March 20, 2004, Sebring International Raceway -- Milka Duno's hopes of back-to-back stellar finishes with a great result at the 52nd running of the 12 Hours of Sebring were dashed along with her British teammates Justin Wilson and Phil Andrews when, with only 2 hours remaining in the once-around-the-clock classic, their very strong challenge ended. Milka and Team CITGO arrived at Sebring fresh from an overall victory in their last race -- the Grand Prix of Miami.
The 52nd annual 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, started this Saturday morning, March 20, 2004 at 10:30am EST.
Milka, along with teammates Justin and Phil, were challenging for the 5th position overall when the gearbox of their CITGO #15 Lola B2K/10/Judd LMP 1's gearbox gave way with absolutely no warning. Phil was in the car and had just passed the start/finish line in 6th position overall when the gearbox failed -- leaving both him and the car stranded on the course with no drive to the rear wheels. Phil steered the car off the track and into a safe position.
The hard-charging valiant efforts of all three pilots and the skilled crew had kept the CITGO Racing/Taurus Sports car in the mid-range of the top ten for the entire 10 hours and were well on their way to most certainly a top ten finish -- perhaps even a top five.
The CITGO #15 Lola B2K/10/Judd LMP 1, with Justin in the cockpit, started the race 15th and in only one lap took the car to 7th. Hour after hour each driver took their turns behind the wheel, then took another turn, turn after turn. Always charging -- and with no driver errors -- they consistently kept the car in the top ten. Not such an easy task considering all the variables - and a compliment to how effectively the drivers gelled not only with each other, but with the crew as well.
"First, I'd like to thank CITGO for providing this wonderful opportunity to compete in what is known worldwide as one of the toughest sports car endurance races ever," said Milka. "It is a very tough test of the best that racing has to offer -- the world's best drivers and teams competing together with the best sports cars technology available -- on a very challenging and unforgiving race track. CITGO provided us with everything we needed to compete -- and I and my teammates and crew are very grateful. We did our best, every minute of the race to deliver a good result for CITGO.
"In particular I want to say how sorry I feel for the crew; they worked so hard all through the week and deserved to have something to celebrate. Justin and Phil were perfect teammates, they were so open with me, and they shared everything. This was such a tough race; all three of us drivers have aches and bruises. But I loved the race and the experience."
Team boss Ian Dawson added, "It was good while it lasted, I'm so disappointed for everyone because we were so close - yet so far. We don't know exactly what broke yet but something snapped inside the gearbox. But I was pleased with how the drivers worked together, although they were new to each other. I must say Milka was very professional and I hope we may work together again in the future."
When the checkered flag waved at the 12-hour mark, the CITGO #15 Lola B2K/10/Judd LMP 1 finished the day classified in 22nd place overall and 9th in class.
CITGO, based in Tulsa, Okla., is a refiner, transporter and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals, refined waxes, asphalt and other industrial products. The company is owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
For more information on CITGO please visit www.citgo.com. Additional information on drivers Milka Duno and Justin Wilson is available at www.milkaduno.com and www.justinwilson.co.uk, respectively. Information on Taurus Sports can be viewed at www.taurussports.co.uk.