Sebring 12 Hours: Montoya leads at halfway as WTR hits trouble
The destiny of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has taken another twist as Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac lost several laps after a collision with a Mazda.
Following a fourth yellow for Jakub Smiechowski thumping into the Turn 17 tires with the Inter Europol LMP2 car, the green flag flew with around eight hours remaining. Ryan Briscoe in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac led ahead of Simon Pagenaud who had taken over the #6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 from Montoya, while Pipo Derani ran third for Action Express Racing, ahead of Stephen Simpson in the #85 JDC Miller Motorsports Cadillac, chased by the Mazdas of Oliver Jarvis and Ryan Hunter-Reay ran fifth and sixth ahead of Loic Duval’s Cadillac. Fifteen minutes later, the off-sequence leader pitted, Briscoe handing off to six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
In LMP2, Scott Huffaker was keeping PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports a lap ahead of Guy Cosmo in the Performance Tech Motorsports car. The #8 had lost five laps behind the wall with a mechanical issue, but David Heinemeier Hansson was setting strong lap times, carrying on the good work by one of his co-drivers, Mikkel Jensen.
With 7h27m remaining, Dane Cameron took over the #6 Acura from Pagenaud while pitting at the same time was Derani in the AXR Cadillac, and the Brazilian stayed on board and emerged ahead of the outgoing Prototype champion. Next time by, Duval pitted the #5 AXR Cadillac, and emerged behind Dixon and teammate Matheus Leist.
Sadly for Mazda, the Multimatic crew struggled to take the right-front wheel off the #55 RT24-P – possibly a result of contact with the #4 Corvette – and Hunter-Reay lost almost a lap.
Far worse was to happen to the WTR Cadillac, however. Jarvis had been hounding Dixon for third place and tried to dive down the inside at Turn 10, but it was tight. The Mazda got almost fully alongside, then braked extra hard to avoid the black Cadillac as it swept in on the racing line but it couldn’t avoid contact. The Cadillac was spun onto the grass, and the bent bodywork put paid to the right-rear tire. Dixon limped it back to the pits with its shredding tire, but it had to be taken behind the wall for repairs.
Race Control saw the Jarvis/Dixon clash as 50/50 and the Mazda driver served no penalty.
The resultant debris-caused caution period sent the Prototypes scurrying to the pits, Derani resuming in the lead ahead of Cameron, Duval, Leist, Hunter-Reay and Jarvis who had dropped to the back of the pack having lost time in the collision.
The race resumed with 6h45m remaining with Derani sprinting away from Cameron, Duval, Leist and Hunter-Reay and with the brilliantly repaired WTR Cadillac six laps down. The #7 Penske, still recovering from its early mechanical strife, had used the yellows to perfection to make up three laps and ran eight laps down… but as it stood with AXR leading, Derani would snatch the title from both… but it needed to win.
A sixth yellow caused by an errant GTD car trailing trackside advertising around the track saw all Prototypes on the lead lap – bar Leist – into the pits which allowed WTR to get a lap back so it was only five laps adrift.
It also allowed Juan Pablo Montoya to take over from Cameron in second, Sebastien Bourdais to replace Duval, Jonathan Bomarito into the #55 Mazda, ahead of Gabby Chaves in the AXR Cadillac and Olivier Pla in the #77 Mazda in sixth.
Then the yellows flew again, as the #52 LMP2 of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports collided with Nicky Catsburg in the #3 Corvette at Turn 17, spinning it around and losing some time himself with front-left corner damage.
Leist pitted as the field went back to green, leaving Montoya leading.
GT Le Mans
Frederic Makowiecki took over the #911 Porsche from Earl Bamber and continued in the lead ahead of Nicky Catsburg in the #3 Corvett, Bruno Spengler’s #25 BMW M8, Neel Jani in the second Porsche and John Edwards in the #24 BMW. Under the fifth caution, both the #911 Porsche and the #24 BMW pitted, dropping to fourth and fifth respectively, Nick Tandy taking over from Makowiecki. That left Catsburg leading the class ahead of Spengler and Jani.
Following the sixth caution and restart, Tandy took the lead from Catsburg, who had the BMW M8s of Connor De Phillippi and Jesse Krohn behind him with Earl Bamber – now in the #912 Porsche – running fifth. Catsburg was spun down to fifth in the collision with the LMP2 leader and had to pit immediately, just avoiding collision with the still recovering #4 sister car, running five laps down in the hands of Marcel Fassler.
Following the demise of the two Lexus RC Fs, Alessandro Balzan in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 and Marc Miller in the Riley Motorsports Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3 got ahead of the Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage, now piloted by Roman De Angelis. However, the Aston driver was nonetheless able to stay clear of Matt McMurry’s Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX who was able to take things slightly easier with its prime title rivals Lexus out of the picture, and its next closest rival Wright Motorsports Porsche was running 10th in the hands of Ryan Hardwick. Pierre Kaffer ran fifth for Hardpoint Audi ahead of Trent Hindman in the second MSR Acura.
Following the fifth caution of the day, Cooper MacNeil led for Scuderia Corsa ahead of Gar Robinson who’d taken over the Riley Mercedes, Ian James in the Aston Martin and – initially at least – Mario Farnbacher in MSR’s #86 Acura. But Nick Yelloly in the Turner Motorsport BMW M6 gently nudged Farnbacher into a spin at Turn 1 on the restart, spinning it down to ninth… which became eighth when Yelloly served a subsequent drive-through penalty. Farnbacher now found himself right behind the Wright Motorsports Porsche which now had the impressive Pat Long at the wheel.
The next round of pitstops were carried out during the caution period caused by John Potter dragging a trackside advertising banner around the course. This caused a major reshuffle, with Paul Miller Racing sending its Lamborghini out in the lead with Corey Lewis at the wheel, and Wright Motorsports getting Jan Heylen into second.
Third ran the Scuderia Corsa with Jeff Westphal in the driving seat ahead of Meyer Shank Racing – back up to fourth and with its NSX in the hands of Shinya Michimi in fourth, and running right ahead of former assailant Nick Yelloly in the Turner BMW. The second MSR Acura now had Joey Hand at the wheel, and the Heart of Racing Aston Martin.
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