A big crash while the leaders were trying to navigate traffic in the final stage of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring took out the top three GTP cars as well as several GT cars, and produced a surprise winner that should have been no surprise.
The pole-sitting No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac V-Series.R of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken, Aitken at the wheel for the finish, won the Twelve Hours of Sebring, with the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 of Nick Yelloly, Connor De Phillippi and Sheldon van der Linde finishing second. The LMP2 winner, the No. 8 Tower Motorsports ORECA of John Farano, Kyffin Simpson and Scott McLaughlin finished third overall.
The No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports squad of Mathieu Jaminet, Nick Tandy and Dane Cameron finished third in GTP while their wrecked heap of a 963 was carried on a flatbed back to the Penske transporter.
With several late-race yellows, a fight to the finish was set up with the top five GTP cars on the lead lap all full of fuel and with fresh tires. Jaminet led Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport Acura ARX-06 with Jaminet’s teammate Felipe Nasr’s No. 7 PPM 963 in third. As Jaminet hit traffic in Turn 1, Albuquerque attacked and went inside. But as Jaminet was trying to navigate a pack of GT cars, he moved left, Albuquerque went off track, lost control and slid through the inside of Turn 3, hitting Jaminet’s Porsche on the other side of the apex. Nasr was next on the scene, hit the Acura, and then the No. 6. All three cars were done, and Aitken sailed through for the victory.
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“It was a very, very tough race and we were trying to hold our position as good as we could,” said Aitken, the third driver in the No. 31 for the endurance races. “But the other guys were fighting extremely hard. At some point, you have to realize when it’s time to give up, and that’s part of the reason that we made it to the end today. We all drove pretty smart, I think as well as racing as hard as we could when we had the pace. But yeah, there was a little bit waiting for an accident to happen at some points in that race.”
It was a little bit improbable that AXR would be in a position to be fighting at the end. Derani started the race double-stinting the Michelin tires that he qualified on. Part way through the second stint, the car became a handful and Derani started sliding backward through the field, putting him in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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“I think we underestimated a little bit of the fact that it was quite hot out there,” Derani explained. “We knew that we couldn’t make it, especially if went green most of the race, on the amount of tires that we had. So we tried to be a little aggressive in the beginning to have more tires at the end. The second half of the second stint was quite difficult. Very quickly after that I had a contact with a LMP3 That spun right in front of me, so had to had to stop for repairs and so removed that set of tires from the car.”
The No. 31 nosed into the P3 car, damaging the front clip and pushing it into the tire. Shedding bodywork, the team tried to keep the car out until the pits opened, but it wasn’t going to make it. Between that and a stop-plus-10s penalty for an improperly served emergency service obligation, the team went down a lap with about 10 hours left in the race — plenty of time to get it back, and with under five hours to go, Derani was in the lead again.
However, he quickly discovered he didn’t have the pace to stay there. And later in the race, Aitken also realized the car didn’t have what they needed to fight for victory without the incident taking out the top three.
The victory was the fourth Sebring win for Derani, and put the AXR team into the championship lead.
The Porsches had the pace at the end, but they had some issues early on, including a puncture for the No. 6, then an incident with Tandy in the car when he slowed suddenly and then opened the door, proceeding to the pit where the crew tightened a hose after Tandy complained of a “weird gas.”
And, like every Sebring, the race had its share of bizarre incidents; but the most bizarre was Robert Mau in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier hitting the No. 6 963 with Cameron at the wheel during a yellow flag. While the field was behind the safety car, the No. 38 drove hard into the 963 as the wave-around process started, heavily damaging the Ligier and inflicting rear bodywork damage on the Porsche. Despite all that, they were there for the fight at the end, and without the notorious Sebring traffic, might have cruised to victory. But hard, aggressive racing took over.
“I’m really sorry to all the Porsche Penske motorsport group and team, all the Porsche family for that,” said Jaminet. “And luckily, I’m OK, Filipe’s OK, that’s the most important thing.
“We were racing hard — with 30 to go everybody pretty much goes all in. The 10 went on the left in the grass. And from what I saw on the outside the camera, I moved more to the left. But the thing is, I didn’t know he was there. And then I realized he’s there, so I tried to move to the right. But he’s in the grass, and then he lost control, and then that caused the accident. So that’s really unfortunate. I’m also really sorry for the 10. Filipe apologized straight away coming out of the car for his move trying to go down in the grass. So in the end, I believe it’s a really unfortunate racing accident, both drivers being fully at the limit.”
