Race Reviews

JDC Miller Motorsports take the most unlikely Sebring victory

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After struggling for two days to find speed in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R – and without a properly functioning rear wing at the end of the race – Sebastien Bourdais found just enough pace Saturday night to lead his team to an improbable victory.

When the top element of the rear wing went missing shortly after a restart with 19 minutes remaining in the race, Bourdais managed to stay just far enough ahead of the field. He brought the damaged car to the finish line 1.435 seconds ahead of Harry Tincknell’s Mazda to claim the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

Bourdais wasn’t sure what had happened when the wing broke. Before he discerned it was a problem with the car’s aerodynamics, he nearly lost control of the Cadillac.

“I’m just really lucky that I didn’t stuff it in Turn 17 before I made the adjustments,” Bourdais said. “That was a very, very close call there. At the same time, thankfully I had enough of a gap to (Tincknell) that he didn’t pass us by the time I collected myself. I didn’t know it was the rear wing until I got out of the car (in victory lane), but I knew something had happened aerodynamically.”

With his car out of shape and suddenly two seconds a lap off pace, Bourdais’ relatively comfortable lead over Tincknell dissolved into a nose-to-tail chase over Sebring International Raceway’s 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit. Tincknell challenged for the lead several times, but Bourdais didn’t relinquish.

“Every corner that was coming, I was like, ‘Man, how am I going to do this one?’” Bourdais said. “The flip side of (the broken wing) is that the car was extremely fast down the straightaway, too. I was very hard to pass there.

“I don’t know. Sometimes with the gods of racing, you don’t know what’s happening. You just take it and move on. That was one of the most improbable situations that I’ve ever been a part of that turned out in a good way.”

As previous leaders encountered crashes and mechanical problems during the course of the race’s first 11 hours, Bourdais and his co-drivers, Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier, found their Cadillac in the lead late in the race.

That came after multiple incidents – both involving the No. 5 and other contenders – that culminated with the final 19 minutes. The No. 5 car led only 28 laps – all of them within the final 31 laps of the race – as Bourdais held off Tincknell, who co-drove the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi RT24-P with Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito.

While JDC-Miller MotorSports celebrated its unlikely overall and Daytona Prototype International (DPi) win, two teams were enjoying dominating victories in the other prototype classes.

Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating and Scott Huffaker teamed to take the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 to the front in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), while Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Jon Bennett co-drove the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier JS P320 to a win in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class.

The No. 5 Cadillac found itself in position to win after Scott Dixon and Connor De Phillippi collided while Dixon was heading to the pits with 70 minutes left. Dixon, who had a healthy lead in DPi at the time, and De Phillippi’s No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE made contact, breaking the toe link on Dixon’s No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

“It was a very late call to the pits, so I was scrambling to get everything undone in time,” Dixon said. “I was trying to get back to pit road and there was a car there. I had no other place to go. … I feel bad for the team. Everybody was doing a fantastic job. The car was fast.”

Kamui Kobayashi challenged Tincknell during the final laps in the No. 48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi V.R he shared with Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud. However, because Pagenaud exceeded the drive time limit of no more than four hours in a six-hour period, the No. 48 was scored last in class.

That gave the third spot on the DPi podium to the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 co-driven by Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla and Juan Pablo Montoya.

For much of the race, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA held a one-lap lead over the LMP2 field. But after the final restart, Jensen was chased by Ryan Dalziel, who finished just 2.587 seconds behind in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA he co-drove with Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman.

“It got more exciting than we wished it to be,” Jensen said. “We were leading by more than a lap for eight hours. I was getting a little nervous (near the end of the race). The last stint was my worst one. That’s when I had to fight. It got difficult.”

The No. 54 car prevailed in LMP3 after falling far behind early in the race. Braun passed and held off Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 at the end.

“It was a great result for us and really fun at the end,” Braun said. “You definitely have to earn it. I think that makes it all that much more special for CORE and Crowdstrike. It’s a huge win. It gets some momentum going.”

In the end, though, the story was an unlikely victory by a DPi team that struggled for two days prior to the race to find speed, then maintained it after the car’s wing fell apart.

“It felt kind of overdue because we led so many laps last year and things didn’t go our way,” said Vautier, who won at Sebring for the first time to go with two pole positions. “Today, the stars were aligned.”

For the second straight year, the German manufacturer powered the winning entries in both the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes. The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 was victorious in GTLM, having the door to victory lane opened Saturday night when the two cars ahead collided with minutes remaining in the 12-hour endurance marathon at Sebring International Raceway. Meanwhile in GTD, the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R paced a 1-2 Porsche finish.

It also pushed Porsche’s total of class wins in the Twelve Hours of Sebring to 100.

