Sebring, Fla: Picking up Corvette Racing’s sister car’s accomplishment from 2015, Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler won Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, backing up their IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Milner passed the BMW M6 GTLM of Lucas Luhr for the class lead at the nine-hour, 38-minute mark. From that point, the Corvette led all but one of the remaining laps, briefly relinquishing the lead on a pit stop. The battle saw Porsche, Ferrari and Ford also take turns in the lead in the highly competitive class.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong race car when I got in for the final three hours,” said Milner, who also co-drove with Gavin in winning the GTE Pro class in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. “I knew I could pass the cars in front of me. It was difficult with all the cautions, but we got it back up there. I had a 20-second lead and then we had a caution. I knew everyone was racing for the win, so I kept pushing and was able to bring it in.”
In 2015, Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia doubled up in the Florida endurance classics in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R, going on to capture the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. However, their chances for a Sebring repeat were dashed Saturday when Magnussen tangled with Porsche driver Kevin Estre entering Turn 1 while battling for the class lead with four hours, 49-minutes remaining.
Dirk Werner took the checkered flag in second place, 2.882 seconds behind, driving the No. 25 BMW Team RLL IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM started from the pole by Bill Auberlen and also driven by Bruno Spengler. All three drivers took turns up front, leading five times for 61 laps.
Rounding out the podium was the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR driven by Earl Bamber, Frederic Makowiecki and Michael Christensen, followed by the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon.
The event was held in changing weather conditions, including several short but intense downpours and a thunderstorm that led to a two-hour, 15-minute red-flag stoppage that began shortly before the three-hour mark.
One day after Jeff Segal demonstrated the potential of Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 by capturing the TOTAL Pole Award, Alessandro Balzan backed it up. He took the lead with nine minutes remaining and went on to capture the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in its maiden voyage.
Balzan took the checkered flag 2.280 seconds ahead of Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, joining Christina Nielsen and Segal in giving Ferrari its first class triumph at Sebring since 2011. It was Nielsen’s first victory in WeatherTech Championship competition.
“The last five minutes were almost like the 12 hours,” Balzan said. “We decided not to change the tires, so it was the advantage not to lose a lot of time with cold tires. We had a nice race with the BMWs. We had a bit of contact, but that is to be expected because you are fighting for the win. Then I took advantage of the traffic and was able to pull away.”
Nielsen became the first female class winner at Sebring since 2006, when Liz Halliday won the LMP2 class.
“I’m just as thrilled as I can be,” Nielsen said. “Sebring is a unique event, probably my favorite beside Petit Le Mans. Getting my first win here feels amazing – it’s something we worked super hard for. Now I guess we’re in a good path for the championship.”
Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg made it two women on the GTD podium, as Freiberg joined Klingmann and Bret Curtis in the runner-up BMW. They were followed by Rolex 24 class winners John Potter, Andy Lally and Marco Seefried in the Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Colin Braun took the lead in the Prototype Challenge (PC) at just under the halfway mark – at 5 hours and 52 minutes – and the No. 54 CORE autosport Flex-Box Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 dominated the second half of the race.
Joined by Jon Bennett and Mark Wilkins, Braun gave the team its second Sebring victory in three years. While attrition thinned the seven-car PC field, Tom Kimber-Smith stepped up in the defending class-winning No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 to challenge Braun. Kimber-Smith was leading with 23 minutes remaining, but Braun executed what proved to be the winning pass moments before the final caution period began on lap 229.
“It was fun racing Tom [Kimber-Smith] and that whole group,” Braun said. “They are all class competitors. We almost had the field a lap down, but then the Corvette and the Porsche got together to close up the field. Mark did a great job holding Tom off before I got in. Then on the restart, some GT car ran into my door and spun me out. So we worked our way back through the field, and we did, because we had a fast race car. Jon did a great job early in the race managing the car in the monsoon – that certainly wasn’t an easy task. So it was a great job for the team.”
Braun took the checkered flag 1.282 seconds ahead of Kimber-Smith, who co-drove with Robert Alon and Jose Gutierrez. Renger van der Zande, Alex Popow and David Heinemeier Hansson rebounded from problems early in the event to take third in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry.