Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr had a near-perfect race, leading all but four laps in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R to win the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring.
Cadillac swept the podium for the two-hour, 40-minute event, headlined by an Action Express Racing 1-2. Derani led Saturday’s lone practice session and captured the DPi pole on a busy day to set the stage for evening action.
“I think this place likes me,” said Derani, who won for the fourth time in five attempts at Sebring. “It was a fantastic day for us. This team is used to winning, and having the two Daytona races not going our way is not what this team expects. We had a dominant car all the way, and it was one of those days where everything went perfect for us. Days like this are hard to happen, but we worked hard to be in this position.”
The victory was a storybook finish for Nasr, who returned to IMSA after missing the Daytona 240 due to testing positive for COVID-19.
“I was frustrated – it’s hard to miss Daytona – but it was something I couldn’t control,” said Nasr. “I couldn’t think of a better way to come back to IMSA. I didn’t feel a difference at all (coming back). All I had to do was take a few laps to get back in the flow. Just like riding a bicycle, you never forget.
“I want to thank God — (it was) a lot to be here today and be healthy. Here we are, Sebring winners in front of Cadillac; and I couldn’t think of a better place to be than the top step of the podium. I felt great all weekend, every time I was in the car.”
Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe finished second in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac, 36.432s back, followed by Sebastian Bourdais and Joao Barbosa, taking the third-consecutive podium for the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC Miller Motorsports Cadillac after gaining two positions on the final lap.
Stretching their fuel to the limit, both Mazda DPis began to run short on the last lap and had to limp home. Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez finished fourth in the No. 77 Mazda, followed by teammates Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito in the Daytona 240-winning No. 55 Mazda.
In GT Le Mans, Corvette Racing reversed positions in claiming its second-consecutive 1-2 finish for its new C8.Rs. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner combined to win in the silver No. 4, beating the No. 3 of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia by .480s.
Two weeks ago, the yellow Corvette gave the team its 100th victory in IMSA competition – and the first for the C8.R.
“It was strategy and pit stops that made the difference,” said Gavin, who scored his 49th victory in North American competition. “Our Corvette C8.R has really come alive in the last two races. To get No. 101 and my 49th in IMSA is fantastic.”
“Today was all about strategy and not making mistakes,” said Milner, a 17-time winner in combined IMSA/ALMS/Grand-Am competition. “Ollie, in the end, made the race for us, saving fuel and allowing us the gap the No. 3 car. Antonio was close at the end, but it wasn’t worth throwing away a win and 1-2 finish for Corvette Racing. So he was probably being a little bit nicer to me at the end than he could have been.”
The Corvette drivers were anticipating a close battle with the Porsche GT Team, but misfortune simultaneously struck both of their rivals in an incident under caution 26 minutes into the event. Laurens Vanthoor had led the class from the start in the No. 912 Porsche 911, followed by the two Corvettes and teammate Nick Tandy in the No. 911. Vanthoor, though, lost the lead during pit stops, with the two Corvettes opting to change only two tires. As Tandy exited the pits after taking over from Fred Makowiecki, he was squeezed between Gavin on the outside and Vanthoor on the inside on the narrow pit road. The two Porsches had side-by-side contact, ripping the nosepiece and left fender off the No. 912.
Vanthoor pitted to replace the missing bodywork, remaining on the lead lap; but was 17 seconds behind the leader.
Three laps after the race went back to green, Tandy’s right rear tire – damaged in the pit road contact – exploded in Turn 1. Tandy took a wild ride through the grass. While managing to stay out of the wall, he had to limp back to the pits, losing a lap when he came in for service.
Vanthoor, meanwhile, needed a second stop, dropping both cars off the lead lap.
Bamber fought back to finish on the GTLM podium, followed by the two Team RLL BMW M8 GTEs.
Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth scored their second-consecutive GT Daytona class victory in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 – under quite different circumstances. Following the July 4 Daytona 240, Hawksworth said, “I didn’t see another GTD car all day.” Saturday night, he prevailed in a terrific final-hour scrap with Bill Auberlen and Toni Vilander.
“Tonight was a very different race from Daytona,” Hawksworth said. “We made the right call on our first stop — we filled the tank and went for four new tires. Then Aaron did a really good job on the exit to cover the ground we lost. We short filled when we got to the last stop, and we were able to jump Toni (Vilander) in the Ferrari.
“The strategy was perfect. We had a good fight at the end. Toni was coming hard there at the end. Normally at the end of the races we have a lot of good battles, so it was a normal day at the office, really.”
Vilander opened the final hour leading the class in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO. Auberlen, driving the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, beat Vilander out of the pits, coming out directly behind Hawksworth.
Looking for a record 61st IMSA victory, Auberlen shadowed the Lexus for several laps but eventually fell back into the clutches of the Ferrari. Vilander took second with 15 minutes remaining, and closed strong to finish 1.510s behind Hawksworth.
Auberlen rounded out the podium, followed by the No. 74 Riley Motorsports AMG of Lawson Aschenbach and Gar Robinson, and the No. 12 Lexus of Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo.
While GTD counted as an exhibition race for the overall WeatherTech Championship, the event served as the second round of the Sprint Cup.
In LMP2, Gustavo Menezes took the checkered flag with a 12.258s lead for an apparent victory in the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA ORECA LMP2 07-Gibson. However, immediately following the race it was announced that starting driver Henrik Hedman failed to achieve the minimum driving time by less than two seconds, handing the victory to Patrick Kelly and Spencer Pigot in the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA.
“I’ll take a victory any way I can get it, but this is not how I wanted to get it,” said Kelly, who led 25 of his 28 laps at the beginning of the event. I thought we finished second (and) I congratulated the DragonSpeed guys. But then I heard over the loudspeaker that we won.”
The disqualification also promoted Cameron Cassels and Kyle Masson to second in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA, followed by Dwight Merriman and Kyle Tilley in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA.
In the end, weather played no role in the event. Forecast thunderstorms failed to hit Sebring, with no precipitation hitting the track on Saturday – a far cry from Friday’s lightning and downpours that delayed opening practice session by 90 minutes.
UP NEXT: Round 4 for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be the Road America 120, on Saturday, August 4 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.