- Jul 23, 2014
Last year's running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring was a controversial affair that saw multiple examples of poor driving judgment, inept stewarding, and an unpopular and contrived finish tarnish one of endurance racing's most popular events.
But the 2015 running, the second Sebring 12h held in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship era, was to the relief of many, a much less controversial affair - and in the end, one largely dominated by the Action Express Racing team who claimed overall victory for the very first time at Sebring.
Last year's series champions stood tall after twelve grueling hours, winning by a one-lap margin to secure their first win in Sebring, and the first Sebring victory for all three of their drivers - Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa, and Sebastien Bourdais. Combined with a narrow defeat at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January, Action Express Racing have now completed every lap over thirty-six continuous hours of racing action in the TUSCC season - an absolutely remarkable feat even after only two races.
They stood on the top step of the overall podium with the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing prototype (Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli) finishing second overall, and the #90 VisitFlorida.com Racing team (Michael Valiante, Richard Westbrook, Mike Rockenfeller) rounding out an all-Corvette DP podium. Reigning Sebring champions Chip Ganassi Racing (Joey Hand, Scott Pruett, Scott Dixon) finished fourth overall, while the #57 Krohn Racing Ligier-Judd was the only LMP2-spec car to see the finish - though pole sitter and Nissan factory driver Olivier Pla did set the fastest lap of the race in that car just seven laps in.
Indeed, three of the four class winners at Sebring were powered by Chevrolet engines, and on the fiftieth anniversary of the great Jim Hall's legendary victory in a Chevrolet-powered Chapparal 2A, nothing could have been more fitting.
P1/Mathiasen Motorsports proved that their Prototype Challenge class triumph at Daytona was no fluke, as they and their trio of Tom Kimber-Smith, Mike Guasch, and Andrew Palmer took the team's second class victory in as many races in 2015. Instead of apoplexy-inducing accidents such as this one from last year's race, this year's PC class was highlighted by fine driving performances from young talent such as former GP2 Series driver and current IndyCar Series hopeful Conor Daly, who co-drove the Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 to third in class, and ninth overall at Sebring in his very first major sports car race.
The #3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, and Ryan Briscoe also claimed their second straight victory of the 2015 season, in total, the team's ninth class victory at Sebring. But it almost wasn't to be - the two Porsche 911 RSRs of Porsche North America were all set to roll to a dominant 1-2 finish in the GTLM class. But in the final hour, both the #911 and #912 cars suffered transmission failures that cost them the race, and kept both cars off the podium. In a repeat of the misfortunes at Daytona, where the two factory Porsches crashed into each other overnight, Corvette Racing cashed in on the miserable luck of their rivals flying the flag of Stuttgart's finest.
In the end, Porsche did get a consolation prize thanks to Team Falken Tyre's #17 car (Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Patrick Long) finishing third, one place behind the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 (Giancarlo Fisichella, Pierre Kaffer, Andrea Bertolini) - who redeemed themselves after causing the other needless shunt of note in last year's race.
But the highest drama was staged in the GT Daytona class. With ten minutes remaining, the heavily-damaged #23 Alex Job Racing Porsche, driven by Mario Farnbacher, coughed up the class lead to the #33 Riley Technologies Viper after locking the brakes, flying off the circuit, and nearly into the tyre barriers. It seemed as if veteran wheelman Jerome Bleekemolen would carry the Riley team to a win at Sebring just one year after their Viper GT3-R burned to a crisp last year.
Then, with five minutes remaining, a lethal venom was administered to the Viper team - a terminal engine failure forced them out, giving the lead back to Farnbacher and Alex Job Racing, which they would not relinquish in the final laps. Farnbacher, along with co-drivers Alex Riberas and Ian James, drove Alex Job Racing to their tenth class victory at Sebring, and in keeping with the theme of redemption from last year's debacle, the team that was wrongly administered a penalty that cost them their shot at victory last year received one of the rare gifts of a true karmic victory in racing.
During the third hour of the race, a bizarre pit road accident resulted in a near-tragedy when a crew member of the #50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW DP team was struck by the #16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 after they had collided with the Krohn Racing car. The crew member suffered a terrifying impact, yet amazingly, walked away under his own power, refusing the aid of a stretcher.
Despite this, the 2015 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring proved to be a far better event for all those involved, and left a far more satisfying impression for the fans who followed the action. The Tudor United SportsCar Championship will hope to continue their positive momentum into the remainder of its twelve-round sophomore campaign, which continues on the streets of Long Beach, California in April. The four-leg Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup will continue in June, with the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.
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