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Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – SEBRING, FL – Though it is not the longest endurance event in North America, Sebring’s 12 hour once around the clock marathon may very well be the toughest. A brutal mix of bumps and flat out straights, this track more than any other finds weakness, and preys on the weak. The team that won, earned this victory through reliability and consistency.

The start was clean for the leaders, but one car was noticably missing from the grid. The No. 66 Ganassi Ford GT had issues on the pre-race grid and was wheeled to the pit lane by the frantic crew. the driver slated to start the event eventually made his way to the end of the pit lane, where he started the event. Unfortunately that brought with it a drive through penalty.

For the first hour of the event most teams took minor precaution to feel out their machines on the former World War II airfield but as the hours drew on, the mistakes began to show. Whether mechaincal, or driver error, within the first half of the race the No.70 Mazda DPi, No. 52 Ligier P2, No. 2 Nissan DPi and No.4 Corvette GTLM machines were already listed as out of the event.

A scary moment occured for the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Action Express DPi in the opening three hours, as it lost control, spinning and stalling. Driver Eric Curran could not refire the car, and the team lost valuable time as they had to bring the car behind the wall to restart. They would only manage a th place finish.

Over the next  hours the No. 10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing and No. 5 Action Express Cadillacs diced for the lead, using pit strategy and aggressive driving to determine who would gain supremacy.

Meanwhile in the GTLM category, the old rivalry between Ford and Chevrolet picked up as No. 3 Corvette and No. 67 Ford GT came to blows with jsut four hours remaining. The contact put the No. 67 in front but they were both leap frogged by the No. 62 Ferarri of Tony Vilander, who gained two spots at once in a veteran move.

Always willing to out do himself, Vilander took the lead from the  No. 66 Ford GT  in a brilliant out braking maneuver not long after.

The story of the race quickly became left front suspension failures, as all throughout the race both portotype and GT class vehicles alike suffered with the bump and grind of the laborous event.
With only three hours remaining the DPi leaders made another set of pit stops. The two teams battled back and forth for pit lane supremacy all event, and this time, it was Action Express taking a four second advantage off pit lane and back into the fray.

Just 30 minutes later Jordan Taylor surged past their main rivals, again taking control of the event. In fact, between the DPI and GTLM classes, there were over 5 lead changes in the span of 45 minutes. With just under 2 hours and 45 minutes remaining, the normal length of an IMSA Weathertech Series event, a full course yellow flew for a stranded GT-D Lamborghini. This bunched the field up for the final charge to the finish.

Jordan Taylor took the advantage on the restart, however Felippe Albequerqe kept him honest only three seconds in arears of Taylor’s fellow Cadillac as the field eclipsed the 10 hour mark of the race.

The leaders once again hit pit lane with just over 1 hour 30 minutes remaining and the Konica Minolta Cadillac was taken over by Ricky Taylor to finish strong in the race’s final stint. Taylor enjoyed an 80 second gap over Action Express at the time of their pit stop, but that number was reduced to just 17 seconds afterward.

In the GT-D class, the entire race had been a dog fight that was just  too close to call.  The IMSA spec of GT car had been hotly contested all day long between 63 29 48

Taylor put his head down making time on Joao Barbosa, the driver chosen by Action Express for the anchor leg of this 12 hour relay. The gap of 17 seconds built another five seconds as the race neared its final hour. That would all go away though, as a Porsche 911 in the GT-D category came to a  stop on course.  The No. 10 pitted immediately from the lead before the pit lane was closed, giving them a huge strategic advantage over their rivals in the Cadillac stable of top class prototypes.

The No 5 of Barbosa pitted with just 35 min to go and it was a lightning fast 19 second stop for fuel. Taylor assumed the lead in his Ni. 10 Konica Minolta machine and never looked back. Amassing a 12 second lead with less than 20 minutes to go, Taylor drove along with his brother Jordan and Alex Lynn to the team’s second win in a row, and a sweep of the 36 hours of Florida. Joao Barbosa in the Action Express No. 5 landed second on the podium, and Dane Cameron in the third Cadillac swept the podium

In GTLM the fierce battle raaged on over the final hour with Patrick Pilet in the Porche 911 No. 16 puting on a stellar drive as he restarted 9th after the final full course yellow of the event. However on the final pit stop with 34 minutes remaining, the car ran over an air hose causing a fatal penalty to the team’s chances of winning.

Antonio Garcia was having no issues though, as his No. 3 Corvette was able to hold off Joey Hand’s No. 66 Ford GT in the age old bow-tie vs. blue oval rivalry. The win for the Corvette team evens things up at one race win a piece in the historic american automakers cross town rivalry. James Colado in the Risi Competizioni Ferarri was handed a gift on the final lap, as Richard Westbrook in the other Ford GT spun on his own. Westbrook was able to finish the race further down the order.

In the GT-D category there was just far too much action to keep sorted out in one person’s head. Ten cars battled for most of the event for supremacy, but in the endJeroen Bleekemolen and the No. 33 Mercedes AMG GT R held on for the win over Alessandro Balzan and Tristian Vautier, who also managed to climb on to the podium when the third place running No. 16 broke on the final lap.

The Prototype Challenge in its final year of competition was unfortunately a smaller feld of cars than most had hoped for, but Pato Ward took the final checkered flag for a PC machine at Sebring, with the Starworks team finishing in second. Filling out the final step on the final podium for the class was the BAR1 Motorsports team, which finished 20 laps off the pace of the two leaders in class.

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Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW - SEBRING, FL - Though it is not the longest endurance event in North America, Sebring's 12 hour once around the clock marathon may very well be the toughest. A brutal mix of bumps and flat out straights, this track more than any...