Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring 2018

Keith Bluemel Words by Keith Bluemel
The Van Overbeek/Derani/Lapierre Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi took overall victory in one of the closest finishes at Sebring

Round 2 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts, at the famous central Florida circuit. The 66th running of the event during the 14th to 17th of March attracted an entry of 43 cars, 16 in the Prototype class, 9 in the GTLM class and 18 in the GTD class. Apart from the main 12 hour race run on the Saturday, there was also a strong support programme, with a round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series, the 2 hour long Alan Jay Automotive network 120 on the Friday afternoon, plus a pair each of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama races, IMSA Prototype Challenge races and HSR races. Add in all the practice and qualifying sessions, the Car Corrall Parade Laps, together with all the peripheral activities, like the Spring Break Party Zone, the pre-race pit walk and autograph session, and it can be seen that was plenty of activity to entertain race fans through the course of the four days.  As a bonus the weather remained beautiful, with clear blue skies and pleasant ambient temperatures for the duration, only getting a little chilly when the sun went down.

Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE took pole in GTD category but suffered early in the actual race
While the Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Land Motorsport was second fastest in qualifying

After four practice sessions totalling 4.5hrs, the qualifying sessions took place at lunchtime on Friday, with separate 15mins sessions for each class, with the GTD class runners being the first to take to the track. When the chequered flag signalled the end of the session, it was the # 51 Spirit of Race entered Ferrari 488 GTE, driven by Daniel Serra, which had claimed the top spot, with a lap in 1min 58.710secs. 2nd fastest was the # 29 Montaplast  by Land Motorsport entered Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Christopher Mies at the wheel, followed closely by the # 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 entry driven by Jack Hawksworth, with the top six cars covered by less than a second. One of the group didn’t make it to the qualifying session, this being the # 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian, which had suffered a heavy impact with the tyre wall during the Thursday practice session after reported brake failure. However, the team valiantly repaired it in time for the race, and their efforts were rewarded with a 5th in class when the chequered flag fell on Saturday evening.

Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM #24 was 3rd fastest in GTLM qualifying, sister car #25 took runner-up spot
Team Penske Acura DPi showed potential

GTLM class qualifying honours went to the # 25 BMW Team RLL entered BMW M8 GTLM driven by Connor de Phillippi, just ahead of the # 62 Risi Competizione entered Ferrari 488 GTE driven by James Calado, with the second # 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM 3rd quickest driven by Jesse Krohn. All nine entries in the class were covered by a fraction over a second, so there was going to be some frantic race action in store. In the prototype class things were equally close, with the top ten entries covered by under a second. The # 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing entered Cadillac DPi topped the time sheets with a lap in 1min 47.432secs in Tristan Vautier’s hands. 2nd fastest was the # 2 Tequila Patron ESM entered Nissan DPi driven by Olivier Pla, with a third different make, the # 7 Acura Team Penske entered Acura DPi, driven by Ricky Taylor, 3rd quickest. As a point of note, all three class pole position laps were new qualifying records.

The Garcia/Magnussen/Rockenfeller managed 8th place in GTLM after opening lap shunt, sister car came in sixth

When the green flag was waved at 10.40 on the Saturday morning the pole sitting # 90 with Tristan Vautier at the wheel led the field into the first turn, but the # 2 Nissan of Olivier Pla tried to go around the outside and there was contact, this saw the Nissan spinning out onto the grass and the field swept past it. The contact had done some damage to the Nissan and it slowly trundled back to the pits for investigation. It wasn’t the only one that suffered contact, as both the # 3 Corvette and the class pole sitting # 51 Ferrari collected left rear punctures in separate incidents, necessitating slow journeys back to the pits for replacement rubber, and then lost more time while the respective pit crews checked for further damage, making the remainder of the race an uphill struggle for them. It transpired that the shock of the impact had caused transmission damage to the # 2 Nissan, and it was posted as the first retirement. At virtually spot on the 30 minute mark, the # 64 Ferrari of Frank Montecalvo, was the innocent victim of the spinning # 52 Ligier LMP2 of Sebastian Soavedra in Turn 17 coming onto the start-finish straight. The point of impact on the Ferrari flipped it onto its roof and into the tyre barrier, fortunately without injury to the driver, but the damage was such that its race was run. This led to a lengthy full course yellow while the Ferrari was recovered and the tyre barrier repaired.

Mazda DPi set the fastest lap in the race

After the hectic opening period things settled down a little, but there were still virtual trains of cars in all classes vying for position, and still the full course yellows came, but mainly for short periods through minor “indiscretions”. These served to bunch up the classes, and meant that when the race was running “green” that there were constant battles for its duration. Whereas in the past the Mazda DPis have been fast but fragile, the tie up with Joest Racing for the 2018 season seems to paying dividends, as despite a disappointing Daytona race, they showed much improved form at Sebring. Their # 77 car driven by Oliver Jarvis posted the fastest lap of the race, in a time of 1min 49.002secs (123.521 mph), a new class record. Brake problems dropped it back, but the sister # 55 car was in contention for a 2nd place finish until its final pit stop when an electrical issue dropped it off the lead lap to a 6th place finish.

Porsche was first and third in the GTLM Class
Victory in GTD went to the Sellers/Snow/Lewis Lamborghini Huracan

After 12 hours of racing around the demanding and bumpy, thus physically tiring, Florida track, it was the # 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi of van Overbeek, Derani and Lapierre that took the chequered flag first, providing great relief and joy for the team, after losing their # 2 car on the 1st lap. They were only 12.427secs ahead of the # 10 Cadillac DPi driven by J. Taylor/Van Der Zande and Hunter-Reay, with the top five finishers all on the same lap. Porsche took the GTLM class win with their # 911 car driven by Pilet, Makowiecki and Tandy, with the sister 912 example of Vanthoor, Bamber and Bruni finishing 3rd, sandwiching the # 25 BMW of Sims, De Phillippi and Auberlen in 2nd place. As in the prototype class the top five finishers were all on the same lap, and the class winning margin was only 6.230secs. Things were just as close in the GTD class, with ten cars on the class lead lap at the finish, and leading them was the # 48 Lamborghini Huracan driven by Sellers, Snow and Lewis, which finished 8.169secs ahead of the # 63 Ferrari of MacNeil, Balzan and Jeanette, giving some cheer to Scuderia Corsa after the loss of their # 64 car early in the race.

All Photos by Keith Bluemel

Whereas the #63 Scuderia Corsa had to be content with finishing runner-up

Race Podiums

Overall & Prototype Class

1st # 22, Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi, J. Van Overbeek/P. Derani/N. Lapierre

2nd # 10, Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, Cadillac DPi, J. Taylor/R. Van Der Zande/R. Hunter-Reay

3rd # 31, Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi, F. Nasr/E. Curran/M. Conway

GTLM Class

1st # 911, Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR, P. Pilet/F. Makowiecki/N. Tandy

2nd # 25, BMW Team RLL, BMW M8 GTLM, A. Sims/C. De Phillippi/B. Auberlen

3rd # 912, Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR, L. Vanthoor/E. Bamber/G. Bruni

GTD Class

1st, # 48, Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini Huracan GT3, B. Sellers/M. Snow/ C. Lewis

2nd # 63, Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3, C. MacNeil/A. Balzan/G. Jeanette

3rd # 33, Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, B. Keating/J. Bleekemolen/ L. Stolz

Frustrations for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, #67 leading in GTLM with less than four hours to go until electrical issue dropped them to 4th at the end