on the aged, 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway in mid-southern Florida. The legendary airport/road course took no prisoners – not that it ever has – and rewarded those who played clean, fast, and who had good fortune during Saturday’s 69th annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
The finale to IMSA’S 36 Hours of Florida, following late January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring crowned winners in five classes late Saturday night, following 12 hours of brutal competition that took many favorites out of the going. The seminal 12-hour race was held about four months after its 68th running due to public interruptions by the novel coronavirus and its COVID-19 pandemic, and featured a modest 37 entries, all of whom were classified as running at the finish.
The winners were an all-French driving crew of Sebastien Bourdais, Tristan Vaultier and Loic Duval, piloting the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi maintained by JDC-Miller Motorsports. With four-time Indy car champion Bourdais at the helm, and held up by a recalcitrant rear wing that made the final 19 minutes of this race extremely difficult, Bourdais drove exceptionally well to finish 1.435 seconds ahead of the No. 55 Mazda, Harry Tincknell at the wheel, that won this race last November. The No. 50 Acura ARX-05 of Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, driven to the finish by Kamui Kobayashi, finished third while the second Acura, the No. 10 from Wayne Taylor Racing claimed fourth place, 2016 Indianapolis 500 winer Alexander Rossi, the final racer on the lead, 349th lap.
Bourdais was trying to overcome the aerodynamic deficiencies of the broken rear wing, whose top element went missing. “I didn’t know it was the rear wing until I got out of the car (in Victory Lane),but I knew something had happened aerodynamically,” Bourdais said. “Every corner that was coming, I was like,’Man, how am I going to do this one?’ The flip side (of the broken wing) is that the car was extremely fast down the straightaway. I was very hard to pass there. That was one of the most improbable situations that I’ve ever been a part of – that turned out in a good way.”
The important thing about endurance sports car racing is to be in position to take advantage in the final hour and the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac did just that. It’s been a long time since this group saw the double-checkers endemic of victory; the team changed preparation groups two years ago and hasn’t been atop a podium for a long time. The winning car only led 28 laps – all within the last 31 laps of the race – but they were there to take advantage when other frontrunners had issues.
The three Frenchmen found themselves in position to take advantage in the final hour, after the No. 01 Cadillac from Chip Ganassi Racing, the leader with 70 minutes remaining, collided with the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE GTLM entry. This contact broke the toe link on the No. 01 and sent it to the pits at the most inopportune moment in the race. With six-time NTT INDYCAR Series champion Scott Dixon at the helm, this Cadillac DPi took the checkers in fifth overall, two laps behind the leaders after pitting for needed repairs.
In the LMP2 class, victory came to the strikingly-colored No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports’ ORECA LMP2 07 of Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating and Scott Huffaker, who were just five laps behind the overall winners. For much of the race the No. 52 held a lap lead over the field, but aft the final restart, Jensen had to contend with Ryan Dalziel, intent on winning to take the 36 Hours of Florida. He would come up 2.587 seconds short of the team’s second 2021 victory.
Colin Braun,George Kurtz and Jon Bennett drove the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier JS P3 prototype to victory in LMP3, finishing 20 laps back of the overall winners. The final two hours saw Braun take the No. 54 from fourth to first, finishing 2.685 ahead of his closest competitor, the No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier of Dylan Murry, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jim Cox.
The battle in GTLM, nominally a factory class that will become GTD Pro next year, went to the Porsche 911 RSR-19 of WeatherTech Racing’s Matt Campbell, Cooper MacNeil and Mathieu Jaminet, this trio leading the two BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE race cars that are, essentially, factory cars. Corvette Racing finished fourth and fifth in class. Porsche won GTLM last November but that was a factory team; this is not.
Again, luck played a factor in the GTLM finish, as the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R tangled with the No. 25 BMW as it attempted a pass with only eight minutes left in the contest. Both cars went off-course and de Phillippi incurred a drive-through penalty for causing the incident. While the privateer Porsche didn’t have the pace of those factory efforts, it had the luck it needed to earn the checkered flags. “We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” said Jaminet. “Sometimes it’s part of racing. It’s nice reward for this whole team and for our program.”
It doesn’t happen very often, but when the No. 9 Pfaff Porsche won GTD late Saturday night, it’s because this entry was in the hunt from green to checkers. The “plaid” Porsche fended off all numbers of challengers, including the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche, both Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F racers and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, the reigning GTD champs. Lauren Vanthoor, who helped Porsche’s factory team to the 2019 GTLM championship, was in his first GTD race, racing with teammates Lars Kern and Zacharie Robichon. “It went really, really smooth. We had a really good car,” Vanthoor said. “We had it in Daytona as well, but we made mistakes. [Here] We did a flawless job and everything went perfect. That’s the way you win races.”
IMSA has had to rearrange its schedule with the change of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, normally held in June but, this year, relegated to an August date. The next race for most of the classes is May 14-16 with the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. That race will be a sprint by comparison, a two hour, 40 minute contest for all but GTLM.