IMSA Wire – Three Takeaways: 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

Of Bowling Balls, Rebounds and Party ‘Crashers’
March 20, 2023
By David Phillips
IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Talk about a WOW! finish. Hard-earned and well-deserved kudos, points and prize money are in order for Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring overall and Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) winners Action Express Racing, Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) winners Tower Motorsports, Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) winners Riley Motorsports, Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) winners Pfaff Motorsports and GTD winners Paul Miller Racing, as well as the podium finishers in each class. That said, at the end of 12 hours of entertaining (and sometimes frantic) racing, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to be learned from the results in terms of the big picture of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Perhaps it’s more useful to look at some of the trends that emerged during the first 11 hours and 40 minutes of Saturday’s eventful endurance race. Porsche’s BackAnyone who doubted that Porsche would rebound from the disappointing debuts of its Porsche 963 and 911 GT3 R (992) in the Rolex 24 At Daytona will have dined on a deep dish of crow late Saturday evening. The two Porsche Penske Motorsport 963s were on their way to a double podium, perhaps even a 1-2 finish, before contact with the leading Porsche turned Filipe Albuquerque into a self-proclaimed “bowling ball” who scored an improbable 10-7-6 split, KO-ing not only his No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 but the No. 7 and No. 6 Porsches with just under 20 minutes left to race. Meanwhile, the Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) looked on its way to scoring a double of its own as the sun sunk toward the horizon, with Pfaff Motorsports’ plaid No. 9 on top of GTD PRO and the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche heading the GTD field. Contact with Winward Racing’s No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 while jockeying for the class lead (with IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup points awarded to the leader at the eight-hour mark) put the Wright Porsche a lap down. So it was left to defending GTD PRO champions Pfaff to take Porsche’s 101st class win at Sebring on a day and night of racing that could well have seen the Stuttgart marque collect class wins No. 102 and 103 as well. Ditto BMWAfter a disappointing finish in GTD at the Rolex 24, the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 of Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Corey Lewis led the similar No. 96 Turner Motorsport entry to a 1-2 finish in GTD at Sebring. As well, the Nos. 24 and 25 BMW M Hybrid V8s were a factor at Sebring after a Rolex 24 in which the BMW M Team RLL entries struggled to keep up with their GTP competitors. Although the No. 24 Bimmer retired just after six hours of racing, Connor De Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Sheldon van der Linde kept the No. 25 entry in the GTP hunt for the remainder of the race and, thanks to the late incident at the head of the field, took the final green flag right on the tail of the winning Cadillac before settling for P2. While attrition played a part in the outcome, the fact that the No. 25 BMW was credited with a best lap of 1:48.399 – just 0.088 seconds off the fastest lap of the day (by the No. 01 Cadillac) – is surely evidence the BMW GTP competitors will be heard from this season. Crash to Win?Those of a certain age will recall the late Carroll Smith’s classic trilogy of common-sense motorsports books “Prepare to Win,” “Drive to Win” and “Engineer to Win.” The inestimable Mr. Smith joked that he planned to pen a fourth volume in the series, to be entitled “Cheat to Win.”Given the events of the weekend, were he to have been a fly on the Sebring pit wall, Smith might have been moved to pen yet another title called “Crash to Win.” Forget about the late-race incident that opened the door to the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R’s overall victory. Recall instead that No. 31 driver Pipo Derani was unable to avoid a spinning competitor in the early going, resulting in a deranged “front clip” and necessitating an unscheduled pit stop to effect repairs.Similarly, the No. 8 ORECA LMP2 07 had what appeared to be a race-ending encounter with the tire wall, only for the Tower Motorsports crew to replace the nose and rear deck/wing assemblies without losing a lap and proceed to take LMP2 class honors. And lest we forget, the Pfaff Motorsports crew had a very late night on Friday repairing extensive damage to the No. 9 Porsche after Klaus Bachler smote the Turn 1 tire wall in qualifying. On the other hand, Smith might have awarded the blue ribbon for the best prepared/best driven/best engineered victory at Sebring to Riley Motorsports’ LMP3 winning effort. After all, drivers Gar Robinson, Josh Burdon and Felipe Fraga never put a wheel wrong, the LMP3 Ligier JS P320 never missed a beat, it was fast enough to set a best lap just 0.215 seconds off the pace of the fastest LMP3 lap of the race and it finished a full lap clear of the No. 13 AWA Duqueine D08 in second place. Of course, Smith would have also sympathized with Jr III Racing, whose Ligier handily led the LMP3 field before another competitor’s wayward wheel fell from the sky onto its nose, knocking it out of the race. It Takes Racing Luck to Win.