CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES CHAMPION SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS SCORES GT2 CLASS VICTORY WITH PANOZ SQUAD AT 12 HOURS OF SEBRING
SEBRING, Fla. (March 19, 2006 -- Preparing to climb back into the Multimatic Motorsports Panoz Esperante GTLM at the midpoint of Saturday's Mobil 12 Hours of Sebring, two-time defending Champ Car titlist Sebastien Bourdais wasn't exactly optimistic about his chances over the next six hours.
His Multimatic Panoz squad where he was partnered with David Brabham and Scott Maxwell had just given up the GT2 class lead, the third-place car was closing fast, his cool suit had failed during his stint during the worst heat of the day, and worse -- the other guys had a good race car.
"Our car is good, but it's a little difficult under braking and I'm more tired than I thought I would be after my last stint," Bourdais said. "And man, that Ferrari is fast."
Notice he didn't say that he couldn't catch it.
Bourdais used a timely caution to pull within a few car lengths of the class-leading Risi Ferrari, then took just four laps to make the pass for the lead, where he began building on a lead that would eventually give them a GT2 class win at Sebring.
The team steadily widened its lead throughout the evening, losing it only briefly during pit stop cycles, but things got interesting when Bourdais climbed aboard to run the stint to the checkers. A well-built lead evaporated in a flash when the DHL Porsche Prototype stopped on course with 40 minutes to run. Under caution, Mike Lieb was moved to within six seconds of Bourdais for the restart but the Champ Car titlewinner added two seconds on the lead soon after the green flag flew and cruised home to the win, giving Panoz a win in his first outing with the Esperante GTLM. The day had a last little bit of drama as the famed start/finish clock at Sebring ticked off the final minutes, as the team saw early-warning signs of trouble from a balky gearbox, but Bourdais eased the car without incident around the 3.7-mile Sebring layout over the final laps, winning the class and finishing ninth overall.
"It was a very intense race. The whole team did a great job," said Bourdais. "What a way to start the season. I really enjoyed driving with David and Scott. We were worried at the last stop that the gearbox would go because it was vibrating. But it held together."
"Sebastien and Scotty did a great job and the guys deserved everything they got tonight." said Brabham, who celebrated his 11th Sebring class win with the effort.
The day wasn't a complete success for the Multimatic team or the Champ Car contingent as the sister car to the race-winning machine fell out of the race with a driveline problem, falling out while in the hands of Newman/Haas driver Bruno Junqueira.
"I was confident we had the speed, but the reliability the car showed today is a real credit to our guys on the crew. David, Scott and Sebastien did a brilliant job all day," Multimatic Vice President and Motorsports Technical Director, Larry Holt said. "It would have been nice to had two cars running strong at the finish, but Sebring can be a real car breaker. Gunnar and Tom showed they have the pace to challenge strongly this year and it's a real pity for Bruno he didn't get more laps in his first sportscar race."
Newman/Haas Racing teammates Bourdais and Junqueira will be back in Sebring for testing on Wednesday and Thursday, as the Champ Car stars prepare for the April 7-9 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the season-opening race of the 2006 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford campaign.