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Nissan Wins Sebring

Race winning Nissan Dpi. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Race winning Nissan Dpi. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

We ran into old friend Johnny O’Connell at the Chateau Elan Hotel at Sebring on Friday evening for the Hall of Fame Dinner where another good friend, Dindo Capello, was being inducted as part of the class of 2018.

Johnny, most recently of Cadillac Racing and currently seeking a new ride, told us how special Sebring was to him and that he would be back racing there – he was not ready to quit. He still had the fire in the belly.

We are sure he will be back, for Johnny still has the desire, drive and talent to compete at the top level of motorsport.

As things turned out Saturday night after the race, running into Johnny O’Connell made a nice bookend to the weekend – honoring racing greats of the past while praising the rising stars of the future.

The Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi won a very competitive Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring with young guns Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek and Nicolas Lapierre. In 1994 Johnny O’Connell, along with co-drivers Steve Millen and John Morton, won the first victory for Nissan at Sebring in the Nissan 300ZX. Now, 24 years later, Nissan has notched its second overall win at the Florida endurance classic.

Under cloudless Florida skies and with warm temperatures, the crowds showed up in droves for the 66th Annual running of the 12 Hours, and it seemed to us like that the crowds were indeed the largest we have seen there.

Joest Racing, legendary for their history with Porsche and Audi, was also inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame this year and even though they did not come through for the victory with their new association with Mazda, the program looks to be on a good track as the Mazda DPi cars were fast, were at the top of the charts during night practice and led during the race. Look for their first victory to come sooner than later.

Penske Racing was also quick and ran at the top of the charts with their new Acura DPi cars, before falling to the wayside (one with engine problems and the other after a spin caused a drivetrain issue).

Wayne Taylor Racing was unable to repeat last year’s victory, but ran strongly and finished in 2nd, just over 12 seconds behind the winning Nissan. Cadillac rounded out the podium, with the #31 Action Express Whelen entry taking third.

The victory was the second for all three winning drivers, who combined to win the 2016 race for ESM in a Honda powered car.

Pipo Derani, who took the winning #22 Nissan to the checkered flag, said, “We’ve been working extremely hard the whole last year to have a car that’s consistent every race.”

Johannes van Overbeek commented: “Well, I mean, the first one was really hard and I think this one was equally hard. With the teams, competitors and manufacturers it has been tougher than ever.”

Third winning driver Nicolas Lapierre said, “Today we were fighting against Mazda, Acura and the Cadillac. The level is getting higher every year so it makes the victory even more special this year.”

In GTLM it was Porsche’s day, with the #911 car taking first, the #912 taking third with the BMW M8 finishing second. Winning Porsche pilot Patrick Pilet said, “It’s unbelievable. I’ve had a chance to win all of the big races in the US and especially the last one was Petit Le Mans with Nick (Tandy), and that was something special but Sebring is the monument.”

In GTD, Lamborghini once again took the victory, just as at Daytona, but this time with Paul Miller Racing’s Huracan GT3 driven by Madison Snow, Corey Lewis and Bryan Sellers. Bryan perhaps put it best: “It’s great. I mean, it’s cliché but Sebring is the best. The fans here are amazing. You can actually feel them at the end of the race when you’re driving around and you can see them when you get chance to slow down and look around. You can see them all up at the fence cheering and it’s really cool when we get to put on a show for people who are here and they are enjoying it and loving it. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”

That spirit, put into words by Bryan Sellers, is what keeps us coming back to Sebring year after year. That spirit is also what keeps Johnny O’Connell striving for another chance for victory at the hallowed ground which is Sebring International Raceway.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com. Eddie LePine has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up). You can usually find Eddie in the paddock area, deep in conversation with a driver.