After struggling for two days to find speed in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R – and without a properly functioning rear wing at the end of the race – Sebastien Bourdais found just enough pace Saturday night to lead his team to an improbable victory.
When the top element of the rear wing went missing shortly after a restart with 19 minutes remaining in the race, Bourdais managed to stay just far enough ahead of the field. He brought the damaged car to the finish line 1.435 seconds ahead of Harry Tincknell’s Mazda to claim the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Bourdais wasn’t sure what had happened when the wing broke. Before he discerned it was a problem with the car’s aerodynamics, he nearly lost control of the Cadillac.
“I’m just really lucky that I didn’t stuff it in Turn 17 before I made the adjustments,” Bourdais said. “That was a very, very close call there. At the same time, thankfully I had enough of a gap to (Tincknell) that he didn’t pass us by the time I collected myself. I didn’t know it was the rear wing until I got out of the car (in victory lane), but I knew something had happened aerodynamically.”
With his car out of shape and suddenly two seconds a lap off pace, Bourdais’ relatively comfortable lead over Tincknell dissolved into a nose-to-tail chase over Sebring International Raceway’s 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit. Tincknell challenged for the lead several times, but Bourdais didn’t relinquish.
“Every corner that was coming, I was like, ‘Man, how am I going to do this one?’” Bourdais said. “The flip side of (the broken wing) is that the car was extremely fast down the straightaway, too. I was very hard to pass there.
“I don’t know. Sometimes with the gods of racing, you don’t know what’s happening. You just take it and move on. That was one of the most improbable situations that I’ve ever been a part of that turned out in a good way.”
As previous leaders encountered crashes and mechanical problems during the course of the race’s first 11 hours, Bourdais and his co-drivers, Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier, found their Cadillac in the lead late in the race.
That came after multiple incidents – both involving the No. 5 and other contenders – that culminated with the final 19 minutes. The No. 5 car led only 28 laps – all of them within the final 31 laps of the race – as Bourdais held off Tincknell, who co-drove the No. 55 Mazda Motorsports Mazda DPi RT24-P with Oliver Jarvis and Jonathan Bomarito.
While JDC-Miller MotorSports celebrated its unlikely overall and Daytona Prototype International (DPi) win, two teams were enjoying dominating victories in the other prototype classes.
Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating and Scott Huffaker teamed to take the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 to the front in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), while Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Jon Bennett co-drove the No. 54 CORE autosport Ligier JS P320 to a win in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class.
The No. 5 Cadillac found itself in position to win after Scott Dixon and Connor De Phillippi collided while Dixon was heading to the pits with 70 minutes left. Dixon, who had a healthy lead in DPi at the time, and De Phillippi’s No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE made contact, breaking the toe link on Dixon’s No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“It was a very late call to the pits, so I was scrambling to get everything undone in time,” Dixon said. “I was trying to get back to pit road and there was a car there. I had no other place to go. ... I feel bad for the team. Everybody was doing a fantastic job. The car was fast.”
Kamui Kobayashi challenged Tincknell during the final laps in the No. 48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi V.R he shared with Jimmie Johnson and Simon Pagenaud. However, because Pagenaud exceeded the drive time limit of no more than four hours in a six-hour period, the No. 48 was scored last in class.
That gave the third spot on the DPi podium to the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-05 co-driven by Dane Cameron, Olivier Pla and Juan Pablo Montoya.
For much of the race, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA held a one-lap lead over the LMP2 field. But after the final restart, Jensen was chased by Ryan Dalziel, who finished just 2.587 seconds behind in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA he co-drove with Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman.
“It got more exciting than we wished it to be,” Jensen said. “We were leading by more than a lap for eight hours. I was getting a little nervous (near the end of the race). The last stint was my worst one. That’s when I had to fight. It got difficult.”
The No. 54 car prevailed in LMP3 after falling far behind early in the race. Braun passed and held off Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 91 Riley Motorsports Ligier JS P320 at the end.
“It was a great result for us and really fun at the end,” Braun said. “You definitely have to earn it. I think that makes it all that much more special for CORE and Crowdstrike. It’s a huge win. It gets some momentum going.”
In the end, though, the story was an unlikely victory by a DPi team that struggled for two days prior to the race to find speed, then maintained it after the car’s wing fell apart.
“It felt kind of overdue because we led so many laps last year and things didn’t go our way,” said Vautier, who won at Sebring for the first time to go with two pole positions. “Today, the stars were aligned.”
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season resumes May 14-16 with the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.