Defending TUDOR United SportsCar Champion Joao Barbosa completed an emphatic victory in the 2015 12 Hours of Sebring for Action Express Racing. The Portuguese driver, who shared driving duties in the #5 Corvette Daytona Prototype with Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais crossed the finish line with more than a lap’s lead over Wayne Taylor Racing’s #10.
The final quarter of the race began with Fittipadli enjoying a lap advantage thanks to the long green flag run that had characterised the second half of the race. When the unbroken stream of racing did end – after Oliver Gavin spun the #4 Corvette C7.R – it did so with those chasing the #5 car unable to take advantage and gain their lap back under yellow.
Joey Hand, at the wheel of the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford-Riley tried to recoup the arrears the hard way, trying to keep pace with Fittipaldi when the race restarted with a little under two hours remaining. However, the pace which had allowed the Action Express team to build up their lead let the Brazilian pull away, towards the victory which Barbosa confirmed at the end of a final 80 minute stint.
The Ganassi team, anchored by Scott Dixon, would fall to finish fourth overall after the Indycar star was passed by Richard Westbrook in the VisitFlorida.com #90 in the final ten minutes. Jordan Taylor collected second overall for Wayne Taylor Racing. The second Action Express entry, the #31 in Whelen colours, completed the overall top five ahead of the lead two Prototype Challenge runners. Having spent the final quarter of the race sharing a lap the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and #54 CORE Autosport cars finished 12 seconds apart, Tom Kimber-Smith crossing the finish line in the #52 as the team added Sebring success to their Rolex 24 win. Colin Braun brought the #54 car through the final stint, the decision to take tyres on the final pitstop failing to pay off through the final stint.
If the final quarter passed with relatively little drama in the Prototype classes the GT categories more than made up for it.
With generally closer racing in the GT classes the long green flag run of the previous quarter had done little to break up the battles with seven GT Le Mans and eight GT Daytona cars on their respective lead laps with three hours to go. But then the hours of darkness started to pick off the challengers.
Oliver Gavin was the first to bow out of the battle. A problem with the return spring governing the brake pedal in his #4 Corvette caused his to spin on two occasions. He was able to recover from the first, an incident that came close to collecting to collecting Ricky Taylor in the #10 Corvette DP. The second off was a more serious affair, the C7.R reaching the tyre barriers on the outside of turn, triggering what could become the final full course caution of the event.
The packs, now even more tightly bunched, gave drivers the perfect opportunity to make easy progress once the green flag flew again and it was Giancarlo Fisichella who took advantage to move the Risi Competizione Ferrari up from sixth to second in short order splitting the two Porsche North America 911s with an opportunistic move in traffic. However, before he could use the crowded track to launch an attack on Patrick Pilet in the leading #911 the road opened ahead of the Frenchman and he pulled away leaving Fisichella to fight a battle he would eventually lose with Fred Makowiecki for second in class.
Holding first and second the Porsche works teams were set to bounce back from their embarrassing Rolex 24 exit, but problems would rip both cars from the lead battle.
The #912’s race started to unravel during a scheduled pitstop. While Makoweicki sat in the car the team struggled to change the left-rear tyre, repeated stabs of the air gun and blows of a hammer failing to dislodge the wheel nut. Minutes, laps trickled away before the team elected to send the car back out with the old tyre still attached. A lap later the car was back in the pits. This time a new rear tyres was fitted to car but half way round his out lap Makoweicki slowed before taking the car back into the paddock with suspension damage. The nocturnal gremlins clearly had a taste for Porsche parts. Almost simultaneously Nick Tandy slowed from the lead in the sister car, the Briton unable to shift out of high gears leaving him crawling out of the slower corners.
Having picked up second in class thanks to a combination of Makowiecki’s exit and a slow pitstop for the Risi crew Antonio Garcia was the man to benefit, moving into the lead as Tandy, powerless, pulled aside as he trundled away from the turn seven hairpin.
Garcia completed the race without having to stop again, while Pierre Kaffer in the Ferrari had to call off his chase in the final 15 minutes for a final splash of fuel. He would still finish second in class, with the Team Falken Tire Porsche completing the class podium. Tandy soldiered on with his ailing car, finishing fifth in class behind the #24 BMW Team RLL Z4.
The madness came still later in GTD.
It would be inside of the final ten minutes of the race that the duel between Alex Job Racing’s Mario Farnbacher and Riley Motorsports’ Jeroen Bleekemolen would be decided. When the fading brakes on Farnbacher’s Porsche precipitated a massive lock up into turn 10 it looked as though the Riley team in their Dodge Viper would be – like their Corvette counterparts in GTLM – be taking a second win of the season, a win made all the more incredible as Bleekemolen was driving the same chassis that was the seat of the conflagration Ben Keating bailed out from twelve months earlier.
But heat would prove the problem once again, the car crying no more with only minutes left, Bleekemolen left to watch the final laps from the pitwall.
As he ploughed through the T10 gravel Farnbacher feared his chances of victory had gone, but the Viper’s retirement gave his a reprieve.
Having been outpaced by Farnbacher and the pair of Vipers after the final restart the late drama allowed the TRG-AMR crew led home by James Davison to take second ahead of the Scuderia Corse. The #93 team, the second Viper in the class, were pushed down the order by a late penalty, finishing fourth in class.
Overall 2014 12 Hours of Sebring Class Results
#5 – Action Express Racing – Corvette DP – Barbosa/Bourdais/Fittipaldi
#10 – Wayne Taylor Racing – Corvette DP – Angelelli/Taylor/Taylor
#90 – VisitFlorida.com Racing – Corvette DP – Rockenfeller/Valiante/Westbrook
#52 – PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports – ORECA FLM09 – Guasch/Kimber-Smith/Palmer
#54 – CORE Autosport – ORECA FLM09 – Bennett/Braun/Gue
#38 – Performance Tech Motorsports – Daly/French/Mee
GT Le Mans
#3 – Corvette Racing – Corvette C7.R – Briscoe/Garcia/Magnussen
#62 – Risi Completizione – Ferrari 458 Italia – Bertolini/Fisichella/Kaffer
#17 – Team Falken Tire – Porsche 911 RSR – Henzler/Long/Sellers
#23 – Alex Job Racing/Team Seattle – Porsche GT America – Farnbacher/James/Riberas
#007 – TRG-AMR – Aston Martin Vantage – Davis/Davison/Nielsen
#63 – Scuderia Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia – Bell/Lazzaro/Sweedler