Surviving Sebring

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

Both the 2020 running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts and the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are in the record books and what a season it has been.

With a schedule that had to be rearranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IMSA, led by new President John Doonan, did an outstanding job of putting on a terrific show for fans from around the world. Moving Sebring from its traditional March date to the season ending event in November turned out to be a stroke of genius, as the racing was close and intense. Literally the DPi and GTD Championships were not decided until the checkered flag fell at the conclusion of the 12 hours. In a race that featured nine full course yellows for over 2 hours and twenty minutes due to various incidents during the race, the winning car still covered 1301.520 miles around the historic airport circuit.

In the end, it was the #55 Mazda taking the overall win with drivers Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jonathan Bomarito sharing driving duties on the way to Mazda’s first endurance race victory in IMSA competition. In a seesaw battle for the overall lead that went on for the entire twelve hours, it came down to a flat tire for the #77 Mazda while in the lead with just a few minutes to go that gave the lead and the win to the #55 car.

Mazda ended up with both the 1st and 3rd spots on the podium, with the #6 Penske Acura slotted in-between them in 2nd place.

Harry Tincknell: “Our strategy was just to get to the tenth hour with a clean car that we can go fight with at the end. Trying to stay out of any carnage and get to that point. We did that well.” Ryan Hunter-Reay added: “This is a big one. I was telling the guys, Sebring 12 Hours is my home race but I’ve been coming here since I was probably 14 or 15 years old. I’ve always dreamt of winning the Sebring 12 Hour overall. So this is a big one. This ranks right up there.” Jonathan Bomarito put it all in perspective: “Sebring has been eluding me for a while. This is just an incredible place. It’s an incredible accomplishment to win at this track. Twelve hours is so grueling on the equipment, on the machine, but also on the drivers. It feels really good to get that win here, especially overall. The team did an amazing job.”

Of course, the huge news of the event was the DPi Championship battle, which raged all day and wasn’t decided until the checkered flag fell. Penske Team Acura, in their last race for the foreseeable future in IMSA, took the team and manufacturers titles with drivers Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves taking the driver’s title. It was touch and go until the finish, as the pole winning #7 Acura suffered an intercooler problem early in the race and fell far behind. The Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac, which was also in contention for the championship, also suffered their own mechanical gremlins and fought all day to work their way back to the front. In the end, the Penske Acura won the championship by just 1 point over the Wayne Taylor squad. Talk about close racing. For Castroneves in particular, it was a very emotional victory, as it marked his very first championship driving for Roger Penske in 21 seasons. Sebring also marked his last race for Penske Racing, as Acura is going a different direction next year and Helio’s IndyCar contract with Penske is over as well.

Helio was both emotional and ecstatic: “I’m so honored to be part of this organization (Penske), true friends are always going to last. It’s my last race with the team after 21 years, and again, I learned so much from this organization. Three years that I’ve been here with the IMSA family, it was an absolutely incredible learning curve for me. I feel like I’m a better driver today than what I was before, and again, I learned so much with these guys. I can’t thank everyone enough. Today is a very special day.” Co-champion Ricky Taylor: “It was an absolute dream come true to drive for Acura Team Penske from the very beginning. It wasn’t something I ever thought I would get a chance to do, let alone drive with a legend and hero of mine in Helio.”

Another team not returning next season to IMSA competition is the Porsche Team, who capped off a challenging season by finishing both 1st and 2nd in the GTLM class. The resurgent Porsche Team has now won the last three races of the IMSA WeatherTech Championship and leaves on a high note.

Porsche’s Nick Tandy: “Everyone knows this is our last race together with Porsche and the GT Team, and the Core Autosport guys. I mean, it’s not just this weekend, but to finish this season with three wins in a row in the last three races is pretty unbelievable.”

Acura not only won the DPi championship, they also won the GTD title as well, with Meyer Shank drivers Matt McMurry and Mario Farnbacher securing the title with their 3rd place finish in class at Sebring. Mario Farnbacher: “It was a crazy ride this year, and with COVID, and the compression of race schedule. And ultimately, to the end of the Meyer Shank program with the NSX means a lot to finish it and thank them with the constructor title. The driver championship as well. I’m really privileged and thankful for that.”

In a very spirited contest, highlighted by a stirring last stint drive by Patrick Long soldiering on with a broken shock, in their debut season the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R won class at Sebring and finished second in the championship by just a few points. Patrick Long’s thoughts on their day: “I feel like we had a car that could fight for victory all day long even though we had a left rear shock that failed, so it was a difficult car to hold on to. I got a pretty good headache from sort of a buckin bronco ride for about seven hours.”

In other classes, Patrick Kelly in the PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA won the LMP2 class to put the icing on the cake of an outstanding season, having already secured the championship prior to Sebring.

Even though they didn’t win and faced a number of problems during the race, the Corvette Team can hold their head high, as they won the driver, team and manufacturer championships in GTLM and secured those titles by just taking the green flag at Sebring. It was a remarkable debut season for the mid-engine Corvette C8.R.

For Corvette, Sebring marked the final race of Oliver Gavin, who capped an outstanding 19-year career with Corvette. Always a fan favorite, he will be missed. Once can hope that he may return for drives in the future with Corvette, perhaps in an endurance role. Oliver: “The weekend has been emotional…I’m deeply appreciative of everything that everyone has done at Corvette Racing and Team Chevy collectively. It has been an unbelievable 19 years.”

A very short off season is now in in effect as everyone tries to catch their breath and prepare for the 2021 season which gets underway with the Roar Before the 24 at Daytona in January – just 67 days from today! The Roar will be followed only one week later by the Rolex 24, so there is little time to waste.

There will be lot of changes going into next season, with drivers finding new rides, teams running new cars, some new teams coming in while others exit. Amidst all those changes, IMSA will continue to present the finest sports car racing on earth.

See you next season.

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