Sebring 12 Hours
THEY LOVE U.S. RACING: ORECA PEUGEOT WINS SEBRING
Historic victory for de Chaunac-led team in 2011 opener
Peugeot won again at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on Saturday, this time the Team ORECA Matmut taking victory in America’s greatest sports car race and the opening round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
Loic Duval took the checkered flag by 31.868 seconds in his Peugeot 908 HDi FAP over Highcroft Racing’s Simon Pagenaud in a classic fight that saw the top three cars finish on the lead lap. Duval, who won with Nicolas Lapierre and Olivier Panis, took a late splash of fuel to ensure he could make it to the end of the race and the first race of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
“It was strategy to make the splash,” Duval said. “After that, the car was perfect and I was able to keep the gap between us. I think we didn’t expect to be in this position. We were building and building and at the end the car was perfect."
Team owner and ORECA founder Hughes de Chaunac was in tears during the final lap – ones of joy. This was the first time he brought his team to Sebring since sweeping the GTS podium in 2000 with the factory Dodge Viper program. Saturday’s victory was especially popular given the ‘I Love U.S. Racing’ stickers on the car.
“It’s a historic result for us,” de Chaunac said It’s a race that we built step by step. We finished just in front of the manufacturers. We avoided any mistakes. It was a perfect job from the team and these three drivers. It was not easy because I asked them to be quick and patient. We won because we did not make any mistakes.
Pagenaud, David Brabham and Marino Franchitti drove Highcroft’s HPD ARX-01e for the first time this week and appeared on the verge of its first Sebring victory. But Pagenaud finished second, and held off the highest-finishing Peugeot 908 factory entry of Franck Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy.
The other factory Peugeot was involved in an early-race crash with the No. 2 Audi R15 Plus prototype at Turn 17 that effectively ended both cars’ chance at winning. The No. 1 Audi lost two left-rear tires on consecutive laps earlier.
“It was a great race. Everything went very well,” Lapierre said. “The plan was to stay on the same lap until three or four hours into the race. Then we started to push. We were quite fortunate that the pace car didn’t come out anymore after we decided to push.”
BMW Motorsport won a hard-fought GT battle for the manufacturer’s first win at Sebring since 1999 when it took an overall victory. Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Andy Priaulx led a 1-2 finish in class for the German marque, which won the GT team and manufacturer championships in 2010.
The winning car came back from an early tap and spin with one of the JaguarRSR entries and a left-front flat tire. Given some of the other attrition that went on in the class and the fact that the top six cars in class ran on the same lap deep in to the race, getting both cars to the finish – never mind a 1-2 finish – was an accomplishment in and of itself.
Five cars led the class at one point, a preview of what’s to come the rest for the 2011 season.
The car of Augusto Farfus, Dirk Werner and Bill Auberlen placed second but was leading until a tire puncture in the final third of the race pushed it back into third place. Werner passed Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner with 35 minutes remaining to make it a 1-2 for the M3 GTs.
“The car was really good,” said Hand, who set the class’ fastest race lap. “When I got in the car Monday, I thought, “This is a great race car, we are in the sweet spot, we are in the window.’ When it is comfy, I can go quick and do it for a long time. BMW Team RLL worked really well together in the office season and built two brand new race cars. They make everything better and that is what they did. The Dunlop tires were strong out of every stint and I had some great teammates to get along with too.”
Milner placed third in the Corvette C6.R that he drove with Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia.
Level 5 Motorsports won its LMP2 debut with a victory for the entry of team owner Scott Tucker, Luis Diaz and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The team won at Sebring in LMP Challenge last year and moved up to P2 after taking the LMPC championship in 2010.
“We just got our cars last Saturday. This whole week was a big test session,” said Tucker, who won the LMPC driver’s championship last year. “I’ve got to hand it to Luis and Ryan. We had a small issue and went down a bunch of laps, but these guys pounded it out. It really worked out for us today.”
Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line ahead of the class pole-sitting Signatech Nissan ORECA-Nissan. Both cars had their share of trouble but a trip back to the paddock and penalties in the pitlane doomed the Signatech entry. Class pole-sitter Soheil Ayari, Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez came home second in class.
Oak Racing’s Pescarolo-Judd of Andrea Barlesi, Frederic Da Rocha and Patrice Lafargue were third in class.
