SEBRING, Florida - After nearly 11 punishing hours, The Racer's Group Florida Lottery/Port Lavaca Auto Group/ViperExchange No. 66 Porsche had a comfortable lead in the GTC class. Ben Keating started off the 12 Hours of Sebring with an unprecedented triple stint, driving the car at an incredible pace, keeping up with some of the world's best drivers.
Keating was elated to start the race for the team, and drove amazingly, matching times with some of the top professionals in the race. It was a truly epic run to kick off the season, and set the stage for what was to come over the next several hours.
In the BePositive.org/ Vitalz / Florida Lottery No. 68, Al Carter kicked off the race, running a fantastic first stint before turning it over to Kevin Estre. Estre was the man on the move throughout the course of the race. Every time he was in the car, he was easily one of the fastest on the track, and verified it by setting the fastest lap of the race in the GTC class with a 2:06.550.
Carlos de Quesada was to follow and he delivered: turning in his best drive of the weekend and some incredible lap times in some tough track conditions.
Unfortunately, a clutch issue forced the 68 back into the garage for a portion of the race. The crew worked tirelessly to get the car back out on track, and before long Al Carter had taken over and was running strong again, helping the No. 68 get back into the mix.
After Faulkner's stint in the No. 66, Craig Stanton, one of the most experienced drivers in the field, got in and put down solid lap times that equaled the leaders. As the race wore on, TRG found itself either running in the top five or leading the race with plenty of time to go.
With a caution coming out, and the sun setting on the legendary track, the No. 66 was in a four-way battle for the lead, with the cars mere seconds from each other.
As the pit cycle ironed out, TRG moved into first place in the GTC class with a comfortable half-lap lead and Faulkner behind the wheel running his fastest laps of the race.
Things continued to look like they were going to lead to a memorable finish, when just before the 11th hour, a jammed tire gun/air line caused a lengthy pit stop that saw the lead disappear.
The car seemed a little off pace and it was discovered after the race that there was a faulty injector. Despite the setback and nearly destroyed rear brakes, the team banded together and made a gutsy call to stay out on track, hoping the fuel, tires, and brakes could hold on for a few more laps.
After legendary stints from Keating and Stanton to establish the car as one of the strongest cars on the track, it was Faulkner who heroically drove the car to the end of the race, nearly making a miraculous podium finish.
On the final lap, the risk to stay out on track led to coming up short by less than half a lap, with the No. 66 finishing fifth.
While a win was within reach, the team was still upbeat, and everyone is looking forward to the next race in Long Beach, knowing that the TRG Porsches are some of the strongest in the field.
Damien Faulkner on the race: "What can you say; it was an event with too many issues. Bad fortune played a part, and you don't win this race with that many issues. Disappointing for the whole team really, it's a long road back from here.
It's as simple as that. On the plus side, we're bound to have some good fortune in the future. The team and especially Ben (Keating) was a grinder, driving more than any of the other amateur drivers. Craig was fantastic as well."
Kevin Estre on the car and the race: "The car was really good, a perfect racing car, really consistent. I didn't need to push too much to do good laps. It was the best car we've had since the beginning of the weekend.
It's too bad we had a problem because I really felt like we could have been running near the top at the end because we were so fast."
Ben Keating on his triple stint to start the 12 Hours of Sebring: "Well, after my three stints in the beginning, I was four minutes short of my minimum drive time, so I did another stint. I got blisters on my hands, blisters on my feet, but it was worth it.
I loved every minute of it. I'm glad I'm done though! Overall, it was tough, but I love how strong the team is and I'm looking forward to Long Beach."
Kevin Buckler on the race and the team effort: "What an amazing race. We were there for a week and we really had our eyes set on the prize: the win. All of the drivers did a fantastic job all week.
I couldn't believe Ben's triple stint and the fact that we kept the cars on the lead lap most of the time exactly like our strategy had called for.
We were totally in striking distance and could have won with either car but we had some issues that we could not prevent and a few that we could have.
We led the race four separate times and turned the fastest lap of the race. The team is working hard to be totally ready for Long Beach as we are racing to try to win every race we enter as well as the championship for the season.
I'm really looking forward to Long Beach."