The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is so unique, in that, we start with our two biggest races of the season.
The Rolex 24 is widely understood as the signature event on our schedule, but if you ask drivers and teams, Sebring is a close second.
The Twelve Hours of Sebring is one of the most grueling races in the world. Everyone knows the bumps, the erratically changing track conditions, the Florida heat, the high car counts and traffic, but the drivers know that when we go to Sebring it is a fight from start to finish.
The track is physical and everyone races very hard all race long so nobody extends stints over a triple stint whereas in Daytona we are often doing quads or even five stints at a time with an extra driver. So, your recovery time out of the car shortens immensely when we get to Sebring and by the time you get to the end of the race, you are truly worn out mentally and physically.
Last weekend we were back to having the World Endurance Championship with us and 21 drivers were doing double duty. Two of those were my teammates, Filipe and Will. They were racing against each other, Filipe with United Autosports and Will with JOTA.
The rivalry was HOT. All month leading up to the race we were adding fuel to the fire, poking either of them on who would be the winning WTR driver in the WEC race between the two of them. The trash talking was plentiful to say the least.
Daytona was a fantastic 1-2 result for HPD and Acura, but for the WTR crew specifically it hurt to finish second in such close fashion. So, motivation was very high for us to get back in victory lane at Sebring, our only win was all the way back in 2017.
Out of our four practice sessions, we were last on the charts in three of them. We were focused on creating a car that all three drivers felt comfortable in that could survive the daytime and hopefully come alive at night.
We were trying not to panic; we knew we had a bit more lap time in the car but you never know if you can close the gap completely.
The Cadillacs just seemed to be able to repeat the lap time at any time, specifically the 01 car was quickest with any driver at any time, and the 02 seemed close behind them. Our expectations were a bit nervous, but it is a long race.
Qualifying came around and we managed to end qualifying in 3rd place, in the middle of a pack of Cadillacs.
We were still nervous, our car tends to come alive in qualifying so the performance was good and a third place was nice, but we were cautiously optimistic for the race.
Next up was the WEC race where Will and Filipe both faced a bit of bad luck in the race with the multiple red flags and ultimately being rain shortened took them out of the fight for the win.
However, the two of them posted the two fastest laps in the LMP2 category so they were clearly feeling good around the track, they just needed a bit of rest before the 12 hour the next day.
The 12-hour started and it seemed we didn’t quite have the pace of the lead Cadillacs but already one Cadillac, the 01, had fallen out of contention with technical difficulties so we were still highly motivated to keep the pressure on them.
As the hours ticked away, we found ourselves fighting towards the front. The team got us to the lead on a pit stop around the six-hour mark and once we had the lead, the car was very strong and we were able to hold people off by controlling the traffic a bit better.
Traffic was also becoming easier, a large portion of the LMP3 and GTD teams tried to get their gentlemen driver drive time out of the way early in the race.
That made the first half of the race very challenging to predict where they will place their car and if they see you coming.
So at this point in the race we had more confidence to put our car in more forceful positions without as much risk. This flow of the race suited us better and we were able to control the race at this point.
Unfortunately, at this point, we got a drive-through penalty for not driving through the RFID readers on the pit exit. This put us to the back of the field in DPi, but there were still four hours to go so this wasn’t something that we hadn’t come back from before, all we needed was a yellow to bunch us up.
Well, the yellow never came. With four hours to go and still around 50 cars on track, we would’ve gambled money on another couple of yellows.
However, it was one of those days that the yellow never came. We just had to keep pushing as if there wasn’t a yellow and eventually were able to salvage 4th place and would leave Sebring second in points, only ten behind the 5 car.
Ultimately, the 02 was the class of the field this race. Under green flag conditions, got a drive through penalty, spun, and still managed to win the race.
Normally in an IMSA race, one mistake takes you out of it, but they overcame two, without the help of a yellow. So, it was their race to lose and it’s a bit of a shame nobody was albeit to stop them because they will undoubtedly be the ones we need to keep our eyes on as we fight to win this ‘ship.
We have a long way to go in the season. Next up is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach next month and we get into the rhythm of the season. See you there!