Toyota Dominate as Porsche Optimise Late Rain for Pro Victory at Sebring

by Alice Holloway
Toyota Gazoo Racing dominated the inaugural 1,000 Miles of Sebring

The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing team led all 253 laps of the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship‘s 1,000 Miles of Sebring, despite the last 20 minutes of the race being affected by heavy rain downpour and finishing under the Safety Car.

None of the privateer LMP1 cars made it through the 8-hour race without incident, and only the third-placed #11 SMP Racing manage to make it to the chequered flag in a remotely competitive position. The #17 was the first to fall out of contention as Egor Orudzhev lost the rear of the car going into Turn 4 and had a high speed impact with the tyre barriers. The Russian driver explained that he suffered a loss of downforce as he turned the corner, having been following the #10 DragonSpeed, and classed the incident as ‘shameful’. He was running third overall with a 20-second lead at the time of the incident.

The two Rebellion Racing cars suffered multiple issues throughout the race. The #1 was one of the first cars to go behind the wall of the pits as they suffered with alternator issues. However, their fate was consolidated in the sixth hour after stand-in Mathias Beche lost the car into the barriers. The sister #3, that had been running a competitive third overall, disappeared into the garage a short while after it, finishing 16 laps off the lead lap.

The DragonSpeed also disappeared into the garage in the closing stages of the race. No word has been heard from the team, but the car was seen in the garage with no work being done to it, making it the third retirement from the race (along with the #17 and #1). Only four cars retired from the race, and all of them were Le Mans Prototypes.

Getting a decent start off the line, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing had a fantastic start, piping the sister car into Turn 1 and stealing the lead. From that moment, the #37 had no threat to their lead and took a competitive and strong win ahead of the #36 Signatech Alpine, who – excluding qualifying – finished every session of the event second in LMP2.

The second place gives Signatech a boost in the LMP2 championship as their rivals in the #38 Jackie Chan car spent the race suffering a recurring gear box issue. They made it to the end of the race, but finished at the very back of the grid.

It looked like it was going to be a success story for the #29 Team Racing Nederland, who started at the back of the grid after a post qualifying investigation saw them stripped of their qualifying lap times. Nyck de Vries had a mega opening stint, peeling through the grid and getting the #29 to a strong third in class and putting pressure on the Signatech Alpine for second. However, it was not meant to be as a late race issue saw them fall to the back of the LMP2 grid. Third place was secured by the #31 DragonSpeed after it suffered from two additional visits to the pits for rear wing repairs.

A clever and risky strategy call in the closing moments of the race, as rain hit the track, secured Porsche class victory.

Credit: Race Photography

The GTE Pro class certainly provided the most interesting and entertaining race, with the grid order seeming to shuffle with every pit stop. The competitive order continuously mixed up as the race shifted to the night and track temperature dropped, with each team having their moment as the most competitive on track. It had looked to be the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK‘s race, seeing that they led the majority of the event, but in the closing few hours the car fell away and the battle turned to BMW Team MTEK versus Porsche GT Team.

A couple of close moments in the pits saw the cars racing on their limits, but it was the short downpour of rain that sealed the final order. Gianmaria Bruni was behind the wheel of the #91 in the final moments, and the team made a strategic call to go onto the intermediate tyres, rather than full wets, after the track was deemed to be wet. This call saved them time and gained them pace on the BMW, which decided to take on the full wet tyres. The tactic paid off with the race-ending Safety Car, brought out due to the #28 TDS Racing going straight off into the barrier, not allowing the BMW any further opportunity to attack for the win.

The #67 Ford rounded off the top three.

It had looked at one point to be Aston Martin Racing‘s day in both Pro and Am, but the odds were not with them in Sebring. A mid-race puncture took the Am #98 out of contention and lost the team their 23-second lead on the second placed car, something they could not recover from. The Pro works teams both suffered issues during the race, taking them out of contention when they were looking strong for a podium finish at least.

Am championship-leading Team Project 1 looked like they were in a good position again this race, keeping Aston Martin on their toes before the team was taken out of contention. However, it was in a tight fight with second-placed #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari that the team’s work was squandered. Giancarlo Fisichella was pushing hard for the win in the #54 and subsequently ran the Team Project car off the road at Turn 1. Jorg Bergmeister managed to recover the #56 quickly, without sustaining damage, and dropped to fifth in class. The Spirit of Race Ferrari was handed a stop/go penalty for the incident.

In the chaos of the above fight, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche snuck through to take class victory. Spirit of Race ended up second, whilst a great recovery drive from the Team Project 1 crew saw them take the bottom step of the podium.

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