Four Hour Update Sebring Mazda
Mazda Motorsports led at the four-hour benchmark of Saturday's Twelve Hours of Sebring. (IMSA photo)

Mazda Leads After Four Hours In Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. – The No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi, the defending winner of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts, led after four hours of the around-the-clock race at Sebring Int’l Raceway Saturday.

The second race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season also marks the second event in IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup competition, meaning separate points are awarded at specified junctures of each endurance event.

Earning five points for leading their classes at the four-hour mark were the No. 55 Mazda in Daytona Prototype international (DPi), the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 in Le Mans Prototype 2, the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P320 in Le Mans Prototype 3, the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE in GT Le Mans and the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R in GT Daytona.

Additional Michelin Endurance Cup points will also be awarded at the eight-hour mark and the finish of the race.

Throughout the first four hours, five different DPi cars led the race, three in LMP2, four in LMP3, two in GTLM and four in GTD. There were three full-course cautions.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson experienced the good and bad of Sebring in the opening moments of the race.

Fourteen minutes after the start, Johnson spun and made contact with another car, with debris from the incident precipitating the first full-course caution. After repairs were made, Johnson got back in the race and led seven laps as pit stops cycled through.

Johnson’s No. 48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R spun in turn 17. Its nose was scraped by the left side of the No. 5 JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Loic Duval, but both cars were able to continue.

It’s the same turn where Johnson crashed during qualifying on Friday, forcing the team to ready a spare tub for the race.

“I was trying to work around some GT cars and just got too wide,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of black (rubber on the pavement) down there, and I thought there was going to be enough grip on the outside of those guys. There certainly wasn’t. I was in the marbles … and around I went.”

After his crew replaced the nose assembly, Johnson led seven laps while the DPi field made its pit stops under green.

“The car’s still driving great,” Johnson said after Simon Pagenaud took over the No. 48 Ally Cadillac just under an hour into the race. “Grip level is different. It’s down. It seems to be coming up as the track takes rubber. Wind direction is also pretty different as well.”

The early minutes of the race also left two drivers in disagreement about an incident, with one calling the other “a world champion horse jumper.”

Pipo Derani was trying to pass Renger van der Zande heading into turn 17 in the 46th minute of the race when he was forced into the wall as van der Zande tried to avoid the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 on his outside.

Derani’s No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R was pinched into the inside wall, sustaining damage to the tie rod and rear end. It returned three laps down after pitting for extensive repairs.

Van der Zande, whose No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R wasn’t damaged, said Derani shouldn’t have tried to make the pass.

“I think Pipo should be in horse jumping, you know?” van der Zande said. “He would be a world champion horse jumper. He thinks he can go over people instead of just passing them in a nice way.”

Derani remained in the pole-winning No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac as it slid to seventh in class and 21st overall. His race engineer, Tim Keene, disputed the decision by IMSA race control to not issue a penalty to van der Zande.

“We obviously don’t agree with no call on that,” Keene said. “We had position on the (No.) 01, and we felt like they just turned us into the wall. We always seem to end up being the bug in those situations. It’s kind of getting old.”

The No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R dominated the first third of the race in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, leading the first three hours before the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE snuck ahead on a pit stop under a full-course caution.

Despite the apparent advantage, No. 3 Corvette driver Antonio Garcia wasn’t convinced of his car’s superiority over the competition.

“I think we are all very equal,” Garcia said. “It feels like we may have a tiny bit more than they do, so that gave me an opportunity to be kind of safe in a traffic a little bit. That’s the biggest thing now. Traffic is very difficult, especially on restarts.

“Once we are clear, we seem to be strong. It will be difficult to stay ahead of the BMWs. We need to focus on how the track develops, especially if conditions are going back to being cooler like it was at the beginning of the race. The car felt quite decent that point. We will have to wait and see.”

The No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 and No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R battled through much of the first four hours at the head of the GT Daytona (GTD) field.

While the No. 14 was the predominant leader, the No. 16 was usually close behind – until No. 16 driver Patrick Long made a bold pass of Kyle Kirkwood in the No. 14 for the lead approaching the three-hour mark.

Shortly after, the No. 14 suffered brake issues, forcing repairs under a full-course caution that dropped it a lap behind.

Of note, the third full-course caution occurred after the GTD entries driven by Franck Perera and Billy Johnson came together in Turn 3 and collided hard into the tire barrier.

Perera skipped over the curbing and collected Johnson.

Both drivers emerged from their cars unassisted and were taken to the infield care center for observation before being released.

Wall repairs took nearly 30 minutes before racing could resume.

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