Sebring 12 Hours: Dramas for title contenders in opening quarter

Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac leads the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship finale, as Acura Team Penske’s title hopes took a huge knock with a mechanical problem.

Prototype

Acura Team Penske’s polesitter Ricky Taylor took the lead at the start of the race ahead of Renger van der Zande’s Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R who worked hard to hold off the second Acura of Dane Cameron. Behind, Harry Tincknell moved the #55 Mazda RT24-P ahead of Sebastien Bourdais’ JDC Miller Motorsports Cadillac to grab fourth place, while Action Express Racing’s Caddy, piloted by Pipo Derani, were ahead of the second Mazda of Oliver Jarvis and the second JDC Miller car of Matheus Leist.

Then came word from Race Control that van der Zande would have to serve a drive-through penalty for falling out of line to tuck behind the pole-winning Acura before they passed the green flag.

At the first round of stops, just past the 35min mark, the only driver change was 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay taking over the #55 Mazda from Tincknell. Derani went a lap longer – and turned a strong in-lap – and between AXR’s fine work and the leaders emerging in traffic, that jumped the #31 Cadillac ahead of the lead Mazda and into fourth.

That almost immediately became third, however, as suddenly Taylor’s #7 Acura slowed and pitted – rear bodywork was removed and it was dragged off behind the wall. IMSA Radio reported that a left-side turbo intercooler had failed, which necessitated the removal of the turbocharger. It would eventually resume 11 laps down.

Thus the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, still driven by an outraged Renger van der Zande, became the championship favorite, despite starting the race two points in arrears.

Jarvis would soon depose temporary teammate Hunter-Reay to take fourth and tried to close down the 2.5sec deficit to Derani in third. Up front, heroics from Bourdais had seen the JDC-Miller car close within one second of leader Cameron, but that became irrelevant when the yellow flew. That was to retrieve debris from a shunt by John Farrano’s Tower Motorsport by Starworks Oreca, which had been running second in LMP2, way behind dominant leader Patrick Kelly in the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport car.

Under yellow, all Prototypes bar the AXR Cadillac and the #55 Mazda pitted, so they headed the field at the restart, but Cameron swiftly passed Hunter-Reay for second, while the back-in-play #10 WTR machine of van der Zande passed Bourdais for fourth.

When Derani and Hunter-Reay pitted – and handed off to Gabby Chaves and Jonathan Bomarito respectively – Cameron took the lead and set some scorching times to pull out 10sec over the battle between van der Zande and Bourdais, while Olivier Pla (now in the #77 Mazda) and Leist were within 3sec.

At the next round of stops, van der Zande gave the WTR car to Ryan Briscoe, Vautier took over from Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya replaced Cameron and Scott Andrews took over from Leist.

Two hours into the race Montoya held a 7sec lead over a fine battle between Chaves, Bomarito and Pla, until Chaves and Bomarito peeled off for their off-strategy pitstop, promoting Pla to second in the #77 Mazda with Briscoe third for WTR, just two seconds ahead of Vautier’s JDC-Miller machine. Bomarito’s Mazda would emerge ahead of Chaves’ AXR Caddy.

Briscoe had just pitted the #10 WTR Cadillac when the second caution flew for flimsy but large debris at Turn 17 (final turn). Thus the sexy black Cadillac vaulted into the lead when everyone else took advantage of the yellow, and emerged in the order Montoya, Andrews, Vautier, Tristan Nunez (#77 Mazda), Tincknell (#55 Mazda), Felipe Nasr (AXR).

Briscoe made a great restart to maintain the lead, while Vautier moved up to third ahead of Andrews and Tincknell passed teammate Nunez, but then came a third yellow for GT carnage.

GT Le Mans

Connor De Phillippi’s BMW M8 took the lead from the polesitting Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia at the start. In the opening laps these two appeared to be in a race of their own, for Jesse Krohn’s third-placed BMW fell five seconds behind while holding off Nick Tandy’s #911 Porsche 911 RSR, Tommy Milner in the #4 Corvette and Neel Jani in the #912 Porsche.

Fifty minutes in, De Phillippi and Garcia were less than a second apart, but 17sec ahead of Krohn’s BMW who was under no pressure from Tandy and Milner, while Jani was 12sec behind the second Corvette.

In response to the debris, ahead of the yellow flag, all cars were pulled in and De Phillippi resumed ahead of Garcia, while Porsche got the #911 – now driven by Earl Bamber – ahead of Krohn’s BMW and into third.

The next round of stops saw the #3 Corvette – now driven by Jordan Taylor – emerge ahead of the #25 BMW which now had Colton Herta at the wheel, with Bamber maintaining third but only just ahead of the #24 BMW now with Augusto Farfus onboard. Nine seconds down in fifth was Oliver Gavin, while Laurens Vanthoor was charging in sixth.

The second yellow saw the GTLM cars pit once more, and Herta fell to fifth but following the restart he immediately repassed Gavin to take fourth, while up front Bamber’s #911 Porsche hit the front ahead of Taylor’s Corvette and Farfus’s BMW. Taylor would soon make a little error that allowed the M8 to pass the C8. Gavin’s Corvette then expired, spewing fluids and needing to pit.

GT Daytona

Jan Heylen was easily able to convert his Wright Motorsports Porsche’s pole into the lead, chased by Andrew Davis in the Hardpoint Racing Audi R8, the AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC Fs of Frankie Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz. The latter appeared to be struggling in the early stages, as he fell some five seconds behind his teammate and was closely pursued by Richard Heistand’s Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan, Robby Foley in the Turner Motorsports BMW M6, Cooper MacNeil in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488, and Madison Snow’s Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini.

After half an hour, Heylen had a 10sec lead over Davis, with Montecalvo and Teltiz and Heistand running roughly five seconds apart behind. However, Foley’s BMW was filling the mirrors of Heistand’s Lamborghini.

Heylen’s lead was an amazing 20sec by the time Wright Motorsports pulled him in as teams responded to debris on the track from the LMP2 shunt, anticipating a full-course caution. Heylen handed off to Ryan Hardwick. At the first restart, Hardwick held on in the lead but ran wide 15mins later allowing the Hardpoint Audi (now driven by Rob Ferriol) and the Grasser Racing Lamborghini now driven by Steijn Schothorst – who then deposed Ferriol for the class lead. In fact, Hardwick’s loss of momentum dropped him all the way down to 11th.

Meanwhile, Ferriol was holding off the Lexus RC Fs now piloted by Michael de Quesada and Kyle Kirkwood, and Ian James in the Aston Martin Vantage. Meanwhile, championship favorites Meyer Shank Racing’s #86 Acura NSX had moved into sixth, with Shinya Michimi at the wheel.

De Quesada passed Ferriol for second but by then he was already 8sec behind Schothorst.

After the next round of stops, Heistand held a 17sec lead over the two Lexus RC Fs, Townsend Bell now driving the #12 ahead of Kirkwood, while Darren Turner was steering the Aston Martin in fourth ahead of Bryan Sellers in the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini and Matt McMurry in the MSR Acura.

The pitstops that followed the second yellow were a disaster for Grasser, as the car died as it left the pitbox and had to be taken behind the wall. That left Bell and Kirkwood running 1-2 for AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus but not for long. With the Corvette of Gavin suddenly slowing and dropping fluid(s), the GTD leaders were the first to hit it and both RC Fs spun into the tire wall on the exit of Turn 17. Ferriol also spun the Hardpoint Audi and Hardwick looped the Wright Porsche, but this pair were able to get going again in 10th and ninth respectively. The #14 Lexus’s race was ended, the #12 was effectively ended.

Turner’s Aston Martin Vantage thus led the class, with Jeff Westphal second in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, Lawson Aschenbach’s Riley Motorsports Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3, McMurry’s MSR Acura, and Sellers in the PMR Lambo.

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