Laurens Vanthoor believes the final full course caution in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, triggered by a multi-car incident in the GTP class, gave Pfaff Motorsports the strategic advantage to beat Vasser Sullivan to GTD Pro class honors.
Vanthoor, Klaus Bachler and Patrick Pilet delivered the maiden victory for the Type-992 Porsche 911 GT3 R by winning the Florida endurance classic in GTD Pro, fending off a fierce challenge from Vasser Sullivan and WeatherTech Racing.
The Belgian driver explained that the late-race caution, triggered by a shunt involving GTP class cars from Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport as well as the pair of Porsche Penske Motorsport entries, swung the race in Pfaff’s favor.
“We needed those yellows because we went with a different strategy and we needed one more yellow to be safe for fuel,” Vanthoor explained.
“Unfortunately, our Porsche colleagues were involved [in the accident], but it gave us the upper hand on strategy.
“That’s the Twelve Hours of Sebring. There’s always something going on in the end.”
Vanthoor’s co-driver Pilet, who brought the plaid Porsche across the line to claim the victory, further explained that Pfaff had opted for an aggressive fuel-saving strategy to reach the finish instead of going conservative with a late fuel splash similar to the Proton-run WeatherTech squad.
“It was always part of the game,” Pilet said about the fuel saving.
“Also Laurens and the Merc behind, everybody tried to get the quickest last stop because if you have a short last stop for sure you restart in front and then it’s easier.
“But the last hour and half we were like, ‘OK, there’s probably going to be some yellows or we do like the Mercedes and we pit and anticipate the yellows and we gamble on that and we can run full.’
“Our car was really struggling in traffic so it was good to get clean air and I think that’s why the guys decided to leave me in front, hope for more yellows and just save maximum fuel.”
Pilet said the No. 9 Porsche struggled on green flag restarts, as the extreme fuel saving target meant the Frenchman was forced to take it easy preparing to come back to green.
“The most difficult was the restart because when you fuel save, you can not warm your tires,” he explained. “So the restart is not easy and they are really strong, especially in fast corners.
“We are good in slow corners, but our acceleration was not good enough so I had to make gaps. But it worked perfectly, especially thanks to Pfaff because they believed in the strategy.
“For sure we needed some yellows. We expected another one maybe, just to be safer, but it was fine.
“It was part of the strategy. We need that the end at Sebring can be a big mess with a lot of crashes and yellow.
“That was our gamble. They also trusted me on the fact that I can save that much fuel, but it was unbelievable.”
Kirkwood: Vasser Sullivan “Scratching Heads” over Pfaff Fuel Run
Vasser Sullivan, which lost out on the class victory by 2.7 seconds, was left perplexed by Pilet’s long final stint.
The Frenchman manage a final stint of 1 hour and 52 minutes compared to Jack Hawksworth’s 1 hour and 24 minutes, albeit filled with a number of yellows.
Kyle Kirkwood, who shared the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 with Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, said that the 12 and final full course caution of the race swung the momentum towards the Pfaff Porsche.
“The very last one went against us,” Kirkwood told Sportscar365.
“The 9 car was going to run out of fuel. They went 41 laps on fuel which all of our previous stints were about 30 so we’re still scratching our heads how they did that.
“The first caution helped us out and then the second caution didn’t help us out but it still helped us out a lot more than we could have asked for.
“We got lucky as it was and some other people got very unlucky but the No. 9 got lucky that we had that last caution because they weren’t going to make it on fuel.
“It’s still surprising that they were able to do 41 laps and they were absolute rockets but there were other cars that were quicker than us today and we were kind of settling with a top five.
“So the fact that we finished second I couldn’t be happier with.”