"There's no such thing as endurance racing anymore," explained Sébastien Bourdais, who drove the number 5 Action Express Racing that won the 12 Hours of Sebring overall today. "Just a long sprint." If anything proved that theory this weekend, it was the late battle in the GT Daytona class.
The number 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America was leading with less than ten minutes to go in the race, with Mario Farnbacher behind the wheel. Jeroen Bleekemolen in the number 33 Dodge Viper of TI Automotive was not far behind, however, and he immediately jumped ahead when Farnbacher locked up his brakes, flew off the track and almost ate the wall in his already rear-bumperless 911.
[Insert "Mario found the banana peel" joke here.]
Everyone thought Alex Job Racing's hopes for a class win were over when the now-leading Viper pulled into pit lane in the last five minutes of the race, sputtering and limping along. The car didn't even make it to its pit box. It was overheating. Bleekemoelen dejectedly got out of the car and the car retired with only minutes left to go. They went from having the lead to finishing ninth in class.
Alex Job Racing got its big break and drove through to the win, as if karma was making up for last year's loss-by-asinine-penalty.
The battle for the overall win in the Prototype class was fairly uneventful, as Action Express planned. The Mustang Sampling-liveried Corvette Daytona Prototype of theirs managed to lap the entire field, winning the race by an entire lap.
Bourdais explained that the team relies on every member to do everything perfectly, from the mechanics to the drivers to everyone in between. They also got lucky with long periods of green flag time as well as yellow flags that came out after their pit stops, allowing them to remain a lap ahead of the competition without the rest of the field catching up under yellow.
Based on the lap times they saw in practice and qualifying, Bourdais said he "knew we'd be inferior" to the more modern P2 cars. The P2s laid down some quick times, claiming pole and second on the grid. Would this be the race where the more modern prototypes get a win?
Nope. Bourdais said that the teams themselves often have a lot to do with it. The DPs are primarily run by three professional drivers, as that's what the class allows. "We're well financed, and we do what it takes to win," he said.
Many of the P2 cars, on the other hand, have at least one gentleman driver who's off the pace of the others. "Put Tracy Krohn in the car, and he's 25 seconds slower than the others," said Bourdais. (Ouch!) Gentleman drivers bring funding, sure, but they don't nail down twelve hours of perfection.
Extreme Speed Motorsports was the P2 team that brought the biggest fight using last year's cars that had been brought out of storage to run this race. but both cars retired with mechanical issues. Perhaps the lack of time spent preparing the ARX-03b for this race caught up with them.
Perfection brought Chevrolet their first overall win at Sebring in many, many years. The last time a Chevy-powered car did won the 12 Hours of Sebring overall was with a Chaparral in 1965. Corvette fans everywhere are probably shedding a single, graceful tear at the Prototype class podium, which featured three Corvette DPs. Wayne Taylor Racing claimed second place and VisitFlorida.com Racing took third.
Prototype Challenge and GT Le Mans had less dramatic ends to their races as well, fitting to the fact that this race was less nuts than Daytona. There weren't as many wrecks. The lone raccoon that was found in pit lane wasn't hit by any cars. There were also long, wonderful periods of green-flag racing.
The number 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports car won the spec Prototype Challenge class, driving cleanly to maintain their 11.6 second lead on last year's winning team, the number 54 of CORE Autosport.
Finally, the number three Corvette C7.R of Corvette Racing took the GTLM win, edging out the Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia.