By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 66th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts offered no shortage of intriguing storylines throughout the race. In reflecting on last Saturday’s one lap around the clock, the intrigue will continue as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship shifts from the endurance racing format to the sprint mindset for the next several events.
Here are five key takeaways from an outstanding race at Sebring:
1. Mazda Team Joest is a Contender
When the announcement was made in the middle of last season that Mazda would be partnering with Joest Racing to operate its two-car team of RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race cars, longtime followers of sports car racing saw it as a bold move that would pay dividends.
After watching the team’s performance in last Saturday’s race, those longtime followers were probably spot-on accurate in their assessment. While the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona was disappointing for all involved in the program, both the No. 55 Mazda shared by Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Spencer Pigot and the No. 77 co-driven by Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast were among the leaders for much of the race.
A midrace brake issue ultimately removed the No. 77 from contention for the victory, but that didn’t stop Jarvis from posting the fastest lap of the race, a 1:49.002 (123.521 mph) flyer that set a new WeatherTech Championship Prototype race lap record at Sebring, besting a 122.7 mph lap set last year by Mike Conway.
The No. 55, meanwhile, led a total of 38 laps and ran among the leaders throughout and was running in second place behind the eventual race-winning No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi co-driven by Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre until its final pit stop. That’s when an electrical problem delayed the car from restarting and dropped it off the lead lap. The No. 55 car came home in sixth place.
With the performance of both cars, it’s safe to assume that Mazda’s first Prototype win is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
“It was an incredible day for Mazda Team Joest,” said Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan, who has spearheaded the manufacturer’s WeatherTech Championship program since Day 1. “If someone had told me we were going to be competitive, lead as many laps as we did, set a new track record and jump everybody on pit stops and fuel range, I don’t think I would have believed them.
“I’m very proud of how the team and all of our technical partners performed today – it was a big step forward from Daytona. We dealt with a lot of adversity today, but I couldn’t be more proud of the way our drivers drove and the way the guys over the wall performed. It stings a bit to have a potential win snatched away from us right at the end, but we definitely made everybody stand up and take notice.”
2. It’s Only a Matter of Time for Acura Team Penske Too
For the second consecutive WeatherTech Championship race, both Acura Team Penske cars were in top contenders before midrace issues took them out of the running.
The No. 7 Acura ARX-05 DPi shared by Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal ranked among the prerace favorites for the victory based on its pace in both practice and qualifying. And it was a strong contender throughout its time in the race also, as evidenced by its 31 laps led. Unfortunately, a mechanical problem just as the race reached its halfway point forced the car’s early retirement from the race.
“It’s really unfortunate,” said Taylor, who was at the wheel when the car encountered its terminal problem. “Our plan was really coming together. The whole Acura Team Penske group did an amazing job this weekend. We ran in the top three all day long. Unfortunately, this issue knocked us out.
“We had such a good plan going heading into the nighttime hours, when I think our car was really going to come to life. We will move past this. It’s one thing if we weren’t running up front and contending, but we were a car capable of winning this race today.”
The No. 6 Acura DPi shared by Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud, meanwhile, fell behind early in the race through a rear-wing change, but managed to battle back and was running among the leaders past the halfway point, although it never did lead a lap.
Almost exactly an hour after the No. 7 retired, Montoya and polesitter Tristan Vautier in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi-V.R made contact in Turn 17, forcing the No. 6 car to spin. Montoya pointed out later, however, that the car wasn’t performing at its optimum even before the incident with Vautier.
“We could tell that the car was losing power about four or five laps before we were knocked off track,” he said. “It’s a shame because we were in a good position for the transition to night, when we knew the track would come to us. Everyone at Acura Team Penske does a great job with these cars and we will figure out what happened and be ready for Long Beach.”
At 100 minutes, the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach on April 14 is one of the two shortest races on the WeatherTech Championship schedule. As strong as both Acuras have been in both races so far, and the fact that three of the four drivers – Taylor, Castroneves and Montoya – all have won races on the streets of Long Beach before, both cars have to be considered among the favorites to win there.
3. Porsche’s GTLM Podium Phenomenon
In Saturday’s race, both of Porsche GT Team’s 911 RSRs finished on the GT Le Mans (GTLM) podium with the No. 911 entry shared by Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki taking the victory and the team’s No. 912 RSR co-driven by Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and Gimmi Bruni coming home in third place. It was the manufacturer’s 11th GTLM race victory since the first WeatherTech Championship race back in 2014.
Remarkably, it also was the seventh time that there was a second 911 RSR on the podium in addition to the race-winning Porsche. Including Saturday’s race, the No. 911 has led the way four times, including a 2017 victory at Lime Rock Park ahead of the second-place finishing No. 912 Porsche, and back to back 1-2 sweeps ahead of the 912 at Road America and VIRginia International Raceway in 2015.
The No. 912 flipped the script in 2016, winning at Circuit of The Americas ahead of the No. 911. The other two wins came from the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR – at Motul Petit Le Mans in 2014 and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in 2015 – both times ahead of the second-place finishing No. 912 Porsche.
“It’s a great achievement to score two podium spots at Sebring,” said Porsche Director of GT Factory Motorsports Pascal Zurlinden. “The secret was our consistency and the fact that we didn’t make one mistake. We may not have been the fastest over a lap, but over the distance the drivers and the entire team put in a perfect performance.”
Consistency and perfection are a familiar recipe in Porsche’s GTLM wins.
4. Lamborghini Scores Historic Double
When the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 took the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with co-drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Corey Lewis, it marked the first time in WeatherTech Championship history that one manufacturer had swept the GTD class at both Sebring and the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the same year – with the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team’s Lambo of Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Franck Perera and Rik Breukers winning at Daytona.
In fact, you’d need to go back to 2012 to find a similar achievement, when Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars won at both Daytona and Sebring.
That year, John Potter, Andy Lally, Richard Lietz and Rene Rast teamed up to win the 50th Rolex 24 at Daytona in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche. At Sebring, the GTC class victory – in which every car was a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup – went to Alex Job Racing co-drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Dion von Moltke.
One key difference this year, however, is the fact that both Daytona and Sebring were Lamborghini’s first victories in either event. Porsche, meanwhile, is the winningest manufacturer at both longtime endurance events.
5. Michael Shank Racing Shows Mettle in Getting No. 93 Acura Back on Track
The final race results will show the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 co-driven by Lawson Aschenbach, Justin Marks and Mario Farnbacher scored seventh in the GTD class. What they don’t show, however, is the tremendous resolve of the Ohio-based team, which was put to the test following a heavy crash during practice on Thursday afternoon.
The team pulled at least one all-nighter putting the car – which missed qualifying and all other on-track activity Friday – back on track in time for the prerace warm up on Saturday morning. Just getting the car back out there was an accomplishment in itself, but they did more than that.
Despite starting from the back of the field, the No. 93 machine led the race twice for a total of 27 laps and was among the contenders for the victory throughout the race and was the highest-finishing Acura in GTD.
“The fight these guys put up today, I just couldn’t ask for more,” said Team Owner Mike Shank. “The result is a little disappointing because we ran so well but the cars were just beat to death at the end. All of the drivers did just wonderful, I couldn’t ask for any more from anybody. We will just take this result and roll on to Mid-Ohio.”