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12 Hour Sprint

By Jack Webster and Eddie LePine with James Edmonds. Photos by Jack Webster and James Edmonds

They came from France and they conquered the oldest and toughest endurance race of them all – Sebring. It may have been an American team running a Cadillac prototype, but the drivers were all French. Pilots Tristan Vautier, Loic Duval and Sebastien Bourdais combined to cover a record 349 laps of the historic airport circuit in their Mustang Sampling Racing/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac on their way to an overall victory in the 69th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts.

sebring 2021 winner
Sebring 2021 winner

Tristan Vautier: “Being French helps…its important understand that you all have to be comfortable and work well together. The team knows that when we speak a lot of French, the car is no good. But when we speak English they know the car is ok.” They obviously spoke a lot of English on race day, as the car was perfect for the conditions.

As has become the norm in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races, this one was a sprint from green flag to checkered flag. Regardless of the adage “respect the bumps” in reference to the original pavement of the 70+ year old airport circuit, drivers in all classes literally went flat out the entire twelve hours.

Sean Creech LMP3 Joao Barbosa
Joao Barbosa in Sean Creech LMP3 Ligier

The outright pace was reflected in some of the carnage that occurred during the race, with multiple accidents, off course excursions and “avoidable contact” incidents happening throughout the event, which featured a total of 47 full course yellow laps. Attrition was higher than we have come to expect, as there were 9 DNFs out of the 37 starters.

2021 Sebring start
Green green green!!!

In addition to the DNFs, the most bizarre incident had the #48 Ally Cadillac of Jimmie Johnson, Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi disqualified from the results and demoted to last place in DPi for leaving Simon Pagenaud in the car for 50 seconds too long, exceeding the four-hour limit in a six-hour period. All in all, a forgetful weekend for that team, which had to rebuild their car with a new tub after Johnson crashed in qualifying on Friday. It was a shame to see the work of the team to come to naught due to an error during the race.

Ally Caddy DQ
Ally Caddy DQ’d

Even with the all the incidents and yellows, a record 349 laps were covered by the race winner and new track records were set in all 5 classes. Best overall lap was put in by both Felipe Nasr and Renger van der Zande who both recorded identical 1:46.151 times in their Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi on different laps in the race. In LMP2, Scott Huffaker, behind the wheel of the class winning PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA 07 Gibson put in a record lap of 1:48.474. In GTLM, Antonio Garcia set a lap record for Corvette Racing by turning in a lap of 1:55.642 in the Corvette C8.R, while in the other GT class, GTD, Porsche factory driver Patrick Long set a new record with his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3.R of 2:00.808. Finally, in the new LMP3 class, winner Colin Braun set a mark of 1:56.166 in the CORE Autosport Ligier JS P320 VK.

To top that all off, the top four cars overall were separated by only 2.704 seconds at the checkered flag. In addition, the top two LMP2 finishers were only 2.587 seconds apart. GTLM would likely have been just as close until the BMW M8 GTE of Conner De Phillippi elected not to keep “socially distanced” from class leader Antonio Garcia’s Corvette C8.R, taking both cars out of contention for the win with only 8 minutes remaining in the race.

BMW M8 Sebring 2021
BMW suffered last lap woes

Mazda had another fine race in their final season of DPi racing, as they were always at the top end of the leader board and nearly pulled off the victory, with Harry Tincknell putting in an outstanding final stint as he chased down the leader. Jonathan Bomarito and Oliver Jarvis shared driving duties for Mazda Motorsports and in the end, they only came 1.435 seconds away from victory.

Mazda DPi
Mazda – not quite but huge effort

In LMP2 IMSA regular and fan favorite Ben Keating combined with Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker to take the class victory. Jensen: “It got more exciting than we wished it could be. We had been leading for more than a lap for 8 hours of the race. We got a lost balance and that was my worst stint. And we really had to fight. Glad we were able to bring some excitement to the fans.”

In LMP3, CORE Autosport took the win, with Jonathan Bennett, Colin Braun and George Kurtz sharing driving duties on the Ligier. George Kurtz: “To have my first win at Sebring is unbelievable. CORE gave us such a good car. I can’t put it into words. It’s so emotional to be here with these guys.”

LMP3 win for Core Autosport

In GTLM, near the end of the race it looked like it was going to be another Corvette victory until the aforementioned incident took place with the BMW. That handed the victory to the WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 piloted by Cooper MacNeil, Mathieu Jaminet and Matt Campbell, their first win in their first season in GTLM. They hardly just inherited the win, as they were in the hunt all day and Jaminet was running close enough to the lead Corvette and BMW that he had to take avoiding action to take the class victory. Jaminet: “When I turned the corner they were side by side. They had big contact and I had to avoid the BMW so I went straight in the grass. We got really lucky there. I was very close to having a big crash with the BMW. It was a little bit of a crazy fight we’ll say.”

GTLM win for Weathertech Porsche

Finally, in GTD, Porsche added to their GTLM victory by taking the top two spots in GTD, with the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3.R of Zacharie Robichon, Laurens Vanthoor and Lars Kern taking the win over the Wright Motorsports entry driven by Ryan Hardwick, Patrick Long and Jan Heylen. The Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Ian James, Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn came in third only a little over 21 seconds behind the class winner after twelve hours of flat out driving.

So, the 69th running of the 12 Hours is now in the history books, and we would be remiss if we didn’t pay tribute to retiring Sebring Media Director and track historian Ken Breslaurer, who is retiring this July after 35 years with the track. He has become a walking encyclopedia of track history and his input will surely be missed by all of us in the media who have come to depend on his knowledge, help and advice throughout the years, not to mention the candy treats he has supplied us with on a timely basis. In a fitting tribute before the race Ken was honored and they christened the media center the “Ken Breslauer Media Center” and presented him with a Rolex watch.  Ken, congratulations on a great career. I’m sure somehow, we will see you next March.

Ken Breslauer
Ken Breslauer Media Center

Not since the 1974 fuel crisis has the Sebring track failed to host an event, and although we saw a lightly attended, Covid-resticted event in November 2020, the traditional March running of the party event was missed last year – of course due to the global shut down as a result of the then breaking pandemic

Thank goodness then that 2021 saw a return to some of the traditions that are held dear to so many. Although the crowd was not as big as usual, there was certainly a buzz in the warm spring Florida air, as race fans showed up once again to sample the St. Patty’s Day party atmosphere complete with all the usual costumed fan fave’s.

The only downside for the fans, was the inability to cruise the paddock, it still being “bubbled” away from them due to the restrictions still in place. Although life is made much easier for the teams, due to the lack of pedestrians clogging the golf-cart-Grand-Prix lanes, it is still not quite the same when you cannot invite a young fan to talk to the drivers or perhaps even look inside the car.

The camp sites were rocking to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pink Floyd late into the night however, and beer was consumed along with camp-grilled food of all types. Just the way it should be. With luck, we will be at full strength next year

Until then, respect the bumps.