“I’m just happy to see a 1-2 for Porsche in GTD and Porsche winning GTLM,” said Lars Kern, a co-driver in the No. 9 Pfaff Porsche who also works as a Porsche engineer. “I think it’s just the perfect race weekend for Porsche.”

WeatherTech Porsche Capitalizes in GTLM, when BMW, Corvette Tangle

The No. 79 WeatherTech Porsche appeared destined for a third-place finish behind the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R and the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE. That is, until Connor De Phillippi tried to muscle the No. 25 past Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 at the Turn 7 hairpin with just eight minutes to go.

Both cars went off course after the collision. De Phillippi was penalized for incident responsibility, the pit-lane drive-through relegating him to a second-place finish. Garcia limped the No. 3 Corvette home in fourth. Barely able to avoid the fray in the No. 79, Mathieu Jaminet accepted the spoils and the win he shared with co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Matt Campbell.

“Going to Turn 7, I think the BMW had a chance and it looked like the Corvette didn’t close the door that much,” said Jaminet, who picked up his first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory, coming in one of the crown jewels of endurance sports car racing. “The BMW just dove in, was maybe a little bit optimistic on the brake. When I came to the corner, they were more or less side-by-side and just touching and hitting each other. They had big contact and I had to avoid the BMW, which was going to the other side of the track. So, I went left straight in the grass. I got really lucky there because I think it was pretty close with the BMW to being a big crash. It was a little bit of a crazy fight, let’s say.”

While the No. 79 remained on the lead lap throughout the race, it didn’t seem to have enough to challenge either the No. 3 or the No. 25. The Corvette set the early pace until a radio miscommunication with driver Nicky Catsburg had him fail to pit at the right time under a full-course caution with five hours remaining.

It looked then like the No. 25’s race to win until the No. 3 made a fortuitous pit stop just before a caution with less than two hours to go. It allowed Garcia to jump back into the lead and set up the fireworks with De Phillippi.

“We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” Jaminet said. “Sometimes it’s part of racing. It’s a nice reward for this whole team, for the program.”

But the No. 79 Porsche persevered and won while leading only 28 laps. A customer team operated by Proton Competition beating a pair of factory-backed efforts is worth shouting about, according to MacNeil.

“I don’t think anybody would have predicted that, but that’s what hard work, perseverance and an amazing group of guys can do for you,” said MacNeil, who claimed his ninth IMSA win and second at Sebring. The first came in a Porsche in 2013, in the GTC class.

“I’m thrilled for the whole team, for the brand,” MacNeil added. “My second race in GTLM ever, to get the win, especially at Sebring against some of the best drivers in the world, top manufacturers, factory-backed efforts. We show up with a non-factory effort and a Silver driver in the car. I could not be more thrilled to get the win here at Sebring.”

The win was also the fourth straight at Sebring for a Porsche in GTLM, with the factory-backed Porsche GT Team capturing the past three.

The next race for the GTLM class is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, June 24-27 at Watkins Glen International.

Pfaff Motorsports Runs Flawless Race to Earn GTD Victory

Zacharie Robichon was worried things were going too well. But in the end, he didn’t have to worry. Laurens Vanthoor knew the No. 9 “Plaid” Porsche was good and, along with Robichon and Kern, drove it to the GTD victory.

Combined with smooth pit stops and excellent strategy, the driver trio kept the No. 9 in the hunt throughout the 12-hour race. They fended off challenges from a myriad of GTD contenders, including the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche, both Vasser Sullivan Lexuses and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.

In his first season of GTD competition after collecting five WeatherTech Championship GTLM wins and the 2019 championship with the Porsche GT Team, Vanthoor took over for the final race stints. The 29-year-old Belgian bumped his way past the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus and into the lead with 90 minutes remaining and wasn’t seriously challenged after that.

The No. 9 Pfaff Porsche won by 2.112 seconds over the No. 16 Wright Porsche, with the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 placing third.

“It went really, really smooth,” Vanthoor said. “We had a really good car. We had it in Daytona as well, but we made mistakes. We did a flawless job (at Sebring) and everything went perfect. That’s the way you win races.”

Robichon felt a sense of redemption since the Canada-based Pfaff team was limited to two races last year due to COVID travel restrictions. The win was a welcome reward for everyone on the team.

“It’s pretty special, especially after last year,” Robichon said. “It was a difficult year for the team. Obviously, we didn’t race very much, so to come back here in only our second race back, so to speak, we end up in victory lane – at Sebring, no less – is pretty special.

“The race was almost going too well at one point. It felt like something had to go wrong and, luckily, I was wrong. Nothing went wrong.”

The GTD class is in action next at the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio from May 14-16.