ESM Nissan wins tough Sebring

The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring got off to a hectic start. Pole sitter, Tristan Vautier, lost the drag race down to turn one to Olivier Pla who took the Tequila Patron ESM down the inside of Vautier but contact between the two saw Pla spin into the gravel. Vautier continued but the #2 ESM re-joined at the back of the grid and retired shortly after. The #3 Corvette and #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari also made contact in the opening stages, the Ferrari picking up a left rear puncture.

In GTLM, BMW found themselves in a 1-2 position at the end of the first lap, James Calado had fallen like a stone and the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari was running in seventh place.

It wasn’t long into the race when the first Full Course Yellow was called. The #52 Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier LMP2 lost control through the final corner, collecting the #64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari and sending the GT car in to a low speed barrel role, which ended in the crash barriers. Frankie Montecalvo escaped the incident unharmed while Sebastian Saavedra managed to limp the damaged Ligier back to the pits. There were further incidents up and down the grid as the race reached the first pit window, Jordan Taylor made contact with one of the Audi GTD cars when exiting the pits and the two Ford GTs collided as they both left their respective boxes at the same time.

As the race closed in on the end of the second hour, Felipe Nasr had extended his lead, running up the front in clean air. But into the 120-minute mark, Graham Rahal had made some ground, reeling in the Brazilian former F1 driver as his tyres began to wear. Neither car would hold the lead by the end of hour three. But, with both drivers coming into the pits, the Rahal Acura dropped to fourth as the Cadillacs took up a one-two position with the Curran leading Taylor in the #31.

Closing in on the half way point and it was Pipo Derani who was setting the pace in the #22 ESM Tequila Patron Ligier Nissan. Ricky Taylor was running in second in the #7 Team Penske Acura - having established a 17 second lead before the latest FCY period.

Derani managed to take advantage of a number of slow Penske pit stops and a drive-thru penalty for Mike Conway in the #31 to pull a gap on the rest of the field. Spencer Pigot held third at this point in time, demonstrating the Mazda’s efficient fuel economy to undercut the front runners and despite a drive-thru penalty for Harry Tincknell (for running into the back of the #99 JDC Miller Motorsport), it was an impressive performance from the Team Joest Mazda. That said, the sister car lost eight laps due to rear brake issues for Tristan Nunez.

In the fifth hour of the race - in a rather bizarre turn of events - a spectator gazebo was blown over the trackside fence and landed on the circuit! Perfect timing for Ricky Taylor and the Acura squad who had just completed their pit stop before the caution, allowing them to emerge ahead of Pipo Derani and Mike Conway at the restart.

Alex Brundle span the #32 United Autosports Ligier at the restart, running off line at the final corner to overtake the GT field. Race Control called another caution as a result before restarting the race.

The safety car was called out again not long after Brundle’s spin to allow marshals to recover debris from the #99 car on the front straight and to clear up the collision between the #24 BMW of Jonathon Edwards and the #66 Ford GT of Dirk Muller.

Christina Nielsen spun the #58 Porsche at the restart in the process of attempting to overtake Jorg Bergmeister. Nielsen ended up facing backwards, the on coming back splitting to avoid the stricken Porsche, she spun the car around and got back into the race. It was this period of running that saw Derani begin to draw out his 17 second advantage and with a string of cautions and pit stops, the penalties previously awarded to the #55 and #31 cars were effectively written off, the two cars now occupied third and fourth respectively.

The race would be green for around 90 minutes before Dominik Baumann’s front end came lose on the #14 Lexus, blocking his view. He left the track at turn 1 and 2, taking an advertising board with him before re-joining the track, leaving the advertising board on the circuit. The safety car was called to allow the marshals to safely collect the advertising board as Baumann came into the pits.

The #25 BMW and #62 Ferrari dominated the early stages of the race in GTLM with the #25 holding the lead at the half way point.

Former Porsche LMP1 driver and Le Mans winner Nick Tandy sat third in the #911 Porsche while in GTD, a three-way battle raged between the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, the #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura and the #29 Monaplast by Land Motorsport Audi.

Luca Stolz lead the field at the half way point in the #33 Riley Motorsports AMG Mercedes with Bryan Sellers tucked in behind him in the #48 Lamborghini.

With nine hours on the clock, the race was really heating up. Six Prototypes were running on the lead lap with the #55 Mazda leading the way. Battles up and down the pack were intensifying as darkness fell over Florida, all eyes were on the fight between the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Mike Conway and the #22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Nicolas Lapierre whilst the #90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac kept an eye on the battle from a safe distance waiting to pounce.

The #55 Mazda was running a different strategy at this point, jumping to the front before falling back again through the pit stop windows. The car was in the hands of Jonathan Bomarito who had taken over from Harry Tincknell.

The #31 Whelen Cadillac was lucky to be in contention having escaped any punishment for spinning the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi at the start of the seventh hour. The #5 Cadillac, in the hands of Joao Barbosa collided with the #32 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca at the final corner in the eighth hour of the racing, forcing both cars into the pits with significant damage to both. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac, now up in fourth place had Alex Brundle hot on his heels in the #32 United Autosports Ligier. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac completed the six-car line up in the lead lap of the race.

The third quarter of the race proved to be the end of the road for the Acura Team Penske squad. The #7 of Ricky Taylor was the first to fall with mechanical failures while the #6 of Juan Pablo Montoya also suffered mechanical difficulties stopping out on track before being recovered to the pits.

Fred Makoweicki held the lead in GTLM in the #911, with all five manufacturers still represented on the lead lap and in contention for the win. With 246 laps on the clock, the Porsche GT Team held an advantage of just two-tenths over the Risi Competizione Ferrari of James Calado. While the #3 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner was less than nine seconds further back in third place. The #912 Porsche, in 4th placem was lucky to have escaped a penalty earlier on in the hands of Nick Tandy after losing a rear bumper running across a kerb resulting in a FCY to allow the body work to be recovered.

In GTD, the top 10 cars were all still running on the lead lap. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach was leading the way from the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan of Madison Snow.

After nine hours of running, the top eight were covered by just 13 seconds! The #86 Acura holds third with the #33 Mercedes AMG Team Riley Motorsports and #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari rounding out the top five. The #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi, #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche and #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes were all arguably still in contention in this incredibly close class.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPI of Luis Felipe Derani, Nicholas Lapierre and Johannes van Overbeek took the win for the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Porsche GT and Paul Miller Racing taking the GTLM and GTD category wins.

Derani took the final stint, climbing to the front of the field as the #55 Mazda Team Joest fell out of contention due to a slow pit stop, losing two minutes and a lap to the leaders. What made this worse for the team is that they had only been six seconds behind when they came into the pits! So when the clock hit 12, Derani had a 12.427 second advantage on the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac of Renger van der Zande, Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac took third place in the hands of Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway and Eric Curran although the #32 United Autosports Ligier gave them a run for their money. The final podium position was decided in the dying moments as Paul di Resta was forced in to the pits for a splash and dash. The additional pit stops resulted in the #38 Core Autosport Oreca leaping ahead of the #32 Ligier to claim fourth place ahead of the #55 Mazda which finished fifth.

Six laps off the pace in seventh was the #99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller and Stephen Simpson, while the second Mazda, delayed earlier in the race, was eighth, with the #77 of Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez and Rene Rast ten laps behind the race winning Nissan.

The final hours of the GTLM battle was solely between Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, the #911 Porsche of Tandy narrowly beating the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTLM by just 6.23 seconds at the end of the 12 hours. The sister #912 Porsche took third place 11 seconds behind Sims whilst the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT recovered to fourth place, passing the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari with just 15 minutes left on the clock.

In the final moments of GT Daytona, Bryan Sellers made a move on Jeroen Bleekemolen to take the win for Paul Miller Racing by 8.169 seconds. Sellers, alongside Madison Snow and Corey Lewis were fighting hard for much of the final quarter with the Riley Motorsports AMG GT3. The Mercedes crew were forced to defend from the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari allowing the Paul Miller crew to pull ahead just out of reach.

Christopher Mies, Sheldon van der Linde and Alessio Picariello ended off the podium in fourth in the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi, with the #15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher fifth.

The top ten in the GT Daytona class all finished on the lead lap, with the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche, the #93 and #86 Michael Shank Racing Acuras, the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche and the #75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes all completing the same number of laps as the class victors.

Images courtesy of imsaphoto.com