Under cloudless blue skies, comfortable short-sleeve Florida weather and in front of a massive Sebring International Raceway crowd, the No. 911 Porsche GT Team of drivers Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki won the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring – besting one of the most competitive class fields of the day.
It is the first ever Sebring victory for the Porsche trio — Tandy, of Great Britain, and Pilet and Makowiecki, both of France. And it was well-earned and highly deserved, bettering the field with only a 6.482-second margin of victory after 12 long hours of competition.
Alexander Sims, of Great Britain and Americans Connor De Phillippi and veteran Bill Auberlen were second in the class in the pole-sitting No. 25 BMW Team RLL – fielded by IndyCar legend Bobby Rahal. The other Porsche GT team car, the No. 912 driven by Laurens Vanthoor, Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor finished third.
After driving to victory lane, Tandy sat in the car for an extra minute, putting his hands on his helmet and soaking in the historic moment of becoming a winner at Sebring.
“I feel awesome,’’ Tandy, said after climbing out of his Porsche. “I mean, what a race. That was super on the limit at the end, fighting with the BMW. I’m so pleased for all the team. It’s been a really, really great weekend.’’
And Saturday was certainly a really, really spirited competition between some of the world’s greatest auto makes – with Porsche and BMW ultimately deciding the GTLM win, and the Ford GT, Ferrari 488 GTE and Chevrolet Corvette C7.R keeping them honest a little father back on the lead lap.
As is so often the case for the popular GTLM class, Saturday’s 66th running of the race proved to be as dramatic as it was competitive from green flag to the checkered.
Just as with the twice-around-the-clock Rolex 24 At Daytona season opener in January, the pace Saturday was intense and consistent – more closely resembling a sprint than the format of a historic endurance race.
All nine cars in class were bumper to bumper at the start. But like the cars, the storylines eventually veered onto different paths.
The defending Sebring class winner No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R seemed bound for a rough day from the very start and was eventually eliminated from contending for the win only a couple hours into the race.
A tire problem following a slight off-track tire drop on the opening lap sent driver Antonio Garcia to the pits on lap 2 of the 344-lap race, immediately relegating the No. 3 to 41st position among the 43 cars at the time.
A battery problem hours later and then an alternator issue followed by three steering issues and ultimately a brake duct change – had the No. 3 feeling anything but lucky this St. Patrick’s Day. The car ultimately finished eighth out of the nine cars in class.
“This is Sebring for you,’’ said Jan Magnussen, who co-drove the Corvette with Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller. “When things are great around here, man they are so great. But when they are like they are today, boy is it a long day.”
It was a similar change in fortune for the dominant Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT teams that finished first and second in the Rolex 24.
The No. 67 Ford GT co-driven by Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon rallied in the final hour to finish fourth in class, 11.7 seconds behind the class-winning Porsche.
The Ganassi team’s other car, the No. 66 – co-driven by Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and last weekend’s IndyCar winner Sebastien Bourdais – finished ninth among the nine cars in class – after its own adventurous day on the always-challenging Sebring circuit.
The two Ganassi cars collided together leaving the pits less than two hours into the race but still rallied to run second and third in class – less than 10-seconds off the lead early on.
Hard contact on the track, approximately four and a half hours into the race, however, resulted in both front and rear damage on the No. 66 Ford GT and extensive work in the pits to repair both ends of the car that essentially took it out contention for a podium finish.
Sellers’ Secures Lamborghini’s Second Consecutive GTD Victory
It’s been a long time coming, but Paul Miller Racing finally took home another checkered flag in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Saturday in the 66th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
In the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Bryan Sellers took the reins from co-driver Madison Snow with under an hour remaining in the 12-hour endurance race and ran some of the quickest times of the night in the GT Daytona (GTD) class to catch Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 for the lead.
Sellers never looked back, claiming the second straight GTD class victory for Lamborghini, the first win for Paul Miller Racing since he and Snow won at VIR in 2016, and the second straight podium for the team after finishing third at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.
Corey Lewis, a former WeatherTech Championship GTD winner and current competitor in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, was the team’s third driver for the enduro.
“In the end, the car was great,” said an emotional Sellers. “It’s just that, for the first time I think I’m kind of at a loss for words. This is a huge race, and this is the 20th anniversary of the first time I came here with my dad and stood up in Turn 3 and watched the cars go around. I remember him looking at me and saying, ‘If one day you can do this race, that’d be pretty amazing.’ Here we are 20 years later.”
“It’s difficult to know whether you want to be in the car at the end or if you want to be out on the timing stand watching someone else be in at the end,” Snow added. “No matter what, it was nerve-wracking. (This is my) first time on the 12-hour podium, so I’m glad to be on the top step.
“This is huge. After finishing Daytona in third place and now coming here getting in first place, we honestly couldn’t be off to a better start for this championship.“
Soaring into second place in the closing laps was 2017 GTD champion Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 WeatherTech Racing / Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 with co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette. The No. 63 incurred minor nose damage in the final half hour from a wayward prototype, but Balzan continued to charge ahead to land Scuderia Corsa on the podium for the fourth consecutive Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating, 2017 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring GTD victors, claimed the final step on the podium with endurance driver Luca Stolz in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Seven different manufacturers made up the top seven positions in GTD, the most diverse finishing order in WeatherTech Championship history. The No. 29 Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 finished fourth, followed by the No. 15 Lexus RC F GT3 in fifth and the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The No. 93 Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3, which worked around-the-clock to repair the racecar after a heavy collision during practice earlier in the week, finished seventh.