The scene in the Paul Miller Racing pit after a grueling 60th Anniversary Twelve Hours of Sebring was pure jubilation as Bryce Miller, Sascha Maassen and Rob Bell co-drove the No. 48 Chopard/Dunlop/TOTAL Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to a seventh-place GT result.
Two of the cars finishing ahead were FIA World Endurance Championship entries, so the driving trio actually earned fifth-place points from the longest event on the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón schedule.
“Obviously, we’ve been on a learning curve, both with the car and the tires at the same time, so to be the first Porsche in ALMS is a huge accomplishment for us,” said team owner Paul Miller. “I’m very excited for the guys. The car ran like a train all day and all night, so we’re really pleased. It’s just great and so far beyond what we could have expected.
“We were just hoping for a little more attrition in front of us, because there was no change in that order for the last five, six hours of the race. The last half of the race, it was the same six guys in front of us. Nobody dropped out. It was amazing. There were guys doing two-minute flats and 2:01s, it was just incredible, all the way through, and there was zero attrition. It was amazing.”
It was Bryce Miller’s best result in three Sebring starts, but it didn’t come without a few tense moments as the laps wound down. Miller took over in the cockpit for Maassen to drive the final stint with slightly more than an hour remaining with the singular goal of preserving the team’s seventh-place position.
While he was never challenged for position, Miller ran the entire closing stint in fuel conservation mode and had one liter of fuel remaining in the fuel cell after the race. He also survived contact from a Rebellion prototype inside of the final five minutes.
“We kept looking for opportunities and mistakes and other crews making mistakes in the pit stop rounds, and just stayed true to our strategy,” said Bryce. “We had a couple hiccups along the way, but all in all, that’s where it counted. We kept it pretty tight. It was tight enough and the race pace was good enough, and we kept it clean enough, that at the end we were there. That’s what counted.
“The fuel call that the guys on our cart made was just absolutely exceptional. I got the fuel reserve light on the very last lap and it just couldn’t have been called any better. It’s just an awesome feeling. I’m really proud of the team and everyone here. We really deserve it. I’m just proud for the guys.”
Maassen started the race from just outside the top 10, but moved up to ninth before 30 minutes were gone. He moved up to a race-high position of fourth briefly during the first wholesale pit stop cycle and drove a monster double stint to solidify the team’s top-10 position.
“It’s a great result,” said Maassen, a five-time Sebring class winner. “This is the toughest race of the whole year and we’re just starting with so many new partners, with a new Porsche and a new Dunlop tire, all these new things that we have to put together. We finished the race and we finished the race strong. There were only two factory Corvettes and two factory BMWs from the ALMS in front of us, and we are the best-placed Porsche. I’m very, very happy.”
The seventh-place performance matches Bell’s best run in four Twelve Hours of Sebring appearances, as he also finished seventh in his Sebring debut in 2008. He brought an extensive background with Dunlop to the race week at Sebring and feels the team now has a clear direction on how to move its program forward.
“We learned we need to work hard and go forward and work with Dunlop as a partner,” Bell said. “You come to the first race of the year, especially at Sebring, which is really difficult, and that’s your judge. That’s where you know where you are for the rest of the season. We now know we’ve got work to do. That’s good for the guys. They can see it, it’s in black and white, but there’s determination here to move on. It’ll be what it will be, but we all know motor racing is difficult. That’s why we love it.”
Next up for the Paul Miller Racing squad is the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on April 13-14.