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By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine. Photos by Jack Webster

After 36 hours of endurance racing now concluded in Florida, with the 72nd running of the Twelve Hours of Sebring in the record books, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship moves on to the West Coast of the United States and the first sprint race of the year at Long Beach, although you could be forgiven for thinking that Sebring was the first sprint race. If the first two races of the season are to be any indication, IMSA is headed for a year of record entries, record crowds and close racing.

Sebring was held in perfect weather conditions, just like the Rolex 24 at Daytona was at the end of January. The annual spring break race at old Hendricks Airfield, now internationally known as Sebring International Raceway, did not disappoint any of the vast number of spectators who showed up to witness the latest that IMSA had to offer.

58 cars total made up the starting grid, with 11 GTP prototypes leading the way. LMP2 featured 13 entries, while GTD-PRO and GTD combined for an additional 34 cars.

Pipo Derani put the #31 Whelen Cadillac on pole and led for much of the race into the afternoon, until the Sebring gods struck him down. It all came to an end for the Whelen Cadillac as Derani made contact at the high-speed Turn 9, when he caught the #21 Ferrari 296 GT3 and made contact as he was passing. The Cadillac shot straight into the tire wall and ended upside down, with an uninjured Pipo Derani trapped for a few minutes until the IMSA safety crew and corner workers were able to upright the car so Pipo could escape. The #21 AF Corse Ferrari was also too damaged to continue. Up until that point, it was looking like Cadillac was the car to beat.

Before the race, it was made known that Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing would be parting ways after the end of this season and the only thing seemingly known about the future was that the Whelen Cadillac squad would likely be getting a second car. Ganassi’s future plans were unknown, but no one in the paddock expects to see him depart the series after the conclusion of the 2024 season.

With new GTP entries coming down the road from Aston Martin (confirmed), Alpine (rumored), or perhaps Ford (wildly speculated by some), the IMSA GTP fields look to be very healthy both now and into the future. In addition to Chip Ganassi looking for a new dance partner in 2025, Michael Shank is likely to be back in the GTP fray as well.

At Sebring, it was Louis Deletraz in the #40 Acura ARX06, co-driven by Jordan Taylor and Colton Herta, taking a .891 second victory over the #01 Cadillac driven by Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon. The #7 Porsche Penske 963 piloted by Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell and Felipe Nasr completed the GTP and overall podium.

The win was a triumph for WTR Andretti Racing and Acura, who now sit tied at the top of the GTP standings with the #7 Porsche Penske (which won the Rolex 24 at Daytona). HPD must be pleased with their decision to give the WTR Andretti team a second car after parting ways with Michael Shank at the end of 2023.

Louis Deletraz on his winning pass on Sebastien Bourdais at the end of the race: “Every time I got close, there was a yellow pretty much, which is not helping me. I saw I was strong on braking, especially the low speed, T7, T10. He was close, defending well on the inside. I was on the outside, he squeezed me off. I realized quickly I was never going to make it on the outside, which is fair enough. It’s IMSA racing, it’s tough. I thought I saw a gap in seven. I went for it. Bleed off the brake, try to avoid him crossing back. I think we had more contact on the straight. Again, hard racing, but I think fair. We both made it to the flag. I couldn’t have done it by myself. If he didn’t respect me, we’d both be in the wall. Really thankful for that.”

The race marked the debut run for the new Lamborghini SG63 GTP car, entered by Iron Lynx and piloted by Matteo Cairoli, Andrea Caldarelli and Romain Grosjean. The car was turned out beautifully, looked good on the track and finished 7 th overall and in GTP, on the same lap as the race winners. Look for great results upcoming for the Lamborghini. It respected the bumps rather well at its Sebring debut!

In LMP2 it was a back-to-back victory for the ERA Motorsport ORECA, as they finished on top at the Rolex 24 as well. Drivers Dwight Merriman, Ryan Daizel and Connor Zillsch finished first in class, with just over a one second margin of victory. In the super competitive LMP2 class, 9 LMP2 cars finished on the lead lap, separated by less than 25 seconds. With wins at both Daytona and Sebring, ERA Motorsports and its drivers have a very comfortable points lead in the championship.

Young driver Connor Zilisch (only 17 years old!), who also drove the car to the win at Daytona: “There about an hour to go, we were all running in a train. I think I was seventh. I knew I wasn’t going to pass them, so I just started saving fuel and was going to wait for the last pit stop. I saved enough to get back. I took the lead when I came back out. Pretty unreal to get two wins in my first two WeatherTech starts.”

In GTD-PRO, it was Lexus on top, with Vasser Sullivan Racing and drivers Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood sharing the driving duties. They scored a .121 second victory over the Daytona winning Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3. With the win at Daytona and the second place at Sebring, the Risi team and drivers lead the championship by a large margin.

Lexus pilot Ben Barnicoat: “First year we got Atlanta, Petit Le Mans win, which was incredibly huge. Last year we won Watkins Glen and the championship. Just got Daytona left to go. We had a real rough start to this season, but that performance today showed why we are champions last year.”

In GTD, it was Mercedes on top, with Winward Racing’s Mercedes AMG GT3 EVO, piloted by Russell Ward, Philip Ellis and Indy Dontje taking the top spot, with the Cetilar Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 finishing second. For Winward Racing it was also back-to-back wins at Daytona and Sebring, so they lead the championship by a wide margin as well.

Russell Ward: “I think now we’re with the car with the most to lose. We have such a big points lead on especially all of the full-season competitors. I mean, it’s just kind of in our hands to make sure we come out clean every race, capitalize on the most points we can.”

In racing results close to home, publisher and editor James Edmonds once again assisted the Sean Creech Motorsports LMP2 effort as a crew member on the team. Making great strides with their Ligier JS P217 after a valiant but non-finishing Daytona, (the only Ligier running in LMP2), the team had a solid race at Sebring, finishing 4th in the LMP2 class. Team Principal Sean Creech: “I couldn’t be prouder of this entire team. We were two laps down but at no time did a single team member back off the gas. We have a huge amount of information to sort through from this entire weekend but today, we definitely placed a good number of positives into the information database going forward. We set laps close to the Orecas around us, so we know we are moving in the right direction.”

SCM will continue their IMSA season at the next endurance round of the series at Watkins Glen in June. For the series, it is on to Long Beach for the beginning of the IMSA sprint races April 19-20.