Prototype & PC
This time, there was no controversy – just an old-fashioned butt-whipping by the winning Prototype team.
The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing/Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi V.R, with Ricky Taylor behind the wheel, won the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with the No. 5 Action Express Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi V.R finishing second. But it wasn’t pretty – with just seven minutes left, Taylor nudged the No. 5 out of the way in turn 1, causing the No. 5 to spin.
The top two finishers in Saturday’s 65th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring were the same, but Ricky Taylor didn’t need to nudge anybody this time, winning with a healthy 13.614-second lead over the No. 5. The car Ricky Taylor shares with his brother Jordan and newcomer Alex Lynn – at Daytona, the Taylor brothers’ co-drivers were NASCAR star Jeff Gordon and Max Angelelli – was fast and reliable all day and was never seriously challenged.
“I really wanted this race win to be conventional,” said Ricky Taylor. “This was a dominant win, so nobody can question it.”
Third was the No. 5’s team car, the No. 31 Action Express Whelen Cadillac DPi V.R of Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Mike Conway, making it a Cadillac sweep of the Sebring podium.
“They ran a flawless race, they did an excellent job,” said Fittipaldi of the No. 10 team. “They were very strong when it counted. We pretty much got beat fair and square.”
Finishing fourth was the No. 85 JDC-Miller ORECA LM P2 entry, driven by Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg. That team moved up from the Prototype Challenge class this year, and while they finished four laps behind the winner, they are definitely contenders.
The No. 55 Mazda DPi rounded out the top five. It was a really disappointing race for the Mazda team – their second car, the No. 70, brought out the first of the six full-course caution flags early on as driver Joel Miller lost the car’s brakes and drove hard into the tire wall in turn 17. That car finished eighth.
The No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi, driven by Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Pipo Derani, also ran into issues. The No. 2 team not only won Sebring last year, they won the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona. But the car battled turbocharger problems even before race day, and ended up 11th.
Also wishing they had a do-over was the No. 13 Rebellion Racing ORECA LM P2 of Sebastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani. On Friday, Jani qualified on the pole, but they ended up ninth in the race after battling a variety of mechanical problems all day.
In Prototype Challenge, it was another repeat winner from Daytona – the No. 38 Performance Tech ORECA FLM09 – but it was closer this time. The team won Daytona by 22 laps, but the margin at Sebring was two laps over the No. 8 Starworks ORECA FLM09 of Garrett Grist, Max Hanratty and Sean Rayhall.
The No. 38, with drivers James French, Kyle Masson and Patricio O’Ward, did what they did at Daytona: Execute, and make no mistakes.
“It’s awesome to win again in Florida,” said Masson, who lives in the Orlando suburb of Windermere.
Sebring is his home track, and besides the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, he also won both Mazda Prototype Challenge races on Thursday and Friday.
“It feels really good to start the season off like this,” said French.
The race was fast and surprisingly clean, though in the first half of the race, there were numerous mechanical problems, which one team manager suggested were due to drivers running over the curbs in the corners too hard. After the sun went down, the attrition slowed, and the drivers seem to settle into a rhythm.
GTE & GTD
There’s something about the two-car Corvette Racing C7.R team – when one car has a big problem, the other car seems to step up and win the race.
It happened last year at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida: The No. 3 Corvette crashed, ending up 41st overall in the 48-car field. But the No. 4 team car took the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class win.
This year, at the 65th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, same song, different verse: The No. 4 Corvette finished 46th – that’s last place – after cooling issues that couldn’t be solved sent the car to the trailer. That left the No. 3 Corvette to take up the slack, which wouldn’t be easy, as the Ford Chip Ganassi team sent three Ford GTs to Sebring, hoping to complete their string of crown jewel endurance race wins – the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and now the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
And sure enough, two of the Ford GTs did post faster lap times than the Corvette, as did one of the two new Porsche 911 RSRs. But races aren’t just won with speed on the track – sometimes speed in the pits can make up for a lot, and the No. 4 Corvette’s last pit stop was exceptional, putting the car out in front of the rest of the field, and driver Antonio Garcia, who shared the car with regular driver Jan Magnussen and guest driver Mike Rockenfeller, drove a very fast final stint.
Indeed, Magnussen and Rockenfeller both pointed to Garcia’s performance as a key to the win.
“Antonio drove a Superman stint at the end,” Magnussen said. “After the sun went down and the track cooled, we picked up the pace, and Antonio made the most of it.”
Garcia said that last year’s crash was fresh in his mind, and he was determined to exorcise it. “I just put my head down and went for it,” he said.
The No. 4 Corvette’s margin of victory was 4.43 seconds over the second-place car in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship’s factory-backed GTLM class, the No. 66 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and guest driver Sebastien Bourdais, fresh from an IndyCar win last weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The victory for the Corvette was especially sweet – the No. 66, with those three drivers, was the car that won at Le Mans and Daytona. Third was the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. Fourth and fifth were the other two Ford GTs – the No. 67, followed by the No. 68. Sixth was the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, seventh was the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. All seven cars were on the lead lap.
In GT Daytona (GTD), it was a similarly close battle, with the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 taking the win, the first for Mercedes here in 60 years. The Mercedes AMG GT3 just joined the WeatherTech Championship at the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona, though the car has an extensive race history overseas. Driver and team principal Ben Keating, who shared the car with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mario Farnbacher, has been racing Dodge Vipers, but with the company discontinuing production of the Viper, Keating had to find a new car, and he’s pleased with his choice.
It was the first win at Sebring for Keating and his team, and it was sweet.
“We won the 2015 11 Hours and 56 Minutes of Sebring in 2015,” Keating said, “But our engine didn’t make it to the end.” Even worse was 2014, when Keating was driving his Viper early in the race and it caught fire, and practically burned to the ground. “We were third at Daytona, and first here, so we’re batting a thousand on podium finishes so far,” he said.
Second in the GTD class was the team that won Sebring last year, then went on to win the season championship: The No. 63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Christina Nielsen, Alessandro Balzan and Matteo Cressoni. Third was another Mercedes – the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing car, driven by team principal Kenny Habul, Boris Said and Tristan Vautier. On Friday Vautier qualified the car on the pole – a major accomplishment for a brand-new team in a new car. Early in the race the No. 75 fell back, but rallied at the end for a podium finish.
That third-place trophy almost went to the No. 16 Change Racing/Monster Energy Lamborghini Huracán GT3, but it ran out of gas on the very last lap and ended up 11th in class.
The No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R that won the Rolex 24 finished 10th in class, and was never a factor.
The GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes move on to a completely different track than Daytona and Sebring – the comparatively tiny 1.97-mile street course at the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.