SEBRING, Fla. — As has so often been the case over its 70 prior editions, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring came down to a risk/reward scenario for the leaders in the Grand Touring classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
A series of full-course cautions in the final hour of Saturday’s grueling endurance contest made fuel strategy the critical factor.
Patrick Pilet and Pfaff Motorsports timed it to perfection, completing a remarkable comeback for the distinctive plaid No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) after a crash by Klaus Bachler in qualifying the day before required 11 hours to repair and forced the team to start deep in the field.
Pilet ran the last 41 laps of the race without stopping for fuel and tires – a duration of one hour, 52 minutes – to lead the GTD PRO field through the final 19 laps after darkness fell upon Sebring Int’l Raceway.
He finished 2.706 seconds ahead of Jack Hawksworth (with co-drivers Ben Barnicoat and Kyle Kirkwood) in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 at the checkered flag, with the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 shared by Rolex 24 At Daytona winners Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon and Maro Engel 4.326 seconds back in third.
“Just amazing, this group of people on the team that worked until 1 a.m. to repair the after qualifying yesterday,” said Pilet, who claimed his third win at Sebring and 14th in IMSA competition. “Then they rocked so much in the race, with the strategy and all the pit stops. Sometimes you get bad luck with the yellows, but we never gave up and we stayed focused. They call me the fuel-saving expert; that can be a big advantage and today it paid off.”
There were four full-course cautions in the final two hours, most significantly when the overall leaders of the race – three Grand Touring Prototypes (two Porsche and one Acura) – crashed in turn three with 19 minutes remaining. That gave the Pfaff Porsche the fuel cushion it needed to make it to the checkered flag.
“Sebring is always madness the last two hours,” said Laurens Vanthoor, Pfaff’s IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup driver and a two-time winner at Sebring. “I remember my first time here, I was shocked. We really needed those yellows. We were on a different strategy. We needed one more yellow to be safe on fuel, and unfortunately our Porsche colleagues were involved. But that gave us the upper hand on strategy.”
The GT Daytona class was also resolved by a gamble on late yellows to stretch fuel mileage. Madison Snow’s 40-lap final stint in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 secured the victory for himself and co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis.
As in GTD PRO, track position was king as no one was able to mount a charge on Snow in the limited number of green-flag laps down the stretch. Robby Foley came closest, as he completed a 1-2 finish for BMW in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 with co-drivers Patrick Gallagher and Michael Dinan.
Snow was humble in victory, deflecting credit to the engineers making mileage calculations on the pit stand after his 10th IMSA race win. It was the second Sebring victory for all three drivers.
“In the car they don’t really tell you a whole lot,” he said. “You’re doing what they tell you, and you hope they’re telling you right. So, I’d say it was the team and the drivers for 10 and a half hours, and it was definitely the engineer the last hour and a half.”
But Sellers, a 15-time IMSA winner, was full of praise for Snow – and for the intra-manufacturer competition with BMW stalwart Turner Motorsport.
“We’ve had some great battles with them over the last year and a half or so,” Sellers remarked. “I think the teams are at a high level, and today we executed well.
“Madison at the end got the job done,” he added. “He credited the engineer, but he’s the one who held the ball and took the last shot.”
The No. 79 WeatherTech Mercedes team maintained the lead in the GTD PRO points standings, by 26 over the No. 14 Lexus and 49 ahead of the No. 9 Porsche.
In GTD, the No. 1 BMW group moved within a single point of the class leader, the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 piloted by Brendan Iribe, Frederik Schandorff and Ollie Millroy, the fourth-place finishers at Sebring.