A fantastic day at Sebring Raceway saw the #8 Toyota claim victory, plenty of action in the GT classes, and a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
A last-minute rain shower soaked the final half hour of the 1000 Miles of Sebring, but in the end, even with another safety car, it was Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi who came out on top, a full lap ahead of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the sister car. Things looked dicey for the #7 thanks to an extended pitstop, but as we’ve come to expect from the Japanese manufacturer, both cars made it to the end of the race with relatively little drama. This does mean that the #8 extends its lead over the #7 in terms of championship points.
Fortunes were well and truly mixed for the rest of the LMP1 field with SMP Racing, Rebellion Racing and Dragonspeed all suffering issues with cars. The #17 SMP Racing machine ended up in the wall during the first half of the race, and after a few iffy moments, Mathias Beche lost the #1 Rebellion and clouted the concrete wall causing significant damage – he’d previously been reporting downshifting issues too. The second Rebellion started suffering some issues within the final hour, but still managed to finish fourth in class, behind the #11 SMP Racing BR1 of Brendon Hartley, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.
A relatively quiet day in the office for LMP2
There was some minor attrition in LMP2 as well. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing suffered a few issues, including an almost comedic incident where the door jammed shut, stopping Ho-Pin Tung from handing the car over to teammate Gabriel Aubry. Aubry suddenly appeared brandishing a screwdriver as if to save the day, but race director Eduardo Freitas had other ideas, instructing the team that they were not to leave the pitlane until the scrutineer was happy with the state of the car, and its doors! The team eventually managed to get the car back out, but right at the back of the field.
The second JCDC car had a far better race, claiming the win, ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut. Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet seemed unable to move from second place all race! Third in class went the way of the #31 Dragonspeed – impressive considering it needed two rear wing replacements during the race! The rain got the better of Loic Duval in the #28 TDS Racing machine, as he managed to slide into the tyre wall, bringing out another safety car which took us to the end of the race. This promoted Larbre Competition into fourth, the best result of the season for the French team.
Nyck de Vries put in an astounding stint at the beginning of the race, pulling the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara up into 2nd in class from the back of the grid in his first stint. But sadly it wasn’t to be, and an extended stay in the pitlane saw the team drop back to fifth in class.
GTE Pro provides truly brilliant racing. Yet again.
LMP1 may be the World Endurance Championship’s top class, but you can’t argue against the fact that GTE is where most of the magic happens. Throughout this 8 hour race, there have been battles galore up and down the GTE Pro field, and we’ve had at least four of the six manufacturers leading the class at some point. By the end, the top four finishers were all different manufacturers too.
For a long time, it looked like Ford’s race to lose – some fantastic beginning stints for the #67 along with squabbles further down the field allowed them to open up a good lead. But safety cars and a penalty for an unsafe pitlane release made things tough for the UK Ford squad and they had to settle for third. The second Ford was looking strong too until mechanical issues began to hamper the car and the #66 finished three laps down on the last GTE Am car.
An excellently timed strategy call when the rain hit saw Gianmaria Bruni in the #91 Porsche jump Nicky Catsburg in the #81 BMW to claim the lead of the class – a move that would ultimately give Porsche the win thanks to the safety car brought out by Duval. AF Corse seemed to find some pace later on in the race, with Davide Rigon setting the fastest time for the class, a 1:58.701 and the two Ferraris finishing fourth and sixth.
Despite showing brilliant pace during free practice, Aston Martin couldn’t hook it together for the race, and the pair of Vantages ended up ninth and tenth, behind the lone Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller.
From the ashes, a GTE Am phoenix rises
The last week or so has been full of ups and downs for the Team Project 1 guys. After a fire razed their 911 RSR to the ground during the WEC test days, the team had to scramble to get a new car out to Sebring in time for the race. The car arrived hours before scrutineering, and the team managed to get it out and putting in decent laptimes by FP2. Having led the race for a fair chunk of the first half, the team had to settle for third (and the RadioLeMans Spirit of the Race award) following a few mishaps including a coming together of Jorg Bergmeister and Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. Despite picking up the penalty for tagging Jorg into the spin, Fisichella and the #54 team managed to finish second.
The win, however, went the way of Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer and Christian Ried in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche, with the sister car #88 winding up down in seventh.
That’s it from the World Endurance Championship’s 1000 Miles of Sebring. The next round for the WEC will be the 6 Hours of Spa at the beginning of May.