IMSA: PC teams recovering from extensive damage at Sebring

IMSA: PC teams recovering from extensive damage at Sebring


IMSA: PC teams recovering from extensive damage at Sebring

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Of the four classes competing at the Mobil 1 Twelve hours of Sebring on March 15, the PC field was nearly decimated, thanks to constant contact and a few jaw-dropping crashes.

Only two of the 10 PCs that started the race were in contention for the win at the end of the 12-hour race, and half of the ORECA FLM09-Chevys were either in the dumpster or well behind the leaders by the time the checkered flag waved.

Brian Alder’s BAR1 Motorsports, Paul Gentilozzi’s RSR Racing and Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports were the hardest hit, but they weren’t alone. Enzo Potolicchio’s 8Star Motorsports team and Bobby Oergel’s PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports also took heavy blows, and of the most memorable PC clashes, it started with O’Neill’s No. 38 entry driven by young Canadian David Ostella that kicked off PC’s day of extensive damage.

Running wide at Turn 17, the former Indy Lights driver hit the tire barriers, rebounded onto the track and was hit by Frankie Montecalvo in Oergel’s No. 52. Montecalvo, who had no room to avoid Ostella, hammered the black and red car before veering across the track and nosing hard into the concrete barrier at pit entry.

Alder’s No. 87, driven by vintage racer Gaston Kearby, was at the center of the race’s most alarming and contentious crash as the 52-year-old Texas oil man spun exiting Turn 16, spun again trying to rotate his PC in the right direction, and came to a stop sideways in front of IndyCar Series veteran Alex Tagliani who was at the controls of Gentilozzi’s entry.

The French-Canadian was lucky to receive only mild injuries to his right wrist, but his No. 08 RSR car, not to mention the integrity of IMSA’s driver licensing criteria, was left a steaming wreck.

With more than a week to assess the damage and plan for the next PC round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 4, RACER spoke with Alder, Gentilozzi and O’Neill to see where they are at in the recovery process.

“We’re looking at both options actually, getting a replacement car or just a tub and getting parts,” said Alder. “We’re going to make that decision by the end of next week. There’s quite a few cars out there actually and quite a few tubs available, so I have to look at it and see what makes the most sense for us. We’ll still be out there with two cars out there either way.”

Gentilozzi entered Sebring with major repairs made to both of his PC cars, making the clash with Kearby especially hard to swallow.

“For us, we suffered two big wrecks at Daytona, and we didn’t tub either car,” he noted. “Alex’s car was totaled this time. It crushed the tub, the left front corner of the tub. It vaporized everything in front of the front axle. I will say the tub did an excellent job absorbing the energy; the FIA does a great job there. But it’s ruined. We stripped the car, and anything in a 30G hit like this, it all get ripped away or bent. All the suspension, the bellhousing. It elongated all the suspension and mounting points on the right rear…”

O’Neill’s car suffered most of its damage from the secondary contact with Oergel’s No. 52.

“To be honest with you, it’s not as bad for us as it was for a couple of the other teams that had just bonehead moves happen,” said O’Neill. “I mean, our kid was just racing hard and made a little mistake about four or five laps prior to that and I think he just got himself all worked up. The track was sandy and all the cars were pushing a little bit and he got a little wide at 17 and that’s all it took. There he went. But we didn’t tub our car.

“We’re actually right in the throes right now of getting it back together so we can get a test day in before we go across the country. I spoke with Bobby [Oergel], and fell really bad for them because it wasn’t their fault, but at least both cars are repairable.”

Some teams insure their racecars with specialist firms that cater to the racing industry, and for some of the PC owners, Sebring’s crash expenses will be covered.

“We insure all our race cars for this reason specifically,” said Alder. “It was definitely the whole right side and the tub for us. It was a big hit. But yeah, it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

For Gentilozzi, the repair bill for Tagliani’s altercation with Kearby won’t be cheap.

“The difficulty for all the teams is the gap between the insurance and what it costs to replace the car,” Gentilozzi explained. “We’ll well exceed the coverage. We’re racers, we’ll be back for Laguna. The only question is timing. There wasn’t a tub sitting around, so ATR looks like they’ll have a tub the 10th of April. The other option is to go buy a new car.”

Asked where he’d find the funding to pay for the overages, Gentilozzi hinted at pursuing the crash’s instigator.

“You don’t charge your pro driver for the deductible on the insurance, so you eat it,” he continued. “I’ve been doing this a long time, had crashes, had people crash into me, but I don’t think I’ve seen a more flagrant example of this guy spinning, ignoring the corner workers, and spinning again into the path of Alex, who couldn’t avoid him. I’m now exploring all of my available recourses.”

BAR1, like most PC teams, is funded by Pro-Am drivers. IMSA is expected to increase its minimum standards for Pro-Am drivers in the wake of Sebring’s messy PC and GTD incidents, which has Alder waiting to learn whether Kearby and some other Pro-Am pilots will be allowed to continue racing in the TUDOR Championship.

“It’s up to really IMSA if they’re going to initiate any penalties or probation or suspensions of license just based on what they think happened,” he said. “And then once they do that then we can figure out what we’re going to do. We have other drivers too that are interested in seats and everything. Business-wise, it doesn’t really matter to me. Obviously, Gaston’s going to be a full-season driver, but if he can’t make a race for whatever reason we have other drivers that can fill in. The incidents weren’t limited to the amateur drivers, either. I just hope whatever decision they make is the same for everybody that was involved in this incident. Not just singling out amateur guys or making one guy a scapegoat. It’s everybody.”

O’Neill welcomes more stringent standards for the PC class, even though it would potentially reduce the pool of paying Pro-Am drivers.

“I don’t think it would be a bad thing for any of us,” he acknowledged. “There’s some of the amateurs that are out there, if I had to have them in my car, I’m better off leaving the car here in the shop. I don’t want to go there and just be a guy that knows that after an hour we’re going to be down three or four laps. Anything can happen in racing, but I don’t think letting some of these guys in is good for the sport right now.

“Anybody other than a Tagliani or a Bruno [Junqueira] or [Rafa] Matos in that crash, and we could all be sending flowers to a funeral. They just need to revamp the whole Gold, Silver, Platinum and who gets his license. The same people that are making the decisions up in race control are also deciding who gets a license, and I know they’re working on a lot of reviews and ways to tighten things up when we get back to racing in Monterey.”​