It was the first ALMS victory for Hunter-Reay, and second each for Tucker and Diaz; the latter won in P2 for Lowe’s Fernandez Racing and Acura in 2009.
“It’s amazing how hard these guys worked. I was watching the guys put the cars together on Saturday. From then until now, the car did a 12-hour race,” said Hunter-Reay. “For me growing up in Florida, winning Sebring is dream come true,” he added. “This place is very special to me. This is a big deal for me and the car was a lot of fun to drive. It’s a great win for Level 5 and starts the season off right.”
“It was a huge effort from Level 5 today,” Diaz added. “We worked very hard during the week to setup the car. We didn’t have the speed on the straights, but the engineers gave us a great car in the corners and the Honda was very reliable as always. Ryan drove great at the end with some amazing laps. I’m very thankful to have these great teammates and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Krohn Racing won handily in GTE-Am with its Ferrari F430 GT. Tracy Krohn crossed the checkered flag well ahead of the Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. It marked the team’s first victory in the American Le Mans Series and first for drivers Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo.
“In the last 36 hours, we haven’t had a single mechanical issue with the car,” Krohn said. “That’s a tribute to our drivers and team prep. That car doesn’t have a scratch on it. I don’t think anybody put two wheels off the whole day.”
The class battle went back and forth between the Krohn Ferrari and the Proton Porsche all day as the two cars were the only ones to lead. The Ferrari took advantage for good with a little more than two hours to go when the Porsche ran into problems and went back to the paddock for repairs.
That gave Krohn the victory and class championship lead in the GTE-Am class of the ILMC.
“It’s a dream come true,” Jonsson said. “The guys did a fantastic job over the winter when we decided to go ILMC with the Ferrari. We have a fantastic engineering staff. The crew has been flawless. The Proton Porsche have good drivers, so they’ll be stiff competition on the European tracks.”
Genoa Racing won in LMP Challenge from the pole position as Dane Cameron won by 44.314 seconds in his ORECA FLM09 over CORE autosport’s Ryan Dalziel.
Genoa won for the first time in the class after running the full season in 2010. Cameron drove with Jens Petersen and Michael Guasch.
“The car was fantastic. For me it was great because this was the first time I had ever driven the car (at Sebring),” Guasch said. “I knew if I could run with these guys we would have a fantastic package. We came in and had a good shot at it but you never want to be that confident. We were up in the top-10 overall, so it was not bad.”
The winning Genoa car led the race in big chunks – 143 laps in the middle of the race, and Cameron led the final 70 laps. He ended where the car started: out front.
“I would say qualifying is more of an ego boost; it is such a long race, where you start is irrelevant,” he said. “We had the fastest car in the field going into the race. I don’t think we had any penalties, mistakes, no contact, none of that stuff. The team prepared such a solid car for us and we just went about our day.”
In GT Challenge, Black Swan Racing opened the defense of its 2010 class championship with its first victory at Sebring. Damien Faulkner beat TRG’s Spencer Pumpelly across the finish line by 68 seconds to win with Tim Pappas and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen in the team’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry.
The battle in class was one between any of four cars – Black Swan, TRG, Magnus Racing and NGT Motorsport.
“The team was fantastic all week and we have kept our heads up and they haven’t had much sleep,” Faulkner said. “We had fantastic pit stops, and were faster then our rivals at that point.”
The Black Swan Porsche didn’t lead until just shy of the eight-hour mark. But it only fell out of the lead for four laps over the next four hours.
“The guys did such a good job,” Pappas said. “We just got our car 10 days ago from Germany, so it has been a big push to get it ready. “But here we are it is fantastic.”
Pumpelly, Alain Li and Duncan Ende wound up second, a position it held for a great majority of the final four hours. NGT Motorsport’s Porsche of Henrique Cisneros, Carlos Kauffmann and Sean Edwards placed third in class.
“I am happy with the win. It is pretty hard out there in the dark and it was warm during the day,” Bleekemolen said. “We had a problem with the brakes; it was hard to go straight. But it is great to be out here of course.”
The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón heads west for its next round – the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on Saturday, April 16. The race will be shown live and in its entirety on ESPN3.com in the United States and internationally on americanlemans.com starting at 7:15 p.m. ET. ESPN2 will provide television coverage from 5 to 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 17.