Pfaff Porsche, Paul Miller BMW Good to the Last Drop En Route to Sebring Wins
As has so often been the case over its 70 prior editions, the 2023 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 International 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 3 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.”