This year’s Twelve Hours of Sebring proved why this race is the most difficult endurance race in the world. It is one of the few races on the calendar where nobody considers championship points and will sacrifice everything to go for the win.
Being the second race of the IMSA GTP era, Sebring would be another major test for drivers, teams and cars. Daytona went very smoothly for all of the GTP manufacturers but Sebring is always going to be the toughest test for components.
Leading up to the race we had great confidence in the pace of our Acura ARX-06. The question for everyone was reliability.
The cars are so complex, and the software and hardware changes are constant. It is a constant balance between pushing the evolution forward while exploring unproven mapping, settings and code which can seemingly shut the car down at any time.
Throughout practice we had a few hiccups with the car shutting down on track, but the team at HPD has a very well structured process for troubleshooting and solving errors. So once we have an issue, the team has a lot of confidence we can solve the issues for the race.
Qualifying came around and the car was mega. We opted for two sets of tires to ultimately go for the pole on the second attempt. We had a very good first lap to put us about 2.5-tenths off the pole time.
A red flag ended up cutting the session short, but I think we had a car that could’ve fought for the pole position. We ended up third in qualifying behind two Cadillacs, but very optimistic about our race car.
The 12 hour this year would be a bit of a different strategy to usual because of the fact that we would only have 11 sets of tires to complete the race, meaning we had to double stint at least two to three sets of tires.
This sounds like something that happens in other series around the world. Something that has made this much more difficult is that the world has done away with tire warmers, meaning the tires must be softer to enable the tires to come up to temperature when they are cold, but at the same time they must last twice as long as they used to in IMSA by going two stints, so we are wishing for that harder compound on the long run.
All the while, the GTP cars have more power and more weight and the temperature for the race was in the mid 80s. So, our plan was to try and get the double stints out of the way as quickly as possible.
The race got under way and settled into the race pace. The Cadillacs seemed very strong and looked like the cars to beat.
Louis and I did a double stint each and was one of the more difficult stints of our careers. Even down the curved straight between Turn 7 and 10, the kinks were not full throttle as the rear was lacking so much grip, breaking traction even through fifth gear.
We survived the doubles and the team had set us up for a great run to the end with all new tires as the other teams still needed to pay the price of double stinting.
Filipe got into the car and led every lap of his stint, showing us the strength of our car.
Fast forward to the end of the race, Filipe is in the car in a four-way battle for the finish between us, the 31 Cadillac coming from a lap down and the two Penske Porsches that came to life as the sun went down.
A series of yellows caused a lot of drama with strategy and tires. The 31 beat the yellow about 30 minutes before the end of the race, so they dove to pit lane and took fuel only but would have about 12-15 laps on their tires before the restart to go to the end.
The rest of the field came down pit lane under the yellow to take fuel and tires. The No. 6 Porsche beat us out of pit lane so the order after for the restart would be 31 (old tires), then the 6, 10, and 7 all on new tires.
The key would be to not let the Porsche get around the 31 because if they did, the gap would open and we may never be able to chase them down if we were stuck behind the 31.
After the restart it became a classic IMSA battle to the finish. Everyone pushing to the maximum to get by the 31, while the 31 fought for his life to stay ahead.
Fortunately Filipe did an amazing job getting by the 31 only a few corners after the 6 did so it was a three-way battle to the finish with the us and the Porsches.
Passing in clear track did not seem possible with the pace of the race and the quality of drivers not making any mistakes. So the first time they got to traffic could be the only chance to get by the 6 car.
After getting by a few stragglers, they caught the bulk of the entire GT field in the middle of Turn 1 which gave Filipe a huge run on the outside as they came up on 2 GT cars who were side by side exiting the corner and heading to T3.
There was nowhere for any of the prototypes to go as they approached these two GT cars, but they were stalling the progress of the Porsche. Filipe saw a gap, and the GT traffic ahead, and committed to the inside to try put his car inside of the Porsche for T3.
These things happen so quickly and the margins are so thin that the tiniest move can close the gap. As Filipe committed to the inside, the gap closed from the Porsche, sending Filipe into the grass, skipping across the runoff and back into the 6 car, ultimately wiping out all of the top three cars.
Our race, along with the two Penske Porsches, was over. The 31 went on to the win the race from P4.
This is one of the races of the year where we are not willing to settle for second place, these sports car racing classics like Daytona, Sebring, and Petit Le Mans, we will always go for the win. Something that continues to give me so much pride is that our team is always fighting for the win.
Everyone at Acura, HPD, ORECA, and WTR Andretti have put us in a position where we are constantly fighting for the win amidst the most difficult circumstances with these new GTP cars.
My teammates Filipe and Louis have the confidence of everyone on the team that they are the best in the world at what they do.
It’s my favorite thing to say that if you want to win the big races you will have to go through WTR Andretti to do it.
Acura’s home race is up next; bring on Long Beach.