Sebring: Doran-Lista race report

Doran-Lista Dallara MG ...

Doran-Lista Dallara MG #27 ends up seventh in class and seventh overall in Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

SEBRING, Fla., March 15 - Saturday's 51st annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway turned out to be a game of catch-up for Doran-Lista Racing and drivers Didier Theys of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Fredy Lienhard Sr. of Niederteufen, Switzerland and Eric van de Poele of St. Jean-Geest, Belgium.

The game of catch up was necessary after another car hit the Doran-Lista Dallara MG #27 just after the one-hour mark in the grueling 12-hour race on the bumpy, 3.7-mile road course.

But soldier on and catch up it did, and the Lebanon, Ohio-based team ended up seventh in both the LMP 900 class and overall.

Lienhard Sr. hasn't driven in a race since he won a Grand Am Rolex Series race at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec last September, and van de Poele became dehydrated and had leg cramps after he got out of the car after his last stint. Both were ready to go at the end and Lienhard Sr. actually took the checkered flag, but Theys ended up driving for about five and a half of the 12 hours when all his stints were added up for the day.

Things started out extremely well. After starting eighth in the 55-car field, Theys had moved up to fifth early. His first pit stop, which was for fuel only at 11:25 a.m., was perfect.

Five minutes later Theys was sixth at the end of the first hour. He was on the same lap as the leaders, about a minute and 53 seconds off the leader's pace. Seventh place was a lap down.

Unfortunately 18 minutes later, at 11:48 a.m., he radioed in to the Doran-Lista crew that his car had been hit by another car, and he had a flat left rear tire.

The other car involved was an LMP 675 car, the #15 of John Nielsen and Hayanari Shimoda. According to the pit reports, Nielsen was behind the wheel at the time.

"It happened in turn three, under braking," Theys said later.  "There were
two GT cars on the outside and I went to the inside to pass them.  Then
Nielsen hit me.  There was no reason for that, especially this early.

"I knew at first that I had a flat tire, but the damage was too great to fix in the pits, and we had to go back to the garage area."

No tire could withstand the pressure of the hit, and the tire shredded. Theys slowed drastically and hobbled back to the pits, but the shredded rubber damaged other parts of the car as it whipped around, and there was other damage from the initial contact.

Back at the transporter, the Doran-Lista pit crew performed like the well-oiled team that it is. The crew assessed the damage and fixed the rear tail mounting beam, a hole in the floor, replaced the left rear tail light and also fixed the left rear portion of the tail in just 30 minutes. Theys pitted at 11:53 p.m. and the car left the garage area at 12:23 p.m.

The incident took a toll in the standings, as the Doran-Lista #27 was sixth at the time of the accident and 45th in a field of 55 when it returned to the fray with Eric van de Poele behind the wheel.

That began the game of catch-up.

Like Theys, van de Poele did a double stint right off the bat. (A stint is about 55 minutes with this car.) He got hit once at that point too, but fortunately this time there was no damage. The incident occurred in Cunningham Corner, turn 10 of the 17-turn road course.

"A Panoz came off and went back on track, and when he came back he didn't see me and he hit me," van de Poele said. "But there was no damage. We are just two seconds off the pace. It's a pity we got hit early, because this car and this team are perfect."

Fredy Lienhard Sr. did a stint at that point and then Theys did another double stint. Both said the car was perfect too, which only made everyone wonder how high the car would have gone in the standings without the early problem.

The team steadily moved up in the standings, and at the end of hour seven Theys was poised to break into the top 10 again, as he was in 11th place overall and ninth in class at that point.

He didn't get that honor though: van de Poele did. Making his first start with this team, he was behind the wheel at the end of hour eight when the team was tenth overall in the standings and eighth in class. At that point van de Poele was sandwiched between two GTS cars in the overall standings. The Corvette #3 of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell and Franck Freon was three laps ahead of him in ninth place overall, and the Ferrari #88 of Tomas Enge, Peter Kox and Jamie Davies was in 11th, two laps behind him.

Lienhard Sr. got in the car for 25 minutes around 7 p.m., when of course another challenge was added to the mix: darkness.

"When you're not used to the dark, you need time to adjust," he said.  "To be
faster I would have to do this [drive at night] more.  I was just trying to
be very careful and run no risks.  The car is very good."

Theys relieved Lienhard Sr. at 7:35 p.m. and by 9 p.m. he was in seventh place overall. Sixth place was many laps ahead of him, but eighth, the Fellows/O'Connell/Freon Corvette, was only a couple of laps behind. At that point team owner Kevin Doran told Theys not to push it and just try to keep a comfortable pace, since the intervals between the cars weren't very close at that point.

Theys stayed in the car until the fueling intervals forced him into the pits about 20 minutes from the end, when Lienhard Sr. took over until the checkered. The Jonny Kane/Perry McCarthy/Mika Salo Audi ended up seventh, 15 laps ahead of them, and the Fellows/O'Connell/Freon Corvette ended up ninth, four laps behind the #27.

"That was a long day, actually," Theys joked after he climbed out of the car near the end. "At the end Kevin [Doran] told me not to push it because there was nothing to gain, and it was kind of boring when you're not fighting for position. One lap takes a long time here when you're not pushing it. The car was very good, really. We had a little bit of high-speed understeer, but we could live with it. I didn't have any close calls except for that early accident. Just the normal close calls in traffic."

"It's a nice finish considering where we were at the end of hour two," said Doran. "After things settled down, we saw that we might still be able to get a top 10 out of this, so getting seventh we have to be pleased. And really, even when you add the half-hour we lost making the repairs, it would have only moved us up a couple of spots. We were pretty competitive for our first ALMS race and for our package.

"Didier ran more there at the end than we wanted. Eric got dehydrated and had leg cramps when he got out of the car after his last stint, but after he had an IV bottle he was fine and ready to go there at the end. But we put Fredy in the car for the checkered, which was nice."

The race was broadcast in its entirety live on SPEED Channel in America. It will be shown on a tape-delay basis at 20:00 Central European time on March 23.

The series' next race is scheduled for Sunday, June 29 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. It will be televised live on CBS. This race replaces one of two events (Mexico City and Washington, D.C.) which were recently canceled.

For more information on Doran-Lista Racing, see www.lista.com and www.doranracing.com. For more information on the ALMS, see www.americanlemans.com or www.imsaracing.net.

-dlr/lm-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Tomas Enge , Didier Theys , Mika Salo , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Franck Freon , Eric van de Poele , Jamie Davies , Fredy Lienhard , Peter Kox , Jonny Kane , Hayanari Shimoda , John Nielsen , Perry McCarthy , Kevin Doran