Corvette Racing Continues Daytona-Sebring Streak

Photo: IMSA
Photo: IMSA
Photo: IMSA

Picking up Corvette Racing’s sister car’s accomplishment from 2015, Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler won Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, backing up their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Milner passed the BMW M6 GTLM of Lucas Luhr for the class lead at the nine-hour, 38-minute mark. From that point, the Corvette led all but one of the remaining laps, briefly relinquishing the lead on a pit stop. The battle saw Porsche, Ferrari and Ford also take turns in the lead in the highly competitive class.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong race car when I got in for the final three hours,” said Milner, who also co-drove with Gavin in winning the GTE Pro class in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. “I knew I could pass the cars in front of me. It was difficult with all the cautions, but we got it back up there. I had a 20-second lead and then we had a caution. I knew everyone was racing for the win, so I kept pushing and was able to bring it in.”

In 2015, Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia doubled up in the Florida endurance classics in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, going on to capture the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. However, their chances for a Sebring repeat were dashed Saturday when Magnussen tangled with Porsche driver Kevin Estre entering Turn 1 while battling for the class lead with four hours, 49-minutes remaining.

Dirk Werner took the checkered flag in second place, 2.882 seconds behind, driving the No. 25 BMW Team RLL IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM started from the pole by Bill Auberlen and also driven by Bruno Spengler. All three drivers took turns up front, leading five times for 61 laps.

Rounding out the podium was the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR driven by Earl Bamber, Frederic Makowiecki and Michael Christensen, followed by the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon.

The event was held in changing weather conditions, including several short but intense downpours and a thunderstorm that led to a two-hour, 15-minute red-flag stoppage that began shortly before the three-hour mark.

Ferrari 488 GT3 Wins In Debut For Scuderia Corsa
One day after Jeff Segal demonstrated the potential of Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 by capturing the TOTAL Pole Award, Alessandro Balzan backed it up. He took the lead with nine minutes remaining and went on to capture the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in its maiden voyage.

Balzan took the checkered flag 2.280 seconds ahead of Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, joining Christina Nielsen and Segal in giving Ferrari its first class triumph at Sebring since 2011. It was Nielsen’s first victory in WeatherTech Championship competition.

“The last five minutes were almost like the 12 hours,” Balzan said. “We decided not to change the tires, so it was the advantage not to lose a lot of time with cold tires. We had a nice race with the BMWs. We had a bit of contact, but that is to be expected because you are fighting for the win. Then I took advantage of the traffic and was able to pull away.”

Nielsen became the first female class winner at Sebring since 2006, when Liz Halliday won the LMP2 class.

“I’m just as thrilled as I can be,” Nielsen said. “Sebring is a unique event, probably my favorite beside Petit Le Mans. Getting my first win here feels amazing – it’s something we worked super hard for. Now I guess we’re in a good path for the championship.”

Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg made it two women on the GTD podium, as Freiberg joined Klingmann and Bret Curtis in the runner-up BMW. They were followed by Rolex 24 class winners John Potter, Andy Lally and Marco Seefried in the Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.

• The triumph boosted the No. 4 Corvette team to victory in Round 2 of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Both the race winners and the No. 912 Porsche team scored 10 points. Unofficially, the No. 4 Corvette team holds a one-point lead, 23-22, over the two Porsche teams. In GTD, Scuderia Corsa took Sebring honors after joining three other teams with nine points in the event.

• The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE team of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Davide Rigone won the DEKRA Green Award for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida. The award recognizes the most clean, fast and efficient team in the GTLM class in each race through a scoring system developed in a partnership between IMSA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and SAE International. The No. 62 Ferrari finished fourth in the race.

• Jan Magnussen, No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R, on the incident that dropped his team from contention: “It’s such a huge shame for everyone on the team. The weather made it really difficult out there. The decision to go to slicks felt wrong, but we did it. After a while, I could see that times were coming down and I could build a little bit of temperature. I kept working at it. I don’t know how far back we were but we were a long way but caught everything up. We got into the lead there for a very short while and then it all went south. It’s a shame. (Kevin) Estre (Porsche 911 driver) came and apologized. That’s nice enough but it doesn’t change the fact that we are in here building the car. I really, really feel bad for the crew because man we were fast.”

• Ford Chip Ganassi Racing led the first laps for its No. 67 Ford GT, with reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon heading the class twice for 18 laps.

“I think we missed a little bit, but obviously we’ve made good progress since Daytona,” said Dixon, with the team reporting no mechanical problems and none of the issues that plagued the team in its debut at Daytona.

• Alex Job Racing finished fourth in its bid to repeat as Sebring winners in GTD with Mario Farnbacher, Ian James and Alex Riberas sharing the No. 23 Team Seattle/Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
“Mario did the best he could to go for the win,” said team owner Alex Job, a 10-time winner at Sebring. “I told him in one lap, ‘Go get those Audis,’ and he got them both on the same lap. Unfortunately, one of them got him back on the last corner of the last lap. But, Mario, Ian and Alex all did an awesome job. The No. 23 car was in the hunt for the win all day long. We’ll have to come back here next year and go for number 11.”

• The next race for the GTLM competitors will be the BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach on Saturday, April 16. All four WeatherTech Championship classes will be in action in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, May 1.