Like the 31, the No. 25 BMW went down a lap, only it was late in the race while the crew was working on the brakes. But yellows breeding yellows, they were able to get the lap back in short order and be there at the end.
“It’s Sebring, right? Last 20 minutes guaranteed, there’s always gonna be a crash of some sort, and normally it’s for the lead,” said De Phillippi. “I’ve been taken out twice from the lead myself. So from the start of the race, I told both my teammates Nick and Sheldon, if we just can be there at the end, just be on the bumper, something is bound to happen. And we had a clean race, all the guys did great stops, we kept the car in one piece … yeah, we didn’t have the perfect, outright pace. But at the end of the day it’s only our second race with the car and second race with the prototype car as a team and as a manufacturer. So hats off to everybody on the team at BMW and Dallara and all of our partners. I’m just super proud of everybody in this program.”
Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian’s chances ended late in the race when the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 lost a wheel. Two of the other GTPs had gone out earlier, the first being the No. 24 BMW M Team RLL car that had a technical issue and was retired after 172 laps. Sebastien Bourdais was looking quite strong in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing, easily taking the lead from Derani on a restart with a little less than four hours to go and pulling out a lead.
But it all went up in smoke, literally, after 241 laps, Bourdais pulling into the pits with a fire. The team described it as a “fuel distribution issue,” one that had not occurred in testing or at Daytona.
“It’s obviously pretty disappointing for everybody,” said Bourdais. “The guys did a great job. A couple of incidents that kind of put us out of sequence and then we paid the price with the double stints on tires. Renger (van der Zande) did a heck of a job hanging onto the car because it was well over two stints on the tires and not easy. And a typical safety car reset the field. We had a great restart from last to ninth and we worked out way to the lead with a great pit stop by the guys.”
The LMP2 win and overall third for the Tower Motorsports squad seemed a remote possibility when Kyffin Simpson had an off and backed the No. 8 ORECA into the tire wall, breaking the rear wing. But the team got the car back together and stayed in the fight, McLaughlin finally holding off the No. 11 TDS Racing squad of Mikkel Jensen, Steven Thomas and Scott Huffaker in second.
“Unfortunately, Kyffin had that little moment, but he’s been flawless for the two races I’ve been with him,” said IndyCar Series driver McLaughlin after his second race in LMP2 and first at Sebring. “The team really did the right strategy and kept us on the lead lap, fixed our bodywork, thankfully the car was straight and we had a really fast race car. I was able to just use the right strategy calls from the team and and manufacture a result there at the end.
“But it was pretty full on — it was pretty hard racing at the end and definitely difficult. This is probably the darkest race I’ve ever been a part of, I’ve never seen anything like it. So I was just building up confidence every lap out there at night. Particularly racing with people but yeah, I really enjoyed it. Just really stoked for everyone — for John, Kyffin and the team.”
Christian Rasmussen, Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel were third in the No. 18 Era Motorsports ORECA – also an unlikely podium finisher after an early spin and a couple of penalties left them digging themselves out of a hole. Five cars finished on the same lap, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports car in fourth, followed by the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR ORECA.
LMP3 was shaping up to be fight to the finish between the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Ligier and the No. 30 Jr III Racing Ligier until luck in the form of another full-course-caution-causing incident toward the end that set up the Big One. Shortly after a restart, Pietro Fittipaldi went off course and hit the tires. A wheel from Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Rick Ware Racing ORECA LMP2 bounced across track — whether that was the cause or the result of the crash is unknown. Fraga in the No. 74 avoided it, Grist in the No. 30 hit it square-on as it fell from the sky. That left Fraga a lap in the lead in the car he shared with Gar Robinson and Josh Burdon, able to cruise to victory.
“I saw the wheel,” said Fraga. “First my team told me that there was a car in the wall in Turn 1. But we were racing tight at that moment when I hit Turn 1 and I saw the wheel coming to the track and I was going to the right because the wheel was passing the road. But suddenly the wheel stopped in the middle of it. And I just waited for it to hit me. It was not meant to be, the wheel bounced and then I just saw Garret going with the lights crazy. So I said maybe he hit it. It was crazy. It was very, very lucky for us to not hit that wheel.”
The No. 13 AWA Duqueine of Orey Fidani, Matthew Bell and Lars Kern was second in LMP3, followed by the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Duqueine of Till Bechtolsheimer, Tijmen van der Helm and Dan Goldburg.