By IMSA Wire Service
SEBRING, Fla. – Under cloudless blue skies, comfortable short-sleeve Florida weather and in front of a massive Sebring International Raceway crowd, the No. 911 Porsche GT Team of drivers Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki won the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – besting one of the most competitive class fields of the day.
It is the first ever Sebring victory for the Porsche trio — Tandy, of Great Britain, and Pilet and Makowiecki, both of France. And it was well-earned and highly deserved, bettering the field with only a 6.482-second margin of victory after 12 long hours of competition.
Alexander Sims, of Great Britain and Americans Connor De Phillippi and veteran Bill Auberlen were second in the class in the pole-sitting No. 25 BMW Team RLL – fielded by IndyCar legend Bobby Rahal. The other Porsche GT team car, the No. 912 driven by Laurens Vanthoor, Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor finished third.
After driving to victory lane, Tandy sat in the car for an extra minute, putting his hands on his helmet and soaking in the historic moment of becoming a winner at Sebring.
“I feel awesome,’’ Tandy, said after climbing out of his Porsche. “I mean, what a race. That was super on the limit at the end, fighting with the BMW. I’m so pleased for all the team. It’s been a really, really great weekend.’’
And Saturday was certainly a really, really spirited competition between some of the world’s greatest auto makes – with Porsche and BMW ultimately deciding the GTLM win, and the Ford GT, Ferrari 488 GTE and Chevrolet Corvette C7.R keeping them honest a little father back on the lead lap.
As is so often the case for the popular GTLM class, Saturday’s 66th running of the race proved to be as dramatic as it was competitive from green flag to the checkered.
Just as with the twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 At Daytona season opener in January, the pace Saturday was intense and consistent – more closely resembling a sprint than the format of a historic endurance race.
All nine cars in class were bumper to bumper at the start. But like the cars, the storylines eventually veered onto different paths.
The defending Sebring class winner No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R seemed bound for a rough day from the very start and was eventually eliminated from contending for the win only a couple hours into the race.
A tire problem following a slight off-track tire drop on the opening lap sent driver Antonio Garcia to the pits on lap 2 of the 344-lap race, immediately relegating the No. 3 to 41st position among the 43 cars at the time.
A battery problem hours later and then an alternator issue followed by three steering issues and ultimately a brake duct change – had the No. 3 feeling anything but lucky this St. Patrick’s Day. The car ultimately finished eighth out of the nine cars in class.
“This is Sebring for you,’’ said Jan Magnussen, who co-drove the Corvette with Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller. “When things are great around here, man they are so great. But when they are like they are today, boy is it a long day.”
It was a similar change in fortune for the dominant Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT teams that finished first and second in the Rolex 24.
The No. 67 Ford GT co-driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon rallied in the final hour to finish fourth in class, 11.7 seconds behind the class-winning Porsche.
The Ganassi team’s other car, the No. 66 – co-driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and last weekend’s IndyCar winner Sebastien Bourdais – finished ninth among the nine cars in class – after its own adventurous day on the always-challenging Sebring circuit.
The two Ganassi cars collided together leaving the pits less than two hours into the race but still rallied to run second and third in class – less than 10-seconds off the lead early on.
Hard contact on the track, approximately four and a half hours into the race, however, resulted in both front and rear damage on the No. 66 Ford GT and extensive work in the pits to repair both ends of the car that essentially took it out contention for a podium finish.