The team’s #78 Daytona Prototype was the 12 Hour’s first retirement and the 7 PC car had been withdrawn from the event earlier in the week.
The 62nd ‘Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida’ was not a race weekend that Starworks Motorsport team owner Peter Baron will want to recount. Despite the #8 Oreca-Chevrolet achieving an extremely welcome and hard fought Prototype Challenge class podium, the team’s #78 Daytona Prototype was the 12 Hour’s first retirement and the 7 PC car had been withdrawn from the event earlier in the week.
The #78 Starworks DP had Scott Mayer, Sebastian Saavedra, Pierre Kaffer and Alex Popow prepped to contest the second round of the Tudor and North American Endurance Championships. There had been several teething issues since the Riley-Honda coupling at the Sebring test last month and practice for the 12 Hours last Thursday had seen no improvement in the running of the 78 DP. A temperature control issue ultimately hampered the car all weekend resulting in only 29 laps covered in practice, an engine change after qualifying P12 in class on Friday and the car’s retirement from the race on Saturday after a mere 26 laps.
With Mirco Schultz having to travel home for an unexpected family matter, the Fort Lauderdale squad recruited 24 year old Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 Champion David Cheng a week before the race. He stepped in to the #8 Oreca-Chevrolet FLM09 alongside Renger van der Zande, Martin Fuentes and Sam Bird for the first time on Thursday. Through each practice and during qualifying the 8 car suffered an electrical misfire in the motor. The team replaced everything electrical in the car; this included working all night after qualifying to replace the chassis harness and the motor on the eve of the race.
A solid qualifying result by Renger van der Zande meant that David Cheng was able to make a good start to the 12 Hour race from P5 on the PC grid on Saturday. A spin and stop at turn five, however, sent the 8 car to the back of the field during the first full course yellow caution. Racing resumed over an hour later and the team’s first driver change to Renger came just before 2 hours mark. He pushed hard from P10 in class with what seemed an impossible mountain to climb ahead of him to set the best PC class lap of the race - a 1:56.498.
After more FCY’s and Red Flags, Renger was up to P8 in class (P47 overall) when the race of attrition truly kicked in. He made up three laps during his tremendous triple stint to hand over to Martin Fuentes after seven hours of racing. Martin drove an incredible stint to take the 8 car up to P3 in class and P19 overall.
David Cheng stepped back in to the car with less than four hours on the clock. He maintained the team’s third place running until he handed over to Sam Bird at the nine hours mark. A seal failure in the paddle shifter actuator caused random gearbox selections and forced the 8 car to limp through what should have been the ‘sprint’ to the finish. While running in P4 in class and P30 overall, a momentary spin seemed to spur Sam on to keep the team’s podium fight alive. The eleventh and final FCY produced an epic ending for Sam who, when the track returned to ‘green’ and then with only three minutes remaining, was running in P3 and managed to bring the #8 Starworks Motorsport PC home for its first podium of 2014.
Sam Bird, #8 Starworks PC: "The beginning of the race weekend was a real uphill struggle as we were beset by mechanical gremlins that limited our practice and put our preparations for the race on the back foot. The start of the race really didn't go our way either and after the first lap, when we dropped to last overall, it looked like we had a mountain to climb.
My stint was pretty challenging as we lost use of the first three gears, so I had to race in 4th, 5th and 6th! I also had no right wing mirror, which makes it tricky with DP cars coming up behind you, particularly in the dark. But thankfully we got through it and managed a good result. This podium is a real achievement considering where we recovered from. Massive credit to everyone at Starworks!"
Renger van der Zande, #8 Starworks PC: “We came out of nowhere, it was good but tough. The team worked flat out and just as we settled the problems we had during the whole weekend and we thought we were only in a points scoring position, we produced a strong performance.
I am very happy for the whole team that we were able to take third place in this historic race. It is a shame Mirco could not be here with us on the podium, but I can’t wait for us all to get to Laguna together and produce some top results again.”
David Cheng, #8 Starworks PC: “First I want to say thank you to Peter and the entire Starworks Motorsport team for giving me the chance to repeat a Podium finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring. This year felt just as satisfying as my win last year in so many ways. Also, thanks to my co-drivers Sam, Renger and Martin who all did an amazing job.
This week has been quite tough as we've encountered countless mechanical issues. The team worked day and night to get them fixed, but everyday something new kept popping up which meant none of us got any real practice. For me coming to a new team and jumping straight into the race was quite difficult, but as a team we worked together and ended up pulling it off. So considering how the build up to the race was, coming out in P3 felt like a victory for everyone.”
Peter Baron, team owner, Starworks Motorsport concludes: “The dramas that came with running our two cars has not allowed me to come away happy with our overall result from the 12 Hours of Sebring. I am, however, so excited for the 8 car guys to wind with a podium finish after all the drama that car went through.
We had an electrical misfire in the engine that we were chasing all weekend. The night before the race we wound up changing motors and chassis wire harness, in fact everything on that car had been replaced at least once during the event, so I am so happy that they came back with a podium result. Martin’s three hour drive in the middle of the race really helped get us that finish. He was amazing out there and I am so proud of the how the whole team performed with the 8 car.
The Daytona Prototype was on other end of spectrum. It was the first time ever I’ve gone in to a race weekend knowing that not only were we not competitive, but that we weren’t going to finish the race. It wasn’t due to lack of effort, I can’t thank the crew enough for all the hard work they put in, but we were up against an insurmountable amount of issues and just not enough time to get them sorted. We’ll re-evaluate that programme and make some decisions about the best way to proceed with the DP now. In the meantime we’ll focus our efforts on getting multiple PC entries back on track, more podium finishes and our first PC win.”
The third round of the Tudor Sports Car Championship is the Tequila Patrón Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach, April 11-12 for P and GTLM classes only. The fourth round, for all classes, will be the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at the Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca, CA on May 3-4, 2014.