The second race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season, the 2015 12 Hours of Sebring, got underway in the heat of central Florida and as soon as the green flag dropped, battles broke out up and down the field with the race acting more as a once around the clock sprint than the endurance classic it is.
Although, compared to last year, there hasn’t been as many caution periods with only one third of the first three hours being dedicated to caution periods – more on those further down.
At the very start it was clear that the P2s in the Prototype category were going to be very strong as Ryan Dalziel in the Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda immediately fought with pole sitter Olivier Pla in the Krohn Racing Ligier.
Dalziel initially had the lead until turn one where Pla quickly passed the Scot and regained his first place until the first round of pitstops about 40 minutes into the race.
Both cars came in roughly the same time, but Dalziel was much quicker and with the Krohn car seemingly delayed during the driver change it was the ESM #1 that would hold the balance of power for the first hour.
The same could be said in the GTLM and GTD classes, the top three/four cars in each of the grand touring classes all decided to have an almighty scrap with each other to make early strides.
Indeed, these battles were going well right up until the first full course caution just before the first hour ticked over into the second. The cause was Paul Dalla Lana’s #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage deciding it only wanted three wheels and became stranded on the racing line.
That took 20 minutes before the yellow flags could be withdrawn – thanks to the pit procedure in play – and when the racing got started again, it didn’t take long for the first retirement of the race to take place as mechanical difficulties for the #45 Flying Lizard Audi were too great to be fixed at the track.
Then, just 30 minutes later – on 10:16.26 to go – Ozz Negri in the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda had a massive spin after taking some of the kerb at turn 14 and ended up spinning into the tyre wall on the outside of the corner.
Thankfully Negri was unharmed but it meant that one of the top runners from the earlier sessions was looking down and out before the race even reached the halfway mark.
During the caution period, there was still action to be seen as the pole sitting Krohn Ligier-Judd collided in the pit lane with the #16 BAR1 Motorsports Prototype Challenge entry. The Krohn car would later finish the first three hours behind the wall with exhaust issues.
Speaking of PC, as the stint ended Mike Guasch found himself a long way ahead of his class rivals in his PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports car by being clean and quick – pulling ahead of Bruno Junqueira and Chris Miller who were squabbling for second.
As the track went back to green following Negri’s crash, it was Sebastien Bourdais who went onto to dominate at the front of the field following Ryan Dalziel handing the #1 to David Heinemeier Hansson.
The third hour saw quite a bit of the battling seen previously die away slightly and many of the teams find a smooth rhythm around the very bumpy mostly airfield circuit.
Of course it wouldn’t be an hour of racing without a caution period and this one close to the end of the three hours was for the Deltawing. Starting from the pit lane after throttle issues at the start, the car was seemingly running strong latterly in the hands of Katherine Legge but a suspected suspension failure saw her pull the car off track just after the start line.
That meant another caution period ending roughly five minutes before the fourth hour and an almighty battle formed between Nick Tandy in the #911 Porsche, Ryan Briscoe in the #3 Corvette, John Edwards in the #24 BMW and Bryan Sellers in the #17 Falken Tires Porsche.
Briscoe and Tandy were trading paint for the lead while just behind Edwards was losing ground from that battle while being hounded by the Falken car which will no doubt be sniffing for a podium position and carry on their good form in the longer Tudor Championship races.
Also delicately poised is the GT Daytona battle with Ben Keating surviving the pit stops in the #33 Dodge Viper to stay ahead of Emilio Valverde in the #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche.
In summary, an intriguing first quarter of the race and it looks set to continue.
Class leaders after Three Hours
#5 – Action Express Racing – Corvette DP – Bourdais/Barbosa/Fittipaldi
#90 – VisitFlorida.com Racing – Corvette DP – Valiante/Westbrook/Rockenfeller
#1 – Tequila Patron ESM – HPD ARX-03b – Heinemeier Hansson/Dalziel/Sharp
#52 – PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports – Oreca FLM09 – Guasch/Palmer/Kimber-Smith
#11 – RSR Racing – Oreca FLM09 – Junqueira/Cumming/Menezes
#85 – JDC/Miller Motorsports – ORECA FLM09 – Miller/Goikhberg/Kraut/Mitchell
GT Le Mans
#911 – Porsche North America – Porsche 911 RSR – Tandy/Pilet/Lieb
#3 – Corvette Racing – Corvette C7.R – Briscoe/Garcia/Magnussen
#25 – BMW Team RLL – BMW Z4 GTE – Edwards/Luhr/Klingmann
#33 – Riley Motorsports – Dodge Viper GT3-R – Keating/J Bleekemolen/S Bleekemolen
#58 – Wright Motorsports – Porsche 911 GT America – Valverde/Snow/Heylen
#44 – Magnus Racing – Porsche 911 GT America – Seefried/Potter/Lally