The 71st 12 Hours of Sebring came to an unforgettable end when the three overall leaders collided battling for the lead during the closing minutes of the twelve hour race. Jack Aitken, co-driving with Pipo Derani and Alexander Sims, survived the chaos and one final restart to claim victory for the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.
“It’s not really the way that you want to win the race,” said Aiken to NBC Sports in victory lane following the race. “But we were there when we needed to be and we kept it clean.”
Most of the GTP class experienced problems at some point during the race, but that didn’t mean the journey to victory for the Action Express No. 31 was easy. The team qualified on the pole and showed speed early in the race. However, the highly competitive GTP class meant that no one car seemed to have an advantage.
The team faced its first major setback of the day a little over two hours into the enduro when an LMP3 car spun in front of the No. 31, then being driven by Pipo Derani. Derani did not have enough time to react to the slower car’s spin and the car received front bumper damage.
The team managed to repair the damage and send Derani back into the race, but the pace of the team’s Cadillac didn’t seem to match what it was prior to the contact. Patience, however, is the key to victory in almost every form of motor racing. In an endurance race as grueling as Sebring, there’s always plenty of time to rebound even if the car is wounded.
“Fantastic job by the whole team to get us back in the race after the early setbacks,” noted Alexander Sims to NBC Sports after the race. “It’s a race of attrition sometimes and that’s what made it for us today.”
Attrition played a key role in the outcome of the overall results. Only two cars in the GTP class finished out of the eight that started. The Chip Ganassi Racing No. 01 Cadillac looked to be the car to beat during the midpoint of the race, only to catch fire due to a mechanical problem and be forced to retire with three hours remaining.
The No. 60 MSR entry wanted to control the narrative after a heavy fine following their Rolex 24 victory. However, as the race turned to darkness, they too encountered a race ending problem when Tom Blomqvist lost a wheel and became stranded on track.
Combined with twelve full-course cautions, the competition in the GTP class remained close as the race entered its final minutes.
The final act of attrition occurred when the top 3 cars were dicing through slower GT traffic while also fighting for the overall win. Slight contact between the Penske Porsche of Mathieu Jaminet and the WTR Cadillac of Felipe Albuquerque sent Albuquerque off the track and back into traffic, including Jaminet. Felipe Nasr, the second Penske Porsche, arrived on the scene with nowhere to go, also ending his race.
Pipo Derani picked up his fourth career Sebring 12 Hour victory in the chaotic final minutes.
“I’ve had so many unlucky ones since my last victory here so I’ll take a little bit of luck,” noted Derani to NBC Sports while in Victory Lane. “I’m sorry for the guys who crashed…but you know you gotta be lucky in motorsports.”
In the LMP2 class, Scott McLaughlin, fresh off a near miss in the IndyCar race at St. Petersburg, drove the No. 8 Tower Motorsports machine to a class victory. It was an impressive rebound for the team after the car suffered damage in a crash during the mid-point of the race. McLaughlin can now add a class victory at Sebring to his list of IndyCar and Supercars accomplishments.
“[The team] did an incredible job. When we had the crash they got the car back out and we were still on the lead lap and still in third as well,” said co-driver Kyffin Simpson to NBC Sports after the race.
Further down the running order Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson, and Josh Burdon took victory for Riley in the LMP3 class. The team showcased a dominating performance putting every other competitor in their class at least one lap down.
In the GT classes, Patrick Pilet, driving the Pfaff Motorsports No. 9 Porsche 911 held off Jack Hawksworth’s No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus on the final restart to take victory in the GTD Pro class. Paul Miller Racing’s No. 1 BMW, driven at the time by Madison Snow, crossed the finish line first to wrap up victory in the GTD class.