WTRAndretti claims the Sebring crown, while Era Motorsport backs up the Daytona LMP2 win

By | March 17, 2024

A caution with 1h20 to go in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, presented by Cadillac, turned the strategy on its head and put all GTP contenders back on equal footing, making it a race of fuel talks balanced by pace …until a few yellows for debris negated the fuel saving aspect.

The No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R of Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon, along with the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports 963 of Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron and Matt Campbell, found themselves in the position of one needed more stops than the other contenders to make it to the end. But because everyone pitted under yellow and the Cadillac and Porsche had both stopped minutes before the caution, they needed less energy and left the pits before the others, Bourdais followed by Nasr. Best of the others was Louis Deletraz in the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06.

In a pace race, it was Deletraz and the Acura – on newer tires, because the Acura took the tires at the last stop and the Cadillac did not – that had it. On the first restart he easily passed Nasr. However, it was after the next two warnings before the final battle would begin. Bourdais took a small lead on the final restart, but Deletraz, who had set the fastest lap of the race on lap 187, came back. A move alongside in 17 didn’t get the job done, but a few laps later, when Bourdais took the center of the track in defense at Turn 7, Deletraz dived even further inside and took the line away to the Hairpin. A few turns and several bumps between the Cadillac and the Acura later, and Deletraz was in the lead.

“I saw that I was strong in braking, especially at low speeds like with the T7 and T10,” says Deletraz. “But every time I was close, he defended very well on the inside and I defended on the outside and he pushed me. So I quickly realized I was never going to make it on the outside, which, fair enough… IMSA racing is tough and that’s how it is, so I thought about it.

“I saw a hole in it [Turn 7] and I just went for it – release the brake, go in and try to stop him from driving back. Then I think there was a bit more contact on the straight, which was another tough race, but I think it was fair and in the end we both made it to the flag, which is also down to two drivers. I couldn’t have done it alone; If he disrespected me, we would both be in the wall too, so I’m very grateful for that.

Wayne Taylor Racing earned its first Twelve Hours of Sebring victory since 2017, and Acura its first (though the second win for Honda Racing Corporation, which won with ESM in 2016). Cadillac No. 01 came in second and Porsche No. 7 third. The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 of Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Maxime Martin finished fourth, leaving four different manufacturers in the top four. The No. 10 WTRAndretti Acura had shown winning pace, but a fluid leak in the late stages, which took some time to repair, allowed them to maintain a fifth-place finish with the team’s victory, its first in the new GTP era.

“It’s a huge win for the team,” Jordan Taylor said. “It is their first win in the GTP class for Acura. So it is a big victory for the team, also for the first time as a two-car team. I think our plan was that we stayed in a triple all day and had no major problems. Car 10 was extremely fast and moved into the lead at one point, but had a small problem which they recovered from and recovered to a top five. Overall, Louis’ final stint was what made the difference today. “I think the team did a good job of keeping us in contention, but he really fought for the win and got it for us.”

Both Cadillacs had dominated the start, but the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing car went out in a big crash and the No. 01 had to fight through some electrical gremlins.

“We had a problem with the ABS over and over again, we had to do some default settings and things like that and it seemed to come back every time we fixed the problem,” Bourdais said. “But then the engine stopped working [Turn 7]; there the two lost places to the two Acuras and the BMW. We got back to work. And we never heard that again. So it was a little weird. I don’t remember when that was, but it was during my second stint. I haven’t had a regeneration for a while so the rear brakes started catching fire and the real tire pressure dropped and it didn’t look nice for a minute but the guys did a great job – they tracked down the problem and found the solution and we got to work and we got there at the end, so it’s all you can ask for.

Era Motorsport’s ORECA once again had its feet on the LMP2 field when it counted. Jake Galstad/Motorsports Images

LMP2 came down to a battle between Connor Zilisch in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA and Felipe Fraga in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports ORECA. Colin Braun and the No. 01 CrowdStrike Racing by APR entry would have been part of the final battle, but as he attacked Fraga he made contact and spun, putting him out of contention.

The No. 74 later developed a problem and dropped the order, leaving Zilisch to fend off a late attack from Mikkel Jensen in the No. 11 TDS Racing ORECA. He did so, claiming the second straight win for Era Motorsports and teammates Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

“It was really hard to pass out there,” Zilisch said. “It was really just whoever could gain a track position and take the lead that would ultimately win. So there, with about an hour to go, we all ran onto a train. I think I was seventh and I knew I wasn’t going to pass them. So I just started saving fuel and waited for the last pit stop. I saved enough to come back and I took the lead when I came back out.

It was far from an easy day for the team as they had to go from the back to the front three times due to various ailments including a puncture and clogged radiators.

“Every time we got to the front we ended up at the back and when I got in the car – the plan is double me, double Connor – I got in the car, we were in the lead,” Dalziel explained. “Then one of the GTPs went off and vomited some carbon. Within one lap we overheated and got a flat tire, so that’s when we left the series. That was only four or five laps after the restart. To be honest, I thought that was it. Without yellow I knew we would struggle to regain time.

“We still knew we had the speed in the car. We have certainly not given up hope. We had already compensated a little with the fuel time and Connor was just starting to save a little bit of fuel. There was a whole conversation over the intercom for a few minutes, that is, this call will be the hero or zero call for the team.

It was the first Sebring victory for the team and drivers, although Dalziel did win a WEC race at Sebring. It was a relief for Merriman after a number of podium finishes at Sebring.

“I’m super happy because every time I’ve been here before we’ve been on the podium, we’ve never won,” said an emotional Merriman. “So the first time I was very excited. The third time I thought, ‘Are we ever going to win this race or not?’ The team did a great job, including these guys, but also the engineering and the whole crew. These out-of-order stops, either the one for debris or the one that was just out of order by strategy, were quick. No mistakes were made.”

Jensen, Steven Thomas and Hunter McElrea finished second by just 1.127 seconds, ahead of the No. 22 United Autosports ORECA of Dan Goldburg, Paul Di Resta and Bijoy Garg. In an impressive turnaround from a tough Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Sean Creech Motorsports team of Lance Willssey, Joao Barbosa and Jonny Edgar finished fourth in the No. 33 Ligier.


The story originally appeared on Racer

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