The Report Card 2015: Sebring 12 Hours

The Report Card: 12 Hours of Sebring

Waiting a month and a half for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida was excruciatingly long. But then the wait was worth it. It was a very good race with everything but the screwjobs of last year. The smaller field made for more breathing space for the drivers, and the flow of the race was also much better than before. I could use a bit more prototype cars, but a proper race of both speed and endurance was seen last Saturday. Sebring being Sebring bit a lot of people HARD; some a lot harder than others, and when the checkered flag fell, one team showed that it’s not enough that you’re fast, it’s also just as important to stay strong. In this case, the tank-like DPs swept the podium and the top 5. Here are the grades for the P class (positions designate overall position):

Action Express Racing (#5 P1, #31 P5)

The timeless racing adage rang “To finish first, first you must finish” rang well and true that weekend, and the Action Express Racing crew played that role to the hilt, especially the unstoppable #5 crew, who was the only Daytona Prototype able to hang with an Olivier Pla and Ozz Negri-driven Ligier, and a Ryan Dalziel-driven HPD. No other DP team in Sebring had the pace to hang with the P2 equipped teams when they had their pro drivers in it. No one but AXR #5. One problem though for the P2 equipped teams: AXR #5 did not make any mistakes during the entire race. Their only hiccup was the broken front rollbar, but still the car was clocking lap times at least half a second faster than anyone left standing at that point. Though the car lacked the fuel economy of the Ecoboost, the car had enough speed to counteract that. The #31 had a great run, until the pit crew made a very un-Action Express like mistake when they failed to secure Eric Curran’s right front tire to the hub. It was a shame, because Mad Max Papis was showing us why he earned that monicker in a sport prototype, diving with authority on DHH at the Safety Pin. If not for that mistake, Action Express might have locked in the podium. (GRADE: A)

Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates (#01, P4)

Ganassi was nowhere close to their Daytona form, dareisay they were not a threat at all. The dominating, all-conquering persona Ganassi had was not there to defend their stunning Sebring debut victory. We can start by not having the #02 in the starting lineup. Sure, Indycar is fast approaching and they have to prepare for everything, but the reason why Ganassi had a fighting chance last year was the fact that they had the second bullet in the gun to provide them with extra data for them to extract the last ounce of speed from the Ecoboost and Riley package. Also, Shank’s defection to a Ligier and Honda blunted Ford. Scott Pruett wasn’t operating at 100% in the race, and he confirmed that he was suffering from the flu; because while Dixon and Hand were capable of clocking high 1:54 and 1:55 laps, Pruett was mostly hovering in the high 1:55s to 1:57 domain. Ganassi was also saddled with an ill-handling package the whole time they were there, and I am pretty sure the hotter weather wreaked havoc on the Ecoboost engine, it was not producing the power it wants. Despite a 2 lap advantage in fuel mileage (like Daytona), speed was not there, as Dixon’s 1:54.0 lap was the fastest the car could go; by comparison, the AXR#5 did 1:52.9. Yipe. The lack of cars for data has hurt this proud team, and if last year they hoodwinked the field to win, this time they were on the receiving end of some clever thievery by Wayne Taylor Racing and Visit Racing to finish 4th after running in 2nd place at the final canto of pit stops. You Dun Goofed Ford Performance. You Dun Goofed Chip Ganassi Racing. (Grade: D)

Deltawing Racing (#0, DNF)

Deltawing’s Daytona fiasco prompted EMCO to get their ducks in a row and provide the car with a better working gearbox. And EMCO delivered, with a better working and more reliable one. However, the Deltawing seemed to not like the bumps of Sebring better than the other prototypes, confounded by its throttle system developing a glitch in the start, prompting the team to start the car in the pits and losing 9 laps in the process. Surprisingly, speed was not also there given the more potent high downforce package of the car. Maybe the smoother course of Road Atlanta suits the Deltawing more, being at least 5 seconds behind their other prototype opposition. Memo and Katherine drove the car around the track uneventfully until the suspension cried “No Mas” and quit after 2 hours. The team attempted to fix the suspension, but they found out the car can’t be helped no more. (Grade: F)

Tequila Patron ESM (#1, DNF; #2, DNF)

I reckoned the all new ARX-04b would be a much better car for Sebring, but surprisingly turned to a dud when ESM did a back-to-back test with it and their older 03b at the same venue. Plus the sudden decision by HPD to pull the plug and rework on several key weak points of the car like its overall weight and aero package threw the team into a sudden tailspin. Bringing out their old cars (which was marked For Sale by the end of the 2014 season, mind you) people thought they would be at a disadvantage, as they are already outclassed by the Ligier in WEC competition and the DP-Evos, but it turned out to be quite an astute move, as Dalziel plonked the car on the front row and proceeded to run away with it with Olivier Pla in the start. The only car capable of matching the Krohn and Shank Ligiers on sheer outright pace, it was a great run by Dalziel, DHH and Sharp… until the gremlins came out. A wonky ECU and steering system in the #1 ended its run, and while Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown were fault free in their stints, when Jon Fogarty jumped in the car the turbos started to lose pressure. I know of the order to keep their cars in good shape for the WEC Prologue was a priority, but since they’re going to Ligiers for Spa and beyond I think they should have given one of the cars a proper send off and let it finish the race. I understand the WEC is their main priority (and they will only have Scott and Ed in the Prologue!) but they should have done the distance, like a competitor should. (Grade: C+)

Fifty Plus Racing/Highway To Help (#50, P27)

When Dorsey Schroeder said they’ll be doing the full Patron NAEC/Haywood Cup I was very happy with that kind of news, more P cars and the more people know about their charity on raising a cure for Alzheimer’s the better. Just like Daytona, it was a fraught race with a problem or two and shenanigans not by their own making. During the first pit stop a fuel pressure problem cost the team valuable time, and then the highlight of the day: If Byron DeFoor had his car do a flip in Daytona, this time it was crew member who did the acrobatics as the tire he was carrying was clipped by the errant BAR1 PC car who was blocked from getting out by the errant Krohn P2 car. Amazingly the pit crew member Kevin Fox did not break anything major in his body, though he received a concussion, a sprain, a hairline fracture, and a number of bruises for his trouble. The mandatory helmet and pads able to cushion the blow enough not to cause terrible harm. Dorsey was also collateral damage, as the fracas rolled over one of his toes! After that the car soldiered on, and finished 7Th in the P class, one better than at Daytona, with no traction control, steel brakes, and a driver lineup with advanced ages. That is not a bad effort at all. I wish I could drive that fast if I was fifty plus. (Grade: A+)

Krohn Racing (#57, P6)

It was a case of missed potential for Krohn Racing, who saw Olivier Pla earning a reprimand by IMSA and a probation because of him roughing up FLM’s Robert Thorne on the front straight of Sebring. In qualifying though, the Judd powered Ligier, owing to its superior power to weight ratio because of it not wearing the 40kg ballast of the other P2s, blasted everyone to the weeds in the hands of Pla. The more green machine also had a case of dual personalities that race: the Incredible Hulk in the hands of Pla, and Bruce Banner in the hands of Tracy Krohn, who had his share of spins and mistakes. He is still clearly trying to learn more about the car, and he will be getting a lot of seat time once the ELMS season starts. I reckon he was also partially responsible for the fracas in pit lane that propelled Doran Racing’s Kevin Fox skyward, as he was not in the fast lane as he was preoccupied with fiddling with the fuel knobs. Tomy Drissi had nowhere to go and that’s also a mistake by the BAR1 team, and as the old adage said: Two wrongs never make a right. The contact between the PC car and the Ligier bent the exhaust system of the latter out of shape, and the chance of Krohn Racing winning the 12 Hours of Sebring was crushed. (Grade: F)

Michael Shank Racing (#60, DNF)

I was betting a lot on Michael Shank’s boys to bring on the fireworks, and initially they did by getting Justin Wilson when Matt McMurry had to step away. But it was a trying time for Shank’s Ligier, as they suffered from an evil handling chassis from the get-go, while Krohn’s chassis was spanking the field. When Oswaldo Negri Jr, a man who can handle an oversteering car was complaining to the pits that the car was oversteering; you know something was wrong with the car and the crew is frantically trying to solve the mystery. Considering how well they did Daytona, this was an unprecedented turn of events. This could be a case of Shank’s lack of experience at Sebring as well as the newness of the Ligier package. The evil handling pushed Ozz to push even harder than he is supposed to do, and that culminated in that ill-thought of move on the inside of the Falken Porsche at Bishop Bend. Seeing Ozz shake his head from the onboard camera feed capped off a day of frustration for the little team that could from Pataskala, Ohio. (Grade: F)

SpeedSource Race Engineering (#07: DNF, #70, DNF)

Year 2 of the SKYACTIV-D experiment continues for SpeedSource, and with pretty impressive gains: the car did gain by as much as 5 seconds from last year, and is now amongst the PC cars. The problem continues to be reliability, and as Jeff Braun told me on Twitter, they were not able to test as much as they would have liked post-Daytona. The hot conditions at Sebring did not help the cars either, as both conked out after completing around 100 laps each. Well, 100 laps around Sebring in a still in development package is not to be scoffed at, but I wish they could finish the race next year, as per the Walkinshaw Rule of Racing (It takes at least 3 years for a new program to be competitive), which Jeff Braun also told me they are pretty much on target of achieving. (Grade: D+)
Starworks Motorsport (#7: DNS)

Unfortunately, no show for the Starworks Riley. (Grade: INC)

Visit Florida Racing (#90: P3)

While Action Express stole the headlines with its fault free weekend and its P2 matching pace, another Corvette DP team was riding on this little wave of consistency: Visit Racing, aka Spirit of Daytona. By just keeping their nose clean and keeping it steady, they cracked the podium yet again with the strength of their driver lineup of Rockenfeller, Valiante, and Westbrook. Sure they lacked the outright pace of Action Express or the canny strategies of Wayne Taylor Racing, VFR bounced back from their trials and tribulations of last year into something that they can build on for the rest of the season. Remember last year when they went on a tear? The only thing that held them back from challenging the big time was their inconsistency in the first 3 races of the year. If that form comes back, it will help the boys in blue catapult themselves to the top. Though it was a little embarrassing for Valiante to not being able to pass DHH… (Grade: B+)

Wayne Taylor Racing (#10: P2)

Jordan Taylor was the first to defend his homies at WTR after You Dun Goofed Wayne Taylor Racing, and this staunch display of loyalty was rewarded by this team battling some pretty tall odds to finish as high as they did. While not on the pace as the Coyote-chassised Corvette DPs, as well as a recurring brake problem that was miraculously cured by using the older Daytona brake set, the flat black Konica Minolta Corvette DP was always hovering along the cusp of being a lap down, or already being a lap down. But as the trend showed: once the sun went down the #10 showed its fangs. It was not until the last hour that WTR’s homies at the pit wall pulled out their last trump card: a canny pit stop strategy that catapulted the car from fourth to second place in one fell swoop. Jordan Taylor and various other rap artists were right all along: you stick with yo’ homies, whether through thick and thin.

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