Pipo Derani scored his third overall victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, elevating new teammates Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R to the top step of the podium for the first time.
The race started in the rain, went to dry with extended stretches of green-flag racing and ended with a short sprint following a short caution. The Whelen team was up to all of the challenges, leading 249 of the 348 circuits in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the season.
Nasr survived a restart with eight minutes remaining and took a 1.030-second victory over Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R in the closest non-managed finish in the 67-year history of the event.
Co-driving Taylor’s Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning car were Renger van der Zande and Matthieu Vaxviere.
“Unbelievable,” said Curran. “We finished second and third here a couple of times and never got to the top step of the podium. My teammates were phenomenal. It feels so amazing to win this race after 15 years of trying.”
Derani won the race in 2016 as a rookie and again in 2018, both with Extreme Speed Motorsports. The Whelen Engineering team took second in 2016 and third in 2017 and 2018 prior to finally taking the top step.
“I’m out of words right now,” Derani said. “Man, this is amazing. It’s my third win here in four years. We couldn’t be happier.”
The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R ran in podium contention throughout the race, leading 69 laps before finishing third with Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Brendon Hartley. That was the team’s fifth podium finish in six years at Sebring.
A key moment in the race came shortly before the eight-hour mark. Nasr passed Vaxiviere for the race lead, giving the Whelen team both the lead and its second five-point bonus in the Michelin Endurance Cup. The two teams ended the event tied for the lead with 28 points each.
The next turning point came late in the 10th hour, when the fourth full-course caution of the race waved for Parker Chase, off course in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3. Derani’s 48-second lead over Hartley was erased, allowing the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac to close in while allowing both the No. 54 CORE automotive Nissan and No. 7 Team Penske Acura to regain the lead lap.
The fifth and final caution waved with just 16 minutes remaining when Bill Auberlen came to a stop with a broken front suspension in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. That set up a sprint to the finish — with the top two cars in each of the three classes running less than two seconds apart at the time of the yellow.
The No 7 Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi of Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Alexander Rossi finished fourth, followed by the No. 54 CORE automotive Nissan DPi of Colin Braun, Jon Bennett and Romain Dumas.
The race began like a continuation of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, with teams under caution at the start for 21 minutes before the green flag waved in very wet and rainy conditions and extremely limited visibility.
The slick tires came on after the two-mark, though, and from there on racing continued in earnest, slowed only by the four widely spaced cautions. The heavy rain forecast for late in the race failed to materialize.
Two of the major contending DPi teams experienced problems with both cars early in the race.
Timo Bernhard pulled off course in the sixth-place No. 77 Mazda he shared with Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez with an electrical fire traced to a battery issue at the 2h19m mark. That car went to the garage for more than four hours for repairs.
Later, Jonathan Bomarito was battling for the lead in the No. 55 Mazda when he slid off course in Turn 13 at the 5h50m mark to bring out the caution for the third time. Once pushed out of the tires, the Mazda (also driven by Olivier Pla and Harry Ticknell) was back underway, but lost two laps in the pits. The team fought back to finish sixth, two laps down.
Acura Team Penske started on the pole but both cars struggled early in the race during the rainy conditions — both losing multiple laps. While the No. 7 managed to get back into contention and finish fourth, the No. 6 of pole-winner Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud had several lengthy stops due to electrical issues, eventually finishing ninth, nine laps back.
GTLM: Porsche Worst to First
Seemingly out of contention in the rainy opening laps, the pole-winning No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Frederic Malowiecki worked their way back from several laps down to take the GT Le Mans victory.
Tandy charged from fourth to second on the penultimate restart, then took the lead with 36 minutes remaining when Antonio Garcia pitted in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R. It was the first green-flag lap led by the pole-winning car.
Tandy led the rest of the way, although chased by the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon which led GTLM much of the race. After the final restart, Briscoe attempted a pass for the lead in heavy traffic but spun after being tapped from behind. He came back to finish sixth.
“It was really awesome,” Makowiecki said. “The beginning of the race in the rain was so difficult for us. We came back from last. It was really fantastic for us to win.”
Joey Hand finished second in the No. 66 Ford GT shared by Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, 1.951 seconds back. Completing the podium was the No. 24 Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM of John Edwards, Jesse Krohn and Philipp Eng.
GTD: Lamborghinis 1-2
Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen and Rik Breukers captured GTD in the No. 11 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3, winning by 2.724s over the No. 44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini of Andy Lally, John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly.
“It was really awesome — Mirko did two incredible stints,” Breukers said. “He went in P6 and came out P1. We are really, really happy.”
Toni Vilander finished third in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3.
The tight class battle featured at least nine cars on the lead lap for most of the race.
The hard luck story was the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Zach Robichon, Scott Hargrove and Lars Kern. The car was destroyed late in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and sustained minor damage in a spin during Saturday’s warm-up, but then led 63 laps here, dominating the first half of the race. A wheel sensor eventually failed, losing ABS and traction control. The team replaced the sensor during a ninth-hour pit stop, losing two laps. They went on to finish ninth.
LMP2: Performance Tech gets the win
Performance Tech Motorsports locked up the LMP2 class in the third hour when the division-leading No. 52 ORECA Gibson of Anders Fjorback began smoking due to a broken suspension part on lap 60. The team went to the paddock and lost 20 laps for repairs, and with no other cars in the category, Kyle Masson, Cameron Cassels and Andrew Evans led the rest of the way, winning by 14 laps.
“This is harder than the Rolex 24 because you’re flat out the entire 12 hours,” winning car owner Brent O’Neill said. Everybody did a great job. You just have to persevere and push forward.”
Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech Championship is the Bubba Burger Grand Prix for the DPi and GTLM classes on the streets of Long Beach on April 13. All four classes return to action at Mid-Ohio on May 5 for the Acura Sports Car Challenge.