This past weekend was the 65th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring held in central Florida, which is the long official name of what race fans just call “Sebring”! The racing weekend included excitement from International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) series with the following groups: WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC), Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC), Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge (GT3 Cup), and Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda (MPC) which replaced the Protoype Lites category. This year the Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) was absent which had attended Sebring in previous years.
Sebring is close to a weeklong event with MPC and GT3 Cup haulers arriving and unloading on Tuesday and the cars first out on track for Wednesday practice. I arrive Wednesday afternoon in time for the track walk which many drivers take part in. If you are new to Sebring, the track walk should be mandatory. Even though I have heard drivers talk about the bumps and surface of Sebring, when I walked the track last year, I realized it firsthand or firstfoot. Sebring is historic, which is a polite way of saying, “old”. I think driver Oliver Jarvis was spot on when he Tweeted, “There's a reason Audi used to use Sebring as a test track. It really does push the cars to the limit & beyond! Plenty of LMP cars with issues”.
Over the years, the Sebring experienced drivers have learned where the bumps and cracks in the pavement are the worse and how to #RespectTheBumps which was the hashtag of the weekend. With no rain all weekend, the rubber bits from the different series littered the track and heated up under the Florida sun just waiting to stick to the Continental or Michelin tires of the IMSA race cars. Also to the party were the left over bits of the GTE Cup3 cars who run Yokohama tires.
Now for the race recap and let’s break down by class. With my favorite team moving from Prototype to GTD, I am now a “free-agent” fan and equally cheer for many teams, I was happy with the weekend results of Neel Jani (Rebellion Racing) on the pole and Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR) with the win. WTR is truly a family story with Jordan and Ricky winning the race just 21 years after their father was on the top podium step at Sebring, too. Over the years, IMSA fans are familiar with Jordan and Ricky following in their father’s successful footsteps.
Rebellion Racing started P1, but the domino of issues started with a faulty air-jack and followed by drive-through penalty for pit-lane infringement. With motor and first alternator issue soon to follow, and the car being taken to the garage putting the car laps down. The third alternator failure resulted in retirement from the race.
Remembering the outcome of Daytona Rolex 24, race fans wondered how the #5 Action Express would react if running close to #10 WTR at the end. Unfortunately, #5 suffered power steering loss and the gap was getting wider so the finish was predicted prior to the last lap.
In GTD found my favorite team, Michael Shank Racing (MSR) pushing hard in practice and qualifying, however the cars just weren’t on the top. The # 20 BAR1 Motorsports Prototype Challenge (PC) car driven by Mark Kvamme tapped the back end of #86 in the Friday morning practice session. With the car repaired prior to qualifying, the team used the session as more of “shake-down” laps.
I have known Mark for several years and after the incident, he did go to MSR and apologize. Since Mark has driven a PC several times, and while I was sad for the MSR group, I truly believe it was accidental. With 21 GTD cars in the largest IMSA class, Tristan Vautier in the #75 Sun Energy1 Mercedes AMG GT3 car grabbed the pole. I have been a fan of Tristan’s for years and very happy for him and the team.
The GTD race came down to #33 Mercedes AMG driven by Jeroen Bleekemolen and #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 driven by Alessandro Balzan, who temporarily took back the lead after a full-only pit stop during a full course yellow. Once the racing got back to green, Jeroen raced to win making this the first IMSA win for Mercedes AMG in only two races.
With four PC cars in the smallest IMSA class, Mark Drumwright in the #26 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 car was on the top spot with a close gap of +0.069. While this is the last year for the PC class and given all the negative press from the Daytona race, Sebring race was very clean for the PC cars and quite exciting. During the race, #26 recorded faster laps than two Prototype cars and all PC cars were still running at the checkered flag. The overall results show PC cars placed fifth and sixth. I will miss the PC class. To me the racing was happening in the GTLM class, which I hope received much air time. The battle in the final hours between #3 Chevrolet Corvette driven by Antonio Garcia and the strong Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT cars was only enhanced by the nighttime where much of the unlit Sebring track is dark and fierce. Add to the mix the #911 Porsche 911 driven by Patrick Pilet who turned the fastest laps and provided Antonio Garcia some heartburn, ended up in the pits with a tire doing flat. When the race is separated by seconds, one unscheduled pit stop can cost the team the win.
If you missed the race or want to watch again, here are the YouTube links for both parts of the Sebring 12 hour race.
The next race for WTSC is April 7 and 8 weekend where the track time will be shared with IndyCar at the Grand Prix at Long Beach California.