Whelen Cadillac Wins Wild Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

19 Mar. 2023 • 13:28
Derani Takes Fourth Victory in Twelve Hours as Teammates Sims, Aitken Claim First.
Photo : IMSA

The pole-sitting No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac V-Series.R won Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at the historic Sebring International Raceway – the team’s first victory in IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class era.


But this win was hardly so straightforward.


An action-packed thrill show, the famed IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race featured intrigue and drama from the time Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Cadillac took the opening green flag to the time his teammate Jack Aitken took the closing checkered. 


A dramatic three-car accident eliminated the top-three running cars with only 19 minutes remaining in the 12-hour race, but the No. 31 Cadillac was able to navigate through the wreck and go on to a 2.940-second win over Nick Yelloly in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 following a final restart.


“Obviously it was quite tricky at the end,’’ said Aitken, who conceded he and his team – including co-drivers Derani and Alexander Sims – were essentially trying to count cars to see where they were in the race order after Aitken avoided the accident.


“There was a lot going on,’’ Aitken said smiling. “To be honest, we were struggling a lot with the tires at the end. It’s not really how you want to win the race, but we were there when we needed to be and kept it clean. It’s a great reward for the Whelen Engineering guys, they did a massive job this week. Thank you to them.’’


Victory lane at the 3.54-mile, 17-turn Sebring circuit was a mixture of joy and even surprise considering the dramatic ending. The BMW team had a rough start to the weekend – its two cars qualifying sixth and eighth in the eight-car GTP class – after a rough start to the season with finishes of sixth and ninth in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona.


Saturday’s Sebring runner-up effort marks the first podium for all three BMW drivers this year – Yelloly, Connor De Phillippi and Sheldon van der Linde.


The race-defining accident involved the three frontrunning cars. Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06 fielded by Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport pulled up alongside Mathieu Jaminet in the leading No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 hoping to overtake at Turn 3 as they came upon slower GT cars.


Instead, Albuquerque, went wide to avoid the Porsche that was trying to avoid another car and the No. 10 ran off course. When Albuquerque’s Acura came back across the track, it hit Jaminet’s race-leading Porsche. They also collected the third-place No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 driven by Felipe Nasr in the melee. None of the drivers were injured, but the near miss still hurt.


“It’s kind of standard Sebring at the end of the race,” said Jaminet’s co-driver, Dane Cameron. “It gets pretty rowdy in the night, the restarts in the dark and you come up on GTs. Obviously, it’s disappointing to end this way, but I must say I’m very, very proud of Mathieu. 


“He was flying and doing a fantastic job and put us in position to win. It’s unfortunate it ended the way that it did but I’m very proud of all the boys and girls on the team. It’s been very difficult and many, many, many hours preparing. It’s shame but I understand what Mathieu was doing there and it’s just unfortunate.”


For Derani, it marks a fourth Twelve Hours of Sebring victory and his 12th all-time win in the series. It was Sims’ sixth IMSA win and first at Sebring, and Aitken’s first IMSA victory.


“You have to be lucky in motorsport and we were still there at the end,’’ said Derani, who shared that this was his first victory as a father – his daughter born just three months ago.


Saturday’s endurance event often showed the heart and the beat of a sprint race.


Television cameras captured team owner Wayne Taylor’s face as he watched his car collected in the crash with only minutes remaining. As his team loaded the damaged car into his team trailer, Taylor was philosophic.


“All we can do is prepare for the next one,’’ Taylor said. “What can you do? It happens.


“This one was one of the craziest (races) I’ve seen, really,’’ he added. “And I’ve seen a lot.’’


The No. 6 Porsche Penske was officially scored third in GTP with Taylor’s No. 10 Acura fourth and the No. 7 Porsche Penske fifth. The season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura was scored sixth in the GTP class. And the No. 24 BMW M Team RLL car finished eighth in GTP and 51st overall after an early retirement.


Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac Racing entry also suffered an early exit, having to suddenly pit from the lead – with smoke trailing from the car. Driver Sebastien Bourdais climbed out quickly and safely, and the No. 01 Cadillac was scored seventh in class.


After examining the car, Cadillac Racing issued a statement explaining the car “experienced a fuel distribution system issue,’’ noting it was the first time the team had encountered the problem at the track despite preseason and regular-season testing at Sebring.


“Cadillac Racing will figure out the root cause and prepare for the next race,’’ the statement read.


The car, which started on the outside of the front row, led a race-high 119 of the opening 240 laps and had finished on the podium – in third place – at the season-opening Rolex 24 in January.


“The guys did such a great job,’’ Bourdais said. “It’s heartbreaking.


“It was very competitive, obviously,’’ he added. “We definitely could keep up with the Acuras for sure. … We’ll just keep at it.’’


The Sebring victory was enough to propel the No. 31 Cadillac into the GTP championship lead, by 10 points over the No. 10 Acura and 70 ahead of the No. 01 Cadillac. The GTP class returns to action April 14-15 at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.


The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship resumes April 14-15 at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.


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