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There was only one driver lineup entered in this year’s 66th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts made up entirely of past overall race winners. It was only fitting, then, that lineup – comprised of Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre and Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi – combined Saturday to give Nissan its first win in the endurance classic in almost 25 years.
Derani – who joined van Overbeek in the winning overall lineup in 2016 – inherited the lead on a series of pit stops with 39 minutes remaining and never relinquished the top spot, driving to a 12.427-second victory of the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. of defending race winners Wayne Taylor Racing. Lapierre, meanwhile, won his first Sebring in 2011 with Peugeot.
It was Nissan’s first overall win at Sebring since 1994 when Steve Millen, Johnny O’Connell and John Morton combined to win in the No. 75 Nissan 300ZX. The Tequila Patrón ESM team also won the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Sebring in 2016, but that win came in a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2.
“We worked the entire weekend to get a car that was really, really strong at night,” Derani said. “We weren’t sure if that was going to be the case because you never know what you get, during the race the weather might change. But we managed that.
“We had a car that was extremely understeery behind another car. It was quick but in clean air. The car came towards us as the temperature got lower. I was able to overtake (Felipe) Nasr in the end. I could make the manoeuvre on the slow corner further down the lap. I’m really happy the work came to us over the weekend because it paid off to have a quick car in the end.”
Unable to defend its 2017 victory, the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. enjoyed a different “victory” of sorts. The team lost a considerable amount of time midway through the race after repairs due to contact with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. The team not only rebounded in the race, but also in the season points after an early retirement in the Rolex 24 At Daytona with drivers Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Ironically, the other car involved in that incident rounded out the podium with the No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R. finishing third with co-drivers Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Mike Conway. It was the second consecutive podium finish for the team after a second-place effort at Daytona and moves them to the top of the Prototype standings after two events.
As usual, attrition was the story at the notoriously demanding Sebring circuit.
Among the casualties, polesitter Tristan Vautier made heavy contact with the tire barriers in Turn 17 while running well inside the top-five with two hours remaining in the race.
“It started from the beginning of the out lap – I flat-spotted a tire because I was too impatient trying to change a switch on the car,” said Vautier. “When I got to Turn 17, I locked up a bit. I didn’t feel as though I was as wide as I was, but when I realized my left side tires were in the marbles, I tried to get on the gas. But once you’re in the marbles, it’s like ice, and the wall came to me pretty quickly.”
Others Sebring victims included the pair of Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi prototypes that showed speed throughout the entire weekend. Just as the race reached the halfway point, the No. 7 Acura DPi driven by Ricky Taylor brought out a full-course caution when the car rolled to a stop with flames coming out of the rear of the car.
The car – which contended for the lead throughout the first half with Taylor and co-drivers Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal – retired due to loss of oil pressure.
Not long after the No. 7 Acura DPi retired, Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 6 Acura DPi and Vautier in the tangled in Turn 17, forcing Montoya off course at the exit of the turn while both cars were battling for top-five positions. Montoya eventually got the car running, but stopped again on course after less than one lap with a drive-train problem.
Another victim was the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R. team that previously had finished in the top-five in all 17 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup races held since 2014. That streak came to an end Saturday night when the Rolex 24 At Daytona winners had to make significant repairs following an incident with the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA LM P2. Co-drivers Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque finished 10th, 20 laps down.