2014 12 Hours of Sebring: Full Race Report

by James Broomhead
2014 12 Hours of Sebring (Courtesy of IMSA)

Chip Ganassi Racing’s #01 team won a Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring dominated by caution flags, the field behind the pace car for nearly half the race’s duration, which also included a brief red flag.

The winning team, comprised of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti were rarely a part of the lead battles until the closing hours. It was Franchitti who sealed the win after breaking away from the pack on the restart following the eleventh and final caution period. The Scot only took the lead during the caution period, able to gain track position when leaders Ryan Dalziel and Sebastien Bourdais completed the final pitstops under the yellow flag.

Before that point the crew had only eight laps. Instead for much of the race the fight was between the pair of Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD, Action Express Racing ’s #5 Corvette DP and the #02 Ganassi Ford-Riley, which featured an oft inspired performance from Indy Lights champion Sage Karam, sharing the car with new Indycar teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

The trio finished sixth, maintaining the North American Endurance Cup lead off the back of a strong showing at the four and eight hour marks, NAEC points also awarded at those points during the race. Scott Dixon had dented their victory aspirations with a spin after a late restart, pushing the car down in the pack. Instead, before the final caution period – caused by the Marsh Racing DP parked down as escape road – the fight for victory looked as though it would be between Dalziel in ESM#s #1 also driven by David Brabham and Scott Sharp car and Bourdais, anchoring Action Express’ Rolex 24 winning team of he, and regular drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.

Bourdais was steadily – if slowly – closing in on Dalziel before they yellow came out. When they – and much of the Prototype field hit the pits – Olivier Pla was able to beat Bourdais out to take third, though the OAK Racing driver was quickly demoted back to fourth as Bourdais went on to try to pass Dalziel for second.

Meanwhile Franchitti, helped by slower traffic behind him at the restart, had broken away into a lead that peaked at six seconds. Dalziel, once free of Bourdais’ attentions cut the lead back, but we four seconds behind at the end of the 12 hours.

Pla finished fourth, with the #2 ESM entry completing the top five.  They had been leaders on regular occasions throughout the race. The final such stint in the lead was ended when, driver Johannes van Overbeek blinded by the setting sun beyond turn 17, it collided with the Paul Miller Racing GTD class Audi. Both cars spun, entangled, on the empty space afforded by the old runways, but the left hand side of the HPD was damaged, necessitating a pitstop for repairs.

The first half of the race was marred by eight caution period. The PC field was the primary driver for many of the flights of the yellow flag, beginning in the first hour when the Starworks Motorsports #8 spun and ended beached on the curbs. Single car incidents for the two BAR1 Motorsports’ cars accounted for two more early caution periods, a PC car also beginning a race of bad luck for the #911 GTLM Porsche, which was left with nowhere to go as one of ORECA FLM09 span in front of it. However, more notable were the pair of ‘blue-on-blue’ accidents for the single make class.

The first came after David Ostella ran wide coming out of the final corner. He hit the tyre wall and was spat back out, directly into the path of Frankie Montecalvo, leading the class for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports at the time. Montecalvo t-boned Ostella’s car, heavily damaging both cars, Montecalvo coming to a halt after hitting the inside wall at the pit entry.

Both drivers – thankfully – were able to walk away, but the debris blocking the full width of the main straight and pit lane prompted a brief red flag.

The second two car PC incident happened at the close of the sixth hour of the race. Gaston Kearby spun the #87 BAR1 car exiting the penultimate corner and in his haste to rejoin the race flicked the car across the track, collecting Alex Tagliani in the #08 RSR Racing car.

It should be said the PC class did not have a monopoly on the spectacular retirement. Under the first caution the GTD SRT Viper caught fire, the machine leaking fuel as Ben Keating bailed out of an already flaming Riley Motorsports entry. The fire told hold, prolonging the yellow flag as it reduced the car to ashes.

For much of the race – including the narrow corridor of racing between green flag and the first yellow – the PC class was dominated by the two RSR Racing cars. Both Ostella and Montecalvo had brief stints in lead before their accident, however, as the class was thinned it became a two way battle between RSR’s #09 and CORE Autosport, the Daytona winners enjoying a quiet race while the class tore itself to shreds.

The pair battled into the final hour, both installing their top drivers for the final stint – Colin Braun for CORE and Bruno Junqueira for RSR, 24 hours after he had dominated the class’ qualifying session.

However, he couldn’t find a way past Braun in the closing laps, having to chase him home as CORE repeated their Rolex 24 success.

There was further celebration for Jon Bennett’s team as the CORE-run Porsche North America also repeated their Daytona success. However, with the #911 plagued by minor problems for almost the whole duration of the race it fell to the #912 team of Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Long and Michael Christensen to lead home the #93 SRT Motorsports Viper.

Due to the fragmented nature of the race the class – and the race itself – was never able to settle into a pattern. Instead in GTLM the lead passed between numerous teams after the frequent yellows kept them bunched up. That class did play its part in the constant stream of yellow though when Risi Competzione’s Matteo Malucelli rejoined from a trip into the turn one tyre wall in front of a pack of cars. All but Christina Nielsen in the MOMO/NGT Motorsports Porsche managed to avoid the Ferrari, the GTD car instead having it right-front wheel ripped off, the #56 BMW Team RLL car picking up damage in the same incident.

Both Corvettes were front runners for much of the race, the #3 car sporting front end repairs after first lap contact. The team managed to bounce back, partly down the constant caution periods, after losing time rectifying the damage but a fuel pump replacement performed in the pitlane but them back down the order.

The sister car was part of the lead fight, with the #912 and #93. Oliver Gavin lost ground to both while chasing down the Viper, engine problems further limiting the team to a sixth place finish as the #55 BMW Team RLL squad completed the class podium ahead of privateers Krohn Racing and Team Falken Tire in fourth and fifth respectively.

The race in GTD was, during the first parts of the race, even more disrupted by the yellow flags, the fact nearly the entire field would pit together under caution constantly reshuffling the order, allowing several teams – including the MOMO/NGT Porsche – to lead only for them to be sucked back into the body of the class, or out of contention by incident or mechanical problems.

As the race began to settle down into some sort of pattern, certain teams began to rise to the top.

Among them were AIM Autosport, the #555 team created from the remains of the Level 5 Motorsports team that triumphed in the Rolex 24, and the Turner Motorsports BMW squad.

The Turner team were forced to give up their class pole position to start from the pitlane, and there were further complications when they helped the Magnus Racing Porsche into a spin under braking for turn ten in the first third of the race. They would get back to the lead of the class, led by Dane Cameron, the man who had claimed the best time in qualifying. However, they would lose time again later in the race finishing one lap behind the class leader, who had come back from their own issues.

Magnus Racing’s BMW inspired trip into the grass had done minor damage to the nose. More serious was a later problem when the #44 Porsche GT America returned to the pits stuck in gear due to a problem with the compressor that powers the car’s paddle shift system.

However, they – drivers Andy Lally, John Potter and Marco Seefried – fought back to take victory in the class ahead of the #555 Ferrari. They in turn had to hold off the pair of Alex Job Racing Porsches in the final tranche of green flag racing, managing to hold the #23 – the car entered by AJR and Team Seattle finishing third ahead of the #22 car, which gave up their own podium chances when the overall leaders came upon them in the final laps.

The #22 team were also the victim of a clear mis-call by officials. They were deemed to have been responsible for spinning a GTD Ferrari at the turn seven hairpin. However, replays clearly showed it was, in fact, one of the GTLM works Porsches. How the subsequent penalty effect the race result will never be known, though the caution periods helped to minimise the track position ultimately lost